When Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people during Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020 Trump-loving attorney Lin Wood swooped in to help. What actually happened, however, is Wood raked in fundraising cash to a nebulous group called FightBack.
An extensive report from The New Yorker revealed Rittenhouse's case as a "spectacle" for the right-wing movement.
In March, Rittenhouse's mom Wendy told the Law & Crime podcast that Wood told her it was critical for Rittenhouse to stay in jail because "Armageddon" was approaching in post-election America. At that point, Wendy Rittenhouse demanded an audit of Wood's fundraising into the FightBack Foundation.
She also said that Wood and his colleague John Pierce were using Kyle Rittenhouse's image "for their own political sh*t."
The New Yorker reported that Pierce was behind the FightBack Foundation as an effort to pay for lawsuits that would "take our country back."
"A Trump supporter, he was hostile toward liberals and often expressed his views crudely," the report explained. "One Saturday, during an argument with his ex-wife, he unleashed a stream of increasingly threatening texts, including 'Go watch an AOC rally. F*cking libtard'; 'I will f*ck u and ur kind up'; and 'People like u hate the USA. Guess what b*tch, we ain't goin anywhere.' Not for the first time, she obtained a restraining order against him."
In October, Rittenhouse was moved from Illinois to Wisconsin to stand trial. Wood promoted the #FightBack Fund and the necessity to raise $1 million before Rittenhouse appeared in court. The court set his bail at $2 million, and the #FightBack group had "supposedly reached that benchmark weeks earlier." That's when Wendy wondered if #FightBack was leaving her son in jail just to raise money for themselves. Wood disputes the claim.
"In mid-November, Wood reported that Mike Lindell, the C.E.O. of MyPillow, had 'committed $50K to Kyle Rittenhouse Defense Fund,'" the report continued. "Lindell says that he thought his donation was going toward fighting 'election fraud.' The actor Ricky Schroder contributed a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Pierce finally paid Rittenhouse's bail, with a check from Pierce Bainbridge, on November 20th—well over a month after #FightBack's Web site indicated that the foundation had the necessary funds."
While working as Rittenhouse's lawyer, Wood's colleague John Pierce was charging $1275 an hour, "more than twice the average partner billing rate at top U.S. firms." They also demanded a $100,000 retainer. Pierce and Rittenhouse's mom began appearing on right-wing media to characterize the Kenosha protests as a "war zone" and a "mob" that they claimed was "relentlessly hunting [Kyle] as prey." They painted Rittenhouse as a "Minuteman" or member of the United States "militia" defending the government and "his community."
"Harvard law professor Noah Feldman recently wrote that, though Rittenhouse presumably will claim that he feared having his gun wrested away and used against him, it's only 'the presence of Rittenhouse's own weapon' that gives him 'the opportunity to claim that he was in fear of bodily harm,'" The New Yorker also wrote. Indeed, Rittenhouse didn't live in Kenosha, his community was about 40 minutes southwest and there wasn't a need for Rittenhouse to grab his Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle to defend himself or his property. He went to them.
Robyn Thomas, the Giffords Law Center's executive director, told The New Yorker that if Rittenhouse would never have been "in harms way, and he certainly wouldn't have hurt anyone else" if he wasn't the one who decided to pick up his gun and venture to Kenosha.
In a preliminary hearing, Judge Bruce Schroeder noted that it's important that they stick to "the facts and the evidence" in the case.
"But, thanks to the opportunists who have seized on the Rittenhouse drama, the case has been framed as the broadest possible referendum on the Second Amendment," The New Yorker report closed. "No other legal case presents such a vivid metaphor for the country's polarization. Many of Rittenhouse's supporters have described the shootings almost in cathartic terms, as if they were glad that he killed people. If a jury appears to sanction vigilantism, it seems likely that more altercations between protesters and counter-protesters will turn deadly."
Thomas thinks that the case is "a bellwether" for deciding if guns are "at the forefront of the stability of our democracy."
"Yet it's gotten to the point where this idea that you have a right to carry a loaded weapon is starting to literally overtake other rights—the right to express your vote, the right to assemble without fear," she said.
Read many more details in the extensive report at The New Yorker.