A new website designed to raise $2 million to defend Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager charged with killing two men and injuring a third during street protests in Kenosha, Wi., in August, has prompted concerns among experts who call it a dangerous step toward injecting brand marketing into criminal defense, the Washington Post reports. The website features more than 30 apparel items and accessories emblazoned with the logo “Free Kyle” and a slogan, “Self-defense is a right, not a privilege” — a quote from Rittenhouse. There’s a beanie ($21.99), a hoodie ($39.99) and a T-shirt ($21.99). The website has collected nearly $60,000 from 800 donors. Rittenhouse is charged with killing Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum on Aug. 25, after protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Rittenhouse has emerged as a folk hero for the far right. The #FightBack Foundation raised $2 million in bail money that secured his freedom in November. Far-right and gun rights groups including the National Association for Gun Rights and American Wolf 689 have raised money for living expenses. John Pierce, a Los Angeles-based attorney for Rittenhouse, said “We have to do anything and everything to ensure that he gets the best possible defense, and that is expensive.” Jeff Neslund, a Chicago-based civil rights attorney and former prosecutor, said the website “is dangerous for prosecutors” because it has the potential to taint a jury pool. “You’re going to have a lot of people who want to be on this jury to help this kid because they have an agenda, so prosecutors will have a tougher time to do their homework to flush those people out,” he said. Neslund said the website represents “a new era” in trial defense because of the influence that social media can have on cases.