LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie defended the 17-year-old who fatally shot two protesters and injured a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week, saying in an interview Thursday he acted in self-defense and showed "incredible restraint."
Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide and several other felony counts after traveling from Illinois to Kenosha on Aug. 25 and shooting three protesters, two of whom died.
A self-described militia member, Rittenhouse shot the protesters after days of unrest in the city following video that went public of a Black man, Jacob Blake, being shot in the back seven times by a police officer.
"He also exhibited incredible restraint and presence and situational awareness," Massie said on WVHU, a talk radio station in Huntington, West Virginia. "He didn't empty a magazine into a crowd."
Rittenhouse's attorneys have claimed he acted in self defense, which President Donald Trump also suggested before visiting Kenosha this week to highlight property damaged in the unrest.
Citing video footage, Massie said Rittenhouse was "fulfilling his obligation to retreat" from people chasing and attacking him after fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum.
"I think the strongest thing he has for him is the actual video evidence," Massie said. "And if I were on a jury and all I had was the evidence that I have been able to acquire through social media and the videos that are out there, I would not convict him of a single one of these charges."
'That's the shooter': Witnesses describe the night Kyle Rittenhouse opened fire in Kenosha
Massie also brought up the potential for jury nullification, suggesting a jury doesn't have to convict Rittenhouse even if they think he violated the law, as long as they deem the law itself to be unjust.
"What does it say about our country where this lawlessness is going on to this extent that a 17-year-old feels compelled to stop it?" Massie asked. "To be the one to turn the tide? I think it says a lot for the 17-year-old."
The Kentucky Democratic Party called Massie's comments "unbelievable" on Twitter.
"The @kygop @Team_Mitch and other Kentucky Republicans need to disavow Massie’s comments immediately," the tweet stated.
Thomas Massie defends accused Kenosha murderer Kyle Rittenhouse.
The @kygop @Team_Mitch and other Kentucky Republicans need to disavow Massie’s comments immediately. https://t.co/22VdPvHYOJ
— Kentucky Democrats (@KyDems) September 3, 2020
Rep. John Yarmuth said any public official who tries to justify Rittenhouse's actions "should reassess his respect for the law.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse has, quite justifiably, been charged with murder," Yarmuth said. "He is a 17-year-old vigilante."
Alexandra Owensby, Massie's Democratic opponent in the November election, tweeted that his comments praising Rittenhouse are "dangerous & encouraging youth to be vigilantes & mass murderers."
The Kentucky chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of the Everytown for Gun Safety network, released statements on Friday condemning Massie's comments.
“Rep. Massie’s comments are a slap in the face to every Kentuckian who has worked to dismantle hate and white supremacy in our communities,” said Cathy Mekus, a volunteer with the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action. “He should be ashamed of his comments and held accountable for condoning dangerous behavior that threatens public safety and our right to assemble.”
Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts said: “What happened in Kenosha wasn’t ‘restraint and situational awareness,’ like Rep. Massie claims –– it was murder.”
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Thomas Massie praises Kyle Rittenhouse, says he showed restraint