After avoiding a possible life behind bars, Kyle Rittenhouse left Kenosha courthouse a free man to pursue a potential life of either nursing, politics or relative anonymity.
But his acquittal of first-degree intentional homicide may not end his legal woes as a battle brews over who gets the $2m raised for his bond, and his case is referred to the Department of Justice for possible federal charges.
Immediately after the verdict, defence attorney Mark Richards said Mr Rittenhouse would likely leave Wisconsin, move to a new area, and fade into obscurity as the intense national media attention subsides.
“He has to get on with his life the best he can. I think eventually some anonymity will come back to it. I don’t think he’ll continue to live in this area. I think it’s too dangerous, he’s had 24-hour security since this happened,” Mr Richards said outside the court.
What Mr Rittenhouse does next has been to focus of speculation among observers like The View hosts Ana Navarro and Sonny Hostin, who recently agreed he could eventually “end up in Congress” if the jury found he acted in self-defence.
Almost immediately after the jury’s verdict suggested exactly that, Republican lawmakers jostled to offer Mr Rittenhouse a spot on their team.
In an Instagram caption celebrating the verdict, Rep Madison Cawthorn wrote: “Kyle, if you want an internship reach out to me.”
Mr Cawthorn will have to get in line behind Matt Gaetz, who pre-empted the jury’s decision a day earlier to say Mr Rittenhouse would make a “pretty good” congressional intern.
“We might reach out to him and see if he be interested in helping the country in additional ways,” Mr Gaetz said during a Newsmax interview.
He’ll have to fight Paul Gosar, who threatened congressional internship by combat. “I will arm wrestle @mattgaetz to get dibs for Kyle as an intern,” he said in a tweet.
The office of Mr Gaetz did not respond to whether a formal offer had been made. But a spokesperson for Mr Rittenhouse predicted a quieter life for the former lifeguard and police cadet.
David Hancock told Fox6 after the verdict that Mr Rittenhouse was having a “fresh start” and would go to college to be “an 18-year-old young man”.
“He’s studying pre-requisites at Arizona State University for nursing and he’s going to continue that, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure he can live as normal a life moving forward as possible,” Mr Hancock said.
“Everything that has been said about him, everything that has been reported about him, that’s just not true. That’s going to linger. All of that nonsense. He has a new normal. This is definitely going to be a new normal for him. But you’re definitely going to see some things out of young Kyle here over the next few years.”
Mr Rittenhouse first revealed he was studying at Arizona State University while giving testimony. University spokesman Jay Thorne confirmed to The State Press that he was enrolled as a non-degree-seeking ASU Online student for the semester’s B session, which started on 13 October.
Mr Rittenhouse will have to go through the admissions process once completing the online course, which Mr Thorne said allows students to take courses for transfer credit or prerequisites for programs at ANU.
Whether he continues to a nursing degree at ANU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation or takes up an offer for a Congressional internship could be influenced by the results of another potential court case being called for by Democratic representative Jerry Nadler.
The New York congressman called on Attorney General Merrick Garland for a federal review by the Department of Justice.
“Justice cannot tolerate armed persons crossing state lines looking for trouble while people engage in First Amendment-protected protest,” Mr Nadler said in a tweet, despite the fact Mr Rittenhouse was not armed crossing state lines. The court also dropped the misdemeanour gun possession charge.
The further politicisation of Mr Rittenhouse seems a near certainty. Republican strategist Gregg Keller told Politico Mr Rittenhouse could become a featured speaker at conservative events and that a CPAC invitation “would not surprise me”.
“I think there will be every effort made to turn him into a conservative hero,” Mr Keller said. “I think given the situation he found himself in, what he did appears to be justified — but I would stop short of lionizing him as a hero, a 17-year-old kid who found himself in that situation.”
Given the opportunity to speak, Mr Rittenhouse may accept the invitation. His spokesman, Mr Hancock, hinted that he would not remain silent for long about the events of the past year.
“I think you’re going to see some good things that come out of Kyle in the future because he’s a very, very pragmatic young man whose been through a lot and there’s just so many pieces of this case that touch every issue, modern-day contemporary politics,” Mr Hancock said.
“He’s very pragmatic about what’s happened over the past year. He’s got some things to say and I think you’re going to be even more surprised by who Kyle actually is as more people get to know him better,” he added.
Mr Rittenhouse has been encouraged to use his court-ordered innocence to sue for defamation after a year in which the teenager was branded an active shooter, racist, white supremacist, and worse.
Former Kentucky high school student Nicholas Sandmann, who successfully settled a defamation lawsuit with CNN after he went viral in a video with a Native American activist in 2019, urged Mr Rittenhouse to take his own legal action against the media.
“With Kyle’s name dragged through the mud, and the clear effect it is having on him, many have started to ask the question whether Kyle should sue for defamation,” Mr Sandmann wrote in The Daily Mail.
“While I am by no means an attorney, I have gained some experience on the ins and outs of defamation and can offer an educated guess on what the outcome would be if Kyle were to sue.”
After a year mounting a criminal defence, launching a civil action to sue his detractors will require more fundraising.
Most major online fundraising platforms dropped pages for Mr Rittenhouse following the shootings in Kenosha, despite allowing those for his attackers to remain active.
Following the acquittal, GoFundMe released a statement Mr Rittenhouse would now be allowed to use its site.
“Once charges for a violent crime were brought against Kyle Rittenhouse in 2020, GoFundMe removed fundraisers that were started for the defendant’s legal defence,” it said in a statement.
“If someone is acquitted of those charges, as Rittenhouse was today, a fundraiser started subsequently for their legal defence and other expenses would not violate this policy.”
Despite more than $2m being raised since the start of the trial, Wendy Rittenhouse sent fundraising emails on behalf of her son saying legal fees in November alone would reach $110,000.
The Kyle Rittenhouse Defense Fund, known as FreeKyleUSA, announced in June that it raised $464,111.
Mr Richards, the defence attorney, said the half-million dollars raised by FreeKyleUSA was among the $2m bond for Mr Rittenhouse that would now be returned by the state.
“I expect there will be a fight over that,” Mr Richards said.
“[Lawyer] John Pierce is the person who posted the bond. All of that money was raised on behalf of Kyle. Lin Wood and Fight Back say that they’re entitled to it,” he added.
The $2 million bond was posted with a cashier’s check from the Pierce Bainbridge law firm from donations to the #FightBackFoundation, raised through donations including cash from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and actor Ricky Schroder.
Under Wisconsin law, the bond will be returned to the person who posted the bond, Mr Bainbridge.
Mr Wood, the infamous Trump-supporting, MAGA-hat wearing lawyer who is facing potential disbarment over cases brought against the 2020 election, wrote in a February email demanding it is returned to #FightBack.
The looming legal wrangle over that $2m check could be the most immediate next move in the case of Mr Rittenhouse. While Mr Richards won’t be a part of that battle, he’s relieved the Mr Rittenhouse’s next fight won’t be in the Court of Appeals.
“I’m just thankful that there will be a fight over that because, if he had lost, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Mr Richards said.