L. Lin Wood, the lead attorney on the team representing the Illinois teenager charged with two counts of murder in a shooting during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin last month, has sent a letter to Joe Biden’s campaign demanding that a video released by the campaign showing Rittenhouse while Biden talked about “white supremacists” be taken off the Internet, along with a retraction and an apology by the Democratic presidential candidate.
News of the letter first broke with this tweet by attorney Ron Coleman, also a part of the Rittenhouse defense team.
— Ron Coleman (@RonColeman) October 2, 2020
According to the letter sent by Wood, a video that Biden released after this week’s presidential debate defamed Rittenhouse by including him in a “montage of images depicting violence and disorder presumably committed by ‘white supremacists’” or self-styled militia members.
Wood says the “political use of this photo of a 17-year old boy under attack- and it is undisputed that he only used his weapon in self-defense against multiple attackers- as a prop to advance Mr. Biden’s long-denied political ambition is reprehensible. And it is actionable as well”.
First, I’m not aware of any evidence that Kyle Rittenhouse is a white supremacist or a racist, though from the moments after his identify became known there’s been a loud chorus of voices on the Left claiming that he’s both. Biden’s campaign clearly had no problem accusing Rittenhouse, though, and I think it’s both right and appropriate for Biden to be called out for the baseless smear on a 17-year old.
However, I’m not sure why Wood would claim that it’s undisputed that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, given the fact that he’s facing murder and assault charges in Wisconsin. It’s true that even the charging documents filed by prosecutors don’t portray Rittenhouse as the initial aggressor, and I happen to think that Rittenhouse has an incredibly strong self-defense argument. Still, prosecutors obviously disagree that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, and I can’t figure out the logic behind Wood claiming otherwise.
As for the defamation claim itself, Woods writes in his letter to the Biden campaign that:
“The juxtaposition of Kyle’s photo with Mr. Biden’s misrepresentation of the colloquy that occurred between President Trump and his two opponents in the debate regarding the supposed phenomenon of white supremacist violence conveys the false and defamatory impression that Mr. Biden’s words and Kyle’s picture are meaningfully related- that is, that Kyle is a white supremacist, a member of a militia group or was involved in the violence perpetrated on people and property in Kenosha and Portland in recent weeks. Every one of these inferences is capable of being and would reasonably be construed by the average viewer to mean that Kyle engaged in reprehensible and unlawful conduct.”
Wood goes on to write that his client has been falsely accused of murder and that publicly available videos show “beyond a doubt” that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense when he was attacked. Rittenhouse, according to Wood, had gone to Kenosha to “render medical aid”, as opposed to creating any violence.
Biden’s actions, argues Rittenhouse’s attorney, amounts to “besmirching this young man with what is currently the most offensive political epithet that can be applied to anyone in civil society merely to achieve tawdry political points on social media.”
The Biden camp could choose to simply take down the video on the assumption that it’s already generated the bulk of its views anyway, but I don’t see them issuing a formal retraction or apologizing to Rittenhouse. That would inevitably generate howls of protest from Biden’s supporters, and any lawsuit that Rittenhouse or his family might file against the Biden campaign would be resolved long after Election Day is over. Besides, Biden has plenty of deep-pocketed donors who would probably consider it a badge of honor to help him pay off any judgement that might eventually be handed down for defamation.
As for Rittenhouse himself, the extradition hearing that was supposed to take place has now been pushed back to October 9th after Rittenhouse attorney John Pierce asked for an extension because he plans on challenging the extradition from Illinois, where Rittenhouse turned himself in to police, and Wisconsin, where the shootings took place. Personally, if I were Rittenhouse’s counsel I’d be trying to get to a preliminary hearing as soon as possible, because that’s when prosecutors will have to show that there’s probable cause to charge Rittenhouse with murder and the teen’s defense can begin to present their self-defense arguments in a court of law rather than the court of public opinion, but for the moment the strategy seems to be to fight the charges every step of the way.