Kyle Rittenhouse speech sparks campus protests

Kyle Rittenhouse demonstrates the OK hand gesture on Wednesday, in rebuttal to a question posed by an audience member referencing a photo Rittenhouse was a part of at a bar in Wisconsin in 2021 with Proud Boy members. The audience member questioned if Rittenhouse had ties to white nationalists. Rittenhouse claimed that, at the time, he didn’t know what the gesture meant. “I had no idea who the Proud Boys were … I was busy with other things,” Rittenhouse said. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the OK hand gesture references white power, with the three fingers forming a “W” and the loop forming a “P.” During “The Rittenhouse Recap” in DUS’s Nite Class, Rittenhouse recounted his story of the night he killed two people and injured a third, lobbying for increased gun rights. (Photo by Brett Phelps)

Controversy stirred leading up to Kyle Rittenhouse’s appearance on Wednesday in WKU’s Downing Student Union Nite Class, as he planned to speak on “the importance of the Second Amendment and the lies of (Black Lives Matter),” according to Turning Point USA’s website.

“The Rittenhouse Recap” was hosted by the WKU chapter of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit organization designed to “restore traditional American values like patriotism, respect for life, liberty, family, and fiscal responsibility,” according to Turning Point USA’s official website.

In 2021, Rittenhouse attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, against police brutality, according to an article published by the Associated Press . During the protest, Rittenhouse shot and killed two men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounded another, Gaige Grosskreutz. Rittenhouse claimed it was self-defense, expressing his right to bear arms.


Rittenhouse was charged with five counts — first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree attempted homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment — but was ultimately acquitted in a jury trial, according to the Associated Press.

When the event was first announced on Instagram, students, alumni and members of the Bowling Green community expressed mixed feelings. People flooded the Turning Point USA post with comments expressing support or concerns. Some people said they were glad WKU promotes free speech regardless of controversy, while others said they were now ashamed of being a Hilltopper. 

Rittenhouse’s presence on campus Wednesday sparked different reactions as students opposed to his appearance protested on campus during his presentation while others expressed their beliefs that Rittenhouse’s speech promoted First Amendment rights.

In the midst of these reactions, Junior Jacob Young said he took a different approach, opting to attend the event to gain firsthand insight into Rittenhouse’s perspective. 

“I don’t support what Rittenhouse has done, but I do believe he has a right to be here,” Young said.

There was a reason that the First Amendment was created, Young said. He believes Turning Point USA’s main goal in inviting Rittenhouse to speak was to spark ideas in people who are afraid to speak out.

“While I think he hurt a lot of people by pulling the trigger in Kenosha, I also think protesters and Rittenhouse should voice their opinions through the First Amendment,” Young said.

Freshman Jordan Nunnally shouts during a protest against a speech by Kyle Rittenhouse Wednesday. Rittenhouse spoke inside DSU Nite Class while protestors gathered outside. “I have never a been part of a movement before, but coming here (to the protest) has inspired me to want to make change,” Nunnally said. Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three men—two fatally— during the 2020 Black Lives Matter civil unrest in Kenosha, Wis., appeared on campus as part of “The Rittenhouse Recap,” a speaking tour hosted by conservative non-profit Turning Point USA. (Photo by Arthur Trickett-Wile)

Outside of DSU, protesters surrounded the building before the event, chanting slogans such as, “No justice, no peace.” Signs were held up in opposition to Rittenhouse’s appearance, including some that read, “WKU does not welcome you” and “Condemn white supremacy.”

Alumnus Scott Pope, who attended the “Rittenhouse Recap” in support of the First Amendment right to free speech, said he could hear the protesters from inside DSU.

“It’s terrible that people were shot in Kenosha,” Pope said. “However, Rittenhouse did what he had to do, and the First Amendment gives him the right to be here and speak about his experience.” 

Pope said he hopes Rittenhouse’s appearances at college campuses encourage other people to speak out about their right to bear arms.

Members of the Bowling Green Freedom Walkers march around campus chanting messages including “No justice, no peace,” and “Whose streets? Our streets” as part of their protest against Kyle Rittenhouse speaking on campus on Wednesday. (Photo by Preston Jenkins)

The Bowling Green Freedom Walkers, a group of individuals who often get together to protest, organized a protest via Facebook called “Black Lives Still and Will Always Matter.” Before the event took place, approximately 200 people had already made RSVPs, according to their Facebook.

Co-founder of the Bowling Green Freedom Walkers, Summer Shannon said that the organization’s main goal is to always respond to the community and promote peace, love and diversity. 


“I believe the protest was successful because there was a huge diversity from multiple races present protesting,” Shannon said. “However, when people in support of Rittenhouse exited the event, they wanted to make a mockery of us.”

Shannon said the protest ended peacefully, achieving the organization’s goal in providing a platform for community members to peacefully protest.

Freedom Walkers President Summer Shannon (from left), protestor Kelly Benton and counter-protestor Justin Reesy clash amid a crowd of protestors for and against Kyle Rittenhouse outside DSU. Benton chanted “Black Lives Matter” while Reesy chanted “All lives matter” before the two separated without starting a physical interaction. The protest took place Wednesday in front of Downing Student Union. (Photo by Cameron McKinney)

Counter efforts before Rittenhouse’s appearance were made as a new Instagram account was created called “For the People Advocacy” announcing that a sit-in would be held in the Wetherby Administrative Building at 8 a.m. Wednesday During the sit-in, the group wore all black, brought signs, held a press conference and a community forum afterwards.

The Potter College of Arts and Letters also announced it would be hosting an event titled “We Stand With You” Wednesday at 6 p.m. as an alternate event to attend other than the “Rittenhouse Recap.” According to PCAL’s Instagram, the first 300 people to arrive would receive free Kona Ice, have the chance to share meaningful conversations, and come together to support one another. 

After the “Rittenhouse Recap” ended, graduates of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program set up a “healing hour” on South Lawn to spread mindfulness techniques.

Among the graduates was Kyleigh Roberts, who said coloring pages, cookies, water and candles were set up to allow those who felt impacted by the event to de-stress.

“It’s important to me to support the community,” Roberts said. “We just wanted to provide a safe space to the community to allow them to decompress.”

Senior Solomon Humphrey, said it’s not fair to pay money to go to school at WKU and have to deal with events such as “Rittenhouse Recap,” “where someone who is not a hero is made out to be one.” He added that he is disappointed in WKU.

“I have 35 days left until I graduate, and I have other things to worry about, such as classes and tests. I shouldn’t have to deal with his appearance,” Humphrey said.