Leaked talking points show that Trump administration officials were told to publicly support the theory that Kyle Rittenhouse was acting in self-defence when he allegedly shot two protesters dead in Kenosha, Wisconsin this summer.
According to memos obtained by NBC News from the Department of Homeland Security, staffers were advised that when interviewed about the incident, they should say that the 17-year-old Rittenhouse “took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners.”
Rittenhouse, who arrived at the protests with an assault-style weapon and was seen mingling with self-proclaimed militiamen, is facing numerous charges including first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide.
The talking points include a specific account of what supposedly happened during the incident on 23 August. "Kyle was seen being chased and attacked by rioters before allegedly shooting three of them, killing two,” the memos reportedly read.
"Subsequent video has emerged reportedly showing that there were 'multiple gunmen' involved, which would lend more credence to the self-defence claims."
The talking points also reportedly instruct officials to deflect interviewers away from questions about Rittenhouse’s innocence or guilt, giving a suggested answer: "What I will say is that Rittenhouse, just like everyone else in America, is innocent until proven guilty and deserves a fair trial based on all the facts, not just the ones that support a certain narrative. This is why we try the accused in the court of law, not the star chamber of public opinion."
Rittenhouse’s case has become a cause celebre on the right, with voices from the mainstream to the fringe rallying behind him. Fox News has run multiple segments using footage to examine the self-defence theory, while the president’s son Donald J. Trump Jr. has defended him, saying “we all do stupid things at 17”.
A group of lawyers set up to defend him have raised more than $2m in crowdfunding, and now say they will sue the Biden campaign for definition after footage of Rittenhouse with his gun was included in a montage of clips about the president’s failure to unambiguously condemn white supremacy.
Rittenhouse’s case has been taken up on the extremist right as well. At a recent Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon, attendees were seen holding up signs saying “Free Kyle Now” and “Kyle’s Life Matters”.