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Kyle Rittenhouse speaks at WKU to share experience, answer questions

Ian Pitchford
Kyle Rittenhouse responds to a question asked during the Rittenhouse Recap by Turning Point USA in the Downing Student Union Nite Class on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.

Kyle Rittenhouse spoke on campus at an event hosted by the WKU Turning Point USA chapter, addressing supporters and opposition on the evening of Wednesday, March 27. 

Rittenhouse shot three men — two of whom died —  at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 2020, using a semi automatic AR-15 style rifle purchased for him by a friend. He was acquitted in 2021 after he testified that he had acted in self defense.

Prior to the start of the event, individuals who had signed up for tickets ahead of time lined up against barricades along the front of Downing Student Union. At roughly 5:40 p.m., individuals were allowed to enter an outside waiting area surrounding the doors of DSU Nite Class, where the event was held.

Many students were skeptical of how the event would play out after Rittenhouse’s last TPUSA appearance at the University of Memphis, where crowds of protestors booed him off stage.

William Rucker, a senior history major at WKU, expressed the tension of the environment around him before ticket holders were let inside Nite Class. 

“I’m feeling really tense,” Rucker said. “There’s a lot of feelings built up amongst everybody here and I think that’s valid. People can have feelings but I’m seeing reactions who are being more loud and aggressive in certain ways. I think we should have respect and try to listen to each other.”

Students also expressed differing opinions on what this event meant for WKU. 

“I am somebody who believes greatly in freedom of speech and open dialogues and academic conversation,” Jay Hightower, senior psychology major, said. “Turning Point USA has a history of bringing controversial people here and I will leave that to them, if that’s what they want to do that’s well within their rights. My concern is when you bring somebody who everyone understands is a danger to campus or brings a dangerous audience.”

Maxwell Hoover, a sophomore mechanical engineering student, sporting an American flag over his shoulders, felt that the event reflected positively on WKU. “I think it’s actually good,” Hoover said. “I think it shows that they actually believe in the country and freedom of speech.”

Only 104 individuals were allowed to enter into Nite Class due to seating restrictions, and the event was first come, first serve for those in line outside DSU. At 6:40 p.m., the doors to Nite Class were opened, with individuals being patted down and metal detected before they entered the area. 

A “Rittenhouse Recap” attendee listens as Kyle Rittenhouse tells his story in the Downing Student Union Nite Class on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. (Ian Pitchford)

With a 15 minute countdown on the TVs in the room and instrumental pop-music playing through the speakers, individuals awaited the arrival of Rittenhouse. At roughly 7:08 p.m., Rittenhouse entered after a quick introduction by TPUSA chapter president, Cade Holcombe. 

Holcombe explained that the event was meant to “open up productive conversation” and “thanked God that we live in a country where an open discussion like this can still happen.”

Rittenhouse began his recap with discussing his actions and point of view of the events that occurred in Kenosha. Rittenhouse explained that he was terrified, scared and alone during these moments. 

The crowd was silent for a majority of Rittenhouse’s recap, with supporters intermittently clapping. After the discussion of his own experience, Rittenhouse began speaking his opinion about open carry laws on college campuses. 

“I want to tell you that your university does not give a fuck about you,” Rittenhouse said in regards to individuals not being able to defend themselves on campus by carrying a firearm.

Rittenhouse said with police response times being five to six minutes, individuals should be able to carry guns on college campuses.

“You can’t have a police officer with you everywhere you go,” Rittenhouse said. “So you have the right to be able to carry a firearm … you are your own first responder.” 

Cameron Shaw

While advocating for Second Amendment rights, Rittenhouse emphasized that “[he] urges campus staff, lawmakers who may be listening to their speech, [they] should be ashamed of [themselves] … [they] should be 100% ashamed that [they] don’t believe students have the right to defend themselves by prohibiting them from actually exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

As he lives in Texas, Rittenhouse said that students are able to carry firearms on campus.

“Every time I go to campus, I have my gun,” he said.

After speaking for roughly 15 minutes, the floor was opened for individuals to ask Rittenhouse questions. Students, press and community individuals were able to join the growing line of individuals waiting to ask questions. 

Many students present were in opposition of Rittenhouse, and asked questions to prompt him against his previous actions. 

When asked about Black Lives Matter and the movement, Rittenhouse said that “Black Lives Matter is great, but it’s still life at the end of the day that matters.”

Along with other questions about Black Lives Matter, supporters of Rittenhouse asked questions regarding Second Amendment rights. Throughout the question and answer session, Rittenhouse often did not let participants finish their questions before starting his response.

People in attendance sit on their phones as Kyle Rittenhouse speaks during the “Rittenhouse Recap” by Turning Point USA in the Downing Student Union Nite Class on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. (Ian Pitchford)

When asked about his experience after the events in Kenosha, Rittenhouse said that while he does receive threats and is occasionally followed, he gets the opportunity to speak to campuses and spark dialogue. 

After the question and answer session lasted about 15 minutes, Rittenhouse thanked the audience and promptly left. Many attendees shared their opinions of the event after the conclusion. 

“Honestly he just interrupted anyone who opposed him. He decided to antagonize them and fall into defense mode when he couldn’t answer their questions,” Kyla Bryant, freshman interior design major, said. 

Many student attendees voiced their opinions on why they decided to come to the event. 

“It’s important for the Black population of Western to come out and show that we’re disproportionately represented,” Kira Coleman, freshman, said. 

Some attendees vocalized their concerns that university funds were not spent efficiently and that a campus shutdown created more problems for students. Nine restaurants were closed early along with numerous campus parking lots.

Holcombe found the event to be fruitful for campus. 

“I think it started a little bit of a conversation between people and hopefully people too far on either side can find a middle ground,” Holcombe said. “My goal during this was basically to start the conversation. Even if it’s not about Kyle, there’s people who love to talk online and stuff and hide behind a profile and whatnot. But when you have that conversation face to face, and you start to listen to people, that’s when you really start to get somewhere in the middle ground.”

News Editor Molly Dobberstein can be reached at [email protected].

News Reporter Larkin Ivory can be reached at [email protected]

News Reporter Cameron Shaw can be reached at [email protected].

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