A Christian organization is petitioning for the removal of a crowdfunding campaign that is raising legal funds for the Antioch teen accused of shooting and killing two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The GiveSendGo.com fundraiser for 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse raised $385,512 for the teenager’s legal defense as of Thursday afternoon. Comments beneath the fundraiser lauded the suspected vigilante gunman as a “hero” and a “patriot.”
But the celebration of what has been charged in Wisconsin as first-degree intentional homicide hasn’t sat well with Christian social justice group Faithful America.
“There is nothing inspiring, loving or Christian about attempting to justify murder, especially murders that further the cause [intentionally or not] of white supremacy,” Faithful America said on its website. As of Thursday, the petition had collected 14,138 of its 15,000-signature goal.
“A lot of the supporters of this petition are here saying Kyle’s entitled [to a] legal defense and he needs grace. And those things are true,” said the Rev. Nathan Empsall, campaigns director for Faithful America. “And he doesn’t need a Christian defense fund to get him defense.”
Rittenhouse surrendered himself to Antioch police on Aug. 26 after authorities said he shot and killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber at a Wisconsin protest. The protest was one of several that ignited throughout the country after Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey fired seven shots into the back of 29-year-old Black man Jacob Blake.
GoFundMe, which is not hosting any fundraisers for Rittenhouse, has verified the legitimacy of one fundraiser to benefit Huber’s girlfriend and another for the family of Jacob Blake. Huber’s fundraiser garnered $151,492 and is no longer accepting new donations. Blake’s fundraiser earned more than $2 million, while a separate GoFundMe campaign for Rosenbaum’s funeral costs accumulated $25,120 as of Thursday afternoon. Representatives from GoFundMe did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and the organizer of the campaign could not immediately be reached.
Rittenhouse, who allegedly attended the Aug. 25 Kenosha protest with the goal of protecting businesses from looting and damage, remained in a Lake County juvenile detention center Thursday. He awaits extradition to Wisconsin, where he’s been charged as an adult with first-degree intentional homicide and other charges tied to the shootings.
Rittenhouse’s lead attorney, John Pierce, posted a video on Twitter on Tuesday expressing gratitude for the support Rittenhouse has received. The teenager, who was on the phone while the video was being recorded, said he’s been receiving letters and would “be out of here soon.”
“I want to say that this is 100% self defense,” Pierce said in the video. “If this is not self-defense for Kyle Rittenhouse under these circumstances, then no one can protect themselves. No one can protect their family and no one can protect their country. This is a watershed moment in American history.”
Others, including Empsall, have said the protesters were trying to defend themselves against Rittenhouse.
“Every eyewitness I’ve seen online said they weren’t trying to hurt [Rittenhouse],” Empsall said. “They were trying to get his gun because he was the one that was escalating the situation and [they] feared that he was going to hurt people.”
The petition to delete Rittenhouse’s fundraiser calls on GiveSendGo co-founders Heather Wilson and Jacob Wells to “defend human dignity” and remove the campaign.
Reached by email Wednesday, a representative from GiveSendGo said the platform was not doing phone interviews and asked that the Northwest Herald email a list of questions. GiveSendGo did not respond to those questions as of Thursday afternoon.
The organization took to Twitter on Wednesday to criticize Discover Financial Services for allegedly blocking customers from using Discover accounts to donate to campaigns on GiveSendGo’s website.
A screenshot of an emailed memo that GiveSendGo claimed was from Discover staff noted that the crowdfunding website was “allowing fundraising for legal fees intended for the teenager who shot and killed two people in Kenosha last week.”
Discover Senior Manager of Public Relations Derek Cuculich said the company only blocks payments to merchants that violate Discover’s regulations, according to an official statement emailed Thursday.
“Discover makes no judgment about a customer’s use of their funds,” Cuculich said. “This decision was made as a result of a merchant violation of our operating regulations. As a payments processor, we review acceptance decisions every day. We terminate acceptance only in instances in which merchants are found to be in violation of our operating regulations.”
In a Twitter thread accusing Discover of censorship, GiveSendGo said the financial company was “bending to the loudest voices.”
Comments on the GiveSendGo petition echo the support Rittenhouse has received, including from President Donald Trump, who previously declined to condemn the shootings and said that Rittenhouse “probably would have been killed” by those pursuing him.
Meanwhile, supporters of Faithful America’s petition warn against “Christian Nationalism,” or the merging of Christian and American identities, Empsall said.
“Jesus is very clear that blessed are the peacemakers and Jesus is very clear that we are supposed to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed, just like he did,” Empsall said. “When Kyle Rittenhouse picked up an AR-15 to take up arms against Black Lives Matter, he was not making peace and he was certainly not fighting with the oppressed with the victims of systemic racism.”
Rittenhouse’s supporters have said the teenager was doing a job that police failed to carry out by protecting local businesses from looting and destruction. Others like Empsall argue that property damage, compared with death, is a small price to pay.
“If you want people to protest peacefully, don’t yell and scream at them when they take a knee during the national anthem,” Empsall said. “Don’t yell and scream at them when they boycott their own basketball game. Black Americans and their supporters and allies have been trying to protest peacefully, and we as a nation haven’t been listening.”