Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

For far-right groups, Rittenhouse's acquittal is a cause for celebration

Armed participants walk at a Proud Boys rally with other right-wing demonstrators in September 2020 in Portland, Ore. Far-right groups celebrated the verdict in the Rittenhouse trial.
John Locher
Armed participants walk at a Proud Boys rally with other right-wing demonstrators in September 2020 in Portland, Ore. Far-right groups celebrated the verdict in the Rittenhouse trial.

In the minutes after ajury acquitted 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse on all counts, jubilation lit up on social media spaces where far-right extremists gather.

In one Telegram channel for the far-right Proud Boys, some noted they had taken the day off work to await the verdict. "There's still a chance for this country," wrote one. In another channel, a member stated that political violence must continue. "The left wont stop until their bodied get stacked up like cord wood," he wrote.

Rittenhouse himself is not known to be a member of an extremist group. But the trial, which from its beginning became a cause and rallying cry among conservatives who champion gun rights, has been particularly alarming to extremism researchers.

As it played out against the backdrop of an increasingly polarized nation, experts of far-right movements say opportunists found a growing audience for their violence-fueled messaging that targets the left. Now that a jury has found that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, those concerns are recentering on the question of whether it may embolden others to engage in political violence.

"This might be interpreted across the far right as a type of permission slip to do this kind of thing or to seek out altercations in this way, believing that there is a potential that they won't face serious consequences for it," said Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council. "I worry that that might end up being interpreted by some people as a proof of concept of this idea that you can actually go out and seek a 'self-defense situation,' and you'll be cheered as a hero for it."

Holt said the verdict also prompts questions about whether far-right extremists may become more visible at public demonstrations.

"Broadly speaking, the far right has been a bit reluctant to turn out in person for things, especially on larger national scales or on issues with a lot of national attention," he said. "But this could change that dynamic."

Experts acknowledge that it's too early to know how the verdict may change dynamics at demonstrations and protests, or whether it will prompt more right-wing activists to bring firearms to those gatherings. But for at least one far-left activist who advocates for the use of guns for self-defense, that risk appears no different from what she says she and other leftists already face.

"Extremist [right-wing] groups already felt there was a license to do this kind of thing," said Bianca Wright, who affiliates with the Puget Sound Socialist Rifle Association. "They've felt that their violence against dissenters is justified and even so, our numbers at demonstrations continue to rise."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter covering immigration, race and class. Since joining the station in 2010, Odette has covered a range of stories including local and state efforts around immigration policy, DREAMers and the impact of travel bans on Muslim-Americans and refugees. She has also delved into the reality of homelessness in Chicago, with stories about tent cities and the disappearance of affordable housing on the North Side. In 2016, Odette was part of a team at WBEZ to win a National Edward R. Murrow Award for best Continuing Coverage of how local officials in Puerto Rico were sending drug addicts to unlicensed therapy groups in Chicago, with false promises of professional treatment.Odette’s coverage includes enterprise and data reporting, and she has contributed to NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, PRI’s The World and WNYC’s The Takeaway. In 2015, she served as president of the Chicago Headline Club, which is the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.Prior to joining WBEZ, Odette was a reporter at WABE FM in Atlanta.Odette received a B.A. in Economics and East Asian Studies from Harvard University.
Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.