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Kyle Rittenhouse, center, enters the courtroom with his attorneys Mark Richards, left, and Corey Chirafisi for a meeting called by Judge Bruce Schroeder at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 18, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Photo: Sean Krajacic/Pool/Getty Images)

The Exoneration Club of America Welcomes Kyle Rittenhouse

We're a nonpartisan support group of fellow exonerated killers and accused criminals who prevailed against the “woke mob” of the liberal media, devious prosecutors, and hostile public once we had our day in court.

To: Kyle Rittenhouse.

From: George M. Zimmerman, president of the Exoneration Club of America (2013 to present).

Dear Kyle,

We've never met, but I'm thrilled to welcome you as the latest member of the Exoneration Club of America. You were nominated by our board for membership the minute your verdict was announced. Like the jurors at your trial, the vote was unanimous here at the club. You're one of us now, Kyle. Congratulations!

They're lionizing you as a hero when you and I both know that deep down, you're scared and wondering if you'll ever be able to sleep again without seeing the faces of those you killed in your dreams.

You've probably never heard of us, so let me explain how monumental this honor we've bestowed upon you is. We're a nonpartisan support group of fellow exonerated killers and accused criminals who prevailed against the "woke mob" of the liberal media, devious prosecutors and hostile public once we had our day in court. Like you, we've all had the pleasure of hearing the sweetest words that have ever been uttered by a jury: "Not guilty on all charges."

The ECA was officially started by half-brothers Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam in 1955. They were exonerated by an all-white jury for the lynching of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old Chicagoan who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered for allegedly whistling at a store clerk who was married to one of our founding members.

Here in the ECA, we do not pass judgment on the likely guilt or innocence of our members. The courts have already done that. All we can do is humbly defer to the wisdom of the judicial system. My job as the current president of the ECA is to make you aware of resources you'll need to navigate the rough days and sleepless nights ahead of you.

But before we get down to business, allow me to commend you for the gutsy decision to take the stand in your own defense at your murder trial.

During my 2013 trial for defending myself against Trayvon Martin, my lawyers refused to let me take the stand because they thought I would come off as unsympathetic. I beg to differ, since the jury was obviously on my side from the beginning.

To their credit, my lawyers put Trayvon's ghost on trial, knowing that most of the jurors would understand my very reasonable fear of being beat up and killed by an angry, muscular Black teenager who looked 10 feet tall on that dark and rainy night in Sanford, Fla.

I shot him because I knew that the law was on my side, just as it was on yours. I was standing my ground. You were defending yourself. Every other fact and circumstance is immaterial.

I remember those heady days after my acquittal on all charges. I was feted by Fox News, just as you are now. Along with several family members, I took a victory lap on "Hannity" and other programs that would have me. I was invited to gun shops and shooting ranges. I was a genuine hero in the eyes of a good portion of America because I refused to take any guff from an unarmed Black kid.

You're doing Tucker Carlson's show these days and weighing a lot of competing offers from various Republican congressmen to go to D.C. Not bad for a former high school dropout who is now taking online courses to become a nurse.

Rep. Matt Gaetz from down here in Florida tweeted that you "would probably make a pretty good congressional intern." This ignited a friendly rivalry with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who was recently censured by the House for creating a video cartoon in which he killed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Mr. Gosar responded to Mr. Gaetz's tweet by offering to arm wrestle his Florida colleague to "get dibs for Kyle as an intern." Meanwhile, no one was more over-the-top in their admiration for you than Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., who proclaimed his passion for you on Instagram in all caps: "KYLE: IF YOU WANT AN INTERNSHIP, REACH OUT TO ME."

I didn't get those kinds of offers when I was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, so I admit to being a little jealous. I got lots of radio and television interview time, but those don't pay the bills after the notoriety fades. Oddly enough, being a symbol of American violence isn't very lucrative. The NRA and the GOP raised millions from my image while I was living in my car. There's something unfair about that.

You're probably too young to remember, but I had all sorts of hassles with the police within months of my acquittal. There was a notorious road rage incident, a divorce that left me drowning in debt, a bout of homelessness and accusations of domestic violence that dog me to this day. I was an insurance underwriter and wannabe cop the night I shot Trayvon. I haven't had any gainful employment since. Oh, and I don't want to be a cop anymore, either.

I tried various hustles. I tried to auction off the gun I killed Trayvon with, but that went bust. I tried my hand at painting but ran into copyright issues because of the images I copied. Admittedly, my subjects weren't very popular. I thought the nation was ready for limited-series Confederate flag paintings and Trayvon Martin portraits by yours truly. One critic called my work "murderabilia," which I thought was clever, but no one wants to pay me for my art.

This is just to warn you that fame is term-limited and that the folks carrying you on their shoulders today won't have any time for you a year from now. That goes for Tucker, Hannity and all of those Fox News phonies, too. They're lionizing you as a hero when you and I both know that deep down, you're scared and wondering if you'll ever be able to sleep again without seeing the faces of those you killed in your dreams.

I noticed that your lawyer, Mark Richards, has expressed disdain about the Republican congressmen—and Donald Trump Jr.—trying to profit from your image.

"They're raising money on [Rittenhouse's celebrity], and you have all of these Republican congressmen saying, 'Come work for me.' They want to trade on his celebrity, and I think it's disgusting," your lawyer said.

He's not wrong in being so contemptuous.

Most of the politicians that have been invoking your name are vultures and bottom-feeding opportunists who don't care that you might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after killing two people and badly injuring a third. They want the fame that comes with being in proximity to you, but they couldn't care less about you or your conscience once deep remorse kicks in. They will have already moved on to another pliable culture warrior once your soul starts hurting.

Your lawyer is saying the same sorts of things in public my lawyer said after springing me. Your lawyer told CNN, "There's too many guns in society" and "I wish our society wasn't perceived as being so dangerous that people need to arm themselves."

I wouldn't go as far as your lawyer and say there are too many guns in society. America was built on the right to shoot people out of fear. That's a sacred American right that you'll have to pry from our dead, cold hands, right, amigo?

While I have you, I'd like to offer you the vice presidency of the Exoneration Club of America. Please think about it. I can't think of a finer person than you to become president of the ECA one day. I offered it to Bill Cosby a few months ago when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out his conviction for sexual assault, but he called me a "racist" and turned me down flat. I must admit that coming from Cos, that hurt. I'm such a fan of his work.

I'm preparing exoneration packets for the three men in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial in Georgia, but I suspect they're going to be convicted, which is too bad. I hear those Georgia boys are good workers. We could've used their enthusiasm around here.

Tony Norman

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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