For far-right groups, Rittenhouse's acquittal is a cause for celebration One expert fears that the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse will embolden people to seek out altercations where it could be possible to make claims of self-defense.

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

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Justice has been served. That is at least what many on the right feel following the not guilty verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse today in Kenosha. But extremism researchers are concerned that the ruling may be interpreted by some as sort of a permission slip for further violence in public spaces. NPR's Odette Yousef covers domestic extremism and joins us now. Hi, Odette.


CHANG: All right. Can you just tell us more about what you've been hearing from some of your sources since this news of the acquittal became public - on all counts - acquittal on all counts?

YOUSEF: Yeah. You know, there was a real sense of joy across the channels where, you know, people on the far-right gather; the sense of vindication, Ailsa, and many people sharing sentiments that perhaps, in their words, there is, quote, "hope for this country." And I would note that that jubilation wasn't just among these groups, but also on Capitol Hill as well; you know, on Twitter, Arizona Representative Paul Gosar saying that he'll arm-wrestle Florida Representative Matt Gaetz to get dibs on offering an internship to Kyle Rittenhouse. And really, what we're seeing is that the verdict underpins a belief among many on the far-right that Kyle Rittenhouse wasn't just legally able to do what he did, but morally obligated to do it.

CHANG: Well, for many on the mainstream right, the Rittenhouse trial was fundamentally about gun rights and the right to self-defense. But can you just tell us more about how you see this being interpreted by extremists potentially?

YOUSEF: Yeah. Well, Ailsa, extremists are opportunists. This was a hot-button case that they were able to use to further their messaging that characterizes a broad swath of Americans, especially those who demonstrated in the last year for social justice and racial justice, as criminals and communists. These far-right actors have long viewed so-called leftists as targets for violence, and this trial was a forum that allowed more Americans to become oriented around that view.

I spoke with Jared Holt. He's a resident fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council. And he also said that he worries this case was exactly the kind of, quote, "permission slip" that violent extremists on the right have long sought. Here's what he said.

JARED HOLT: Now that Rittenhouse has been through trial and got through the other side unscratched legally speaking, I worry that that might end up being interpreted by some people as, like, a proof of concept of this idea of - that, you know, you can actually go out and seek a, quote-unquote, "self-defense" situation and you'll be cheered as a hero for it.

YOUSEF: You know, it's worth noting that this self-defense claim is really narrow.

CHANG: Yeah.

YOUSEF: But, look, it's a volatile climate, and there are real fears around how the verdict can be interpreted.

CHANG: Absolutely. Well, what do you think this could mean at public protests in the future when it comes to not just the far-right, but also the far-left?

YOUSEF: Well, you know, Jared Holt pointed out to me that, historically, we haven't seen the far-right show up in great numbers for demonstrations, particularly when it comes to sort of national issues. But now, he's going to be watching that carefully to see if it's going to change.

On the far-left, I spoke with someone named Bianca Wright (ph). She's a far-left activist and gun-rights advocate who noted that, you know, right-wing extremists have been bringing guns to protest for some time, and, in her view, facing little consequence. Here's what she shared.

BIANCA WRIGHT: You know, this really changes nothing. You know, clearly extremist groups already felt there was a license to do this kind of thing. They've felt that their violence against dissenters is justified. And they've shown up, and even so, our numbers at demonstration - at the protest - numbers continue to rise.

YOUSEF: You know, Wright told me she has considered taking arms to demonstrations, but decided against it simply because there's this perception on the left that, you know, the hammer of the law falls down harder against leftist demonstrators than it does against those on the right.

CHANG: That is NPR's Odette Yousef. Thank you, Odette.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

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