Kyle Rittenhouse’s status as the new rockstar of the conservative movement was cemented on Monday, when he strode onstage at Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest in front of fireworks, flashing lights, a DJ scratching over his name, and, most importantly, thunderous applause from the young people in attendance.
“Kyle! Kyle! Kyle!” the crowd chanted as he smiled and sat down alongside Charlie Kirk, Jack Posobiec, Elijah Schaffer, and Drew Hernandez for a panel titled “Kenosha on Camera.”
The discussion, as has been the case with the rest of Rittenhouse’s post-acquittal media tour, was geared around the idea that the teenager — who was acquitted of all charges after killing two people in Wisconsin last summer — is a victim fighting a noble uphill battle against liberal persecution. Also victims, according to the guest and his interviewers, are the millions of Americans who support him.
“My trial was an example of them trying to come after our Second Amendment rights, or the right to defend ourselves in trying to take our weapons,” Rittenhouse responded on Monday when asked by Kirk if there was a broader story at play in his case.
The ludicrous idea that conservatives are particularly oppressed has been a theme of right-wing activism at large throughout the Trump era. Conservative media has anointed the teenager, who now stands to make untold sums of money from his newfound celebrity as an avatar of this imagined oppression for the next generation of conservatives — many of which flocked to the youth-oriented AmericaFest. Rittenhouse has gladly accepted the mantle. He even teased that he might sue the media during for defaming him during an interview with Fox News later on Monday.
Kirk offered a warning to said media during the panel. “Kyle Rittenhouse is about to be super rich,” he said. “So you better be careful about what you write.”
Hernandez took aim at the media, as well, ranting about outlets mistakenly writing that Rittenhouse killed Black people in Kenosha. “Kyle Rittenhouse didn’t shoot Black people,” said Hernandez, an independent journalist. “You just have to say that because the fake news media cartel is still saying that, right now to this hour. People after the trial are calling me after the testimony saying, ‘I had no idea that this kid didn’t shoot a single Black person.’”
Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist and correspondent for OAN, took a religious angle into the Rittenhouse case, crediting God with his acquittal. “It was divine providence that brought people like Drew, Elijah, and everyone who was there that night, to be there to get that footage of what happened. Because then that carried forward so that God would be with you in the courthouse,” he said.
Attendees like Tyler Pemberton, a 27-year-old Grand Canyon University student, agreed with Posobiec. “It was the grace of God that allowed him to act as swiftly and gracefully as he did,” Pemberton tells me. “He was protecting businesses and willing to shoot to protect his life. He had every right to have a firearm with him.”
“I don’t know if he necessarily should have been there, but what he did was in self-defense. The argument that he got off because he’s White is wrong,” says Czeena Devera, 31, from Michigan. “I’m afraid for my cousin who is half-White, half-Mexican but White passing. The world is out for kids like him.”
The idea that the “world is out for” conservatives was all over AmericaFest. Earlier on Monday, Boebert took the stage to impassioned applause, donning a red, white, and blue outfit. Her stature was small but her presence was strong as she yelled into the microphone. “They tried to cancel me but I’m not bowing down,” she said. “I refuse to be bullied by people who hate our country!”
The irony of her claim was apparently lost on the crowd. Boebert called Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) “Jihad Squad” over Thanksgiving weekend and implied that she might be in danger if Omar was carrying a backpack in the elevator they shared. Boebert doubled down on the bigoted comments in a call veiled as an apology, prompting Omar to hang up on her.
Boebert continued to speak about gun rights before closing with a prayer that invoked the “sin of abortion.” She could do no wrong in the eyes of AmericaFest’s attendees. “I think she’s amazing and I love that she incorporated faith into her speech,” says Devera, the Michigan attendee. I’m Catholic and I feel like I need to have two different identities — my work identity and my real identity. But she’s herself in all that she does.”
“She’s a very passionate speaker,” says David Johnson, a 25-year-old Project Veritas whistleblower from San Diego. When I ask about her Islamophobic comments, he says he doesn’t know much about that.
AmericaFest attendees for four days were pushed the idea that they are underdogs, from a stolen election and cancel culture to disdain for Dr. Fauci and his abhorrent rules. It’s a radical anti-reality at a time when a relatively small subset of the U.S. population has a stranglehold on the Supreme Court, controls a mass of state legislatures, and has had an even share of the White House despite winning the popular vote only one time since 1988.
Still, conservative activism hinges on the idea that the system isn’t fair to them. Rittenhouse shot two people dead in the street, and the system dared put him on trial for it. This was somehow unjust, as was the mere fact that Boebert was criticized for implying a fellow lawmaker is a terrorist looking to destroy America. The conservative movement represented at AmericaFest views any accountability — of Rittenhouse for taking a military-style rifle into the street or Boebert for her rampant bigotry — as proof of a fascistic liberal machine is slowly crushing the conservative way of life.
Speaker after speaker implored AmericaFest attendees to stand up and take action — or else. “It wasn’t just Kyle Rittenhouse on trial, it was every single one of you,” Hernandez said on Monday. “Today it’s Kyle Rittenhouse, tomorrow it’s you.”