Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager acquitted of all charges related to deadly shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year, is among the lineup of conservative figures coming to Phoenix beginning this weekend.
Rittenhouse will speak at Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest, a four-day conference that will bring together conservative politicians, media commentators and musicians to “celebrate America and be thankful to live in the greatest country ever to exist,” Turning Point spokesman Andrew Kolvet said.
“There’s a lot of people that want to hear what he has to say and there’s a tremendous amount of interest,” Kolvet said. “You know, he didn’t ask for it, but he became this cultural symbol, a touch point of self-defense. He got thrust into that, and he has a story to tell.”
Rittenhouse is slated to speak on Monday afternoon during a panel called “Kenosha on camera.” The multi-day conference will take place at the Phoenix Convention Center starting Saturday.
While Rittenhouse is lionized by some on the right as an example of the importance of the Second Amendment and self-defense, he also was portrayed as a vigilante by prosecutors who argued he set out to inject violence into protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the Wisconsin city.
Rittenhouse, then 17, fatally shot two men and wounded a third during those protests in August 2020. Rittenhouse’s defense team argued he acted in self-defense, and a jury found Rittenhouse not guilty of all counts against him in November.
He also has sparked controversy at Arizona State University, where he was briefly enrolled as a non-degree seeking online student, and has expressed interest in attending school on the Tempe campus.
Rittenhouse joins a lineup of conservative speakers including Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, the student movement that has become a political mobilization empire, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Turning Point’s affiliate, Turning Point Action, ran a project to turn out voters in support of Donald Trump.
Other speakers include Donald Trump Jr. and former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has received criticism for past support of conspiracy theories; and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who was tied to an investigation of possible sex trafficking over the summer, are slated to attend and address the convention. Arizona’s congressmen Andy Biggs, a Republican who represents Gilbert, Queen Creek and other parts of the East Valley, and Paul Gosar, a Republican whose sprawling 4th District includes Prescott, Kingman and Wickenburg, are also on the schedule.
Biggs and Gosar have faced scrutiny related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as both led Republican efforts to set aside electors for Arizona and Pennsylvania that coincided with the insurrection.
Event announcements foreshadow surprise guests, but Kolvet declined to comment when asked if that included former President Trump, who has headlined rallies hosted by Turning Point Action in the past.
“With or without President Trump, this event has some of the most incredible speakers in the conservative movement, and then in just pop culture in general,” Kolvet said.
AmericaFest bills itself as the “largest celebration of our constitutional rights and freedoms” in the conservative movement. Sessions will feature discussions of “How to Survive Wokism & Change the World” and “Not Fake News: How to Fight Back Against Leftist Media,” according to an online schedule.
The host nonprofit, Turning Point USA, says on its website that it promotes principles of a free market and limited government, declaring “now is the time to take up arms in the culture war and fight back against the prevailing establishment.”
Turning Point’s political arm has supported Trump by mobilizing student voters, and Kirk, who founded both the nonprofit and its affiliated political organization, has furthered false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump — an unproven theory that has pushed one segment of the Republican party farther to the right.
Turning Point USA opposes mask mandates, and is a leading political group seeking to turn school boards and education policy debates into the latest front for political clashes. Turning Point runs a platform for students to report progressive professors and school board policies that promote “anti-American, radical and hateful” teachings, for example.
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at email@example.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.
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