It seems to be a common talking-point that the now exonerated Kyle Rittenhouse did something wrong by 'crossing state lines' to attend the BLM demonstration in Kenosha that led to the subsequent shootings of three of the protestors.

What, if anything, was the relevance of state borders in this case?

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    My impression is that people who bring this up do so to suggest Kyle was not defending but attacking. The protests weren't outside his front door - he took a gun and traveled to where the protests were. Likely, the point of suggesting this is to suggest that Kyle should not have had a valid self defense claim. That argument has now been tested in court and was not successful this time.
    – Patrick87
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 21:23
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    But what is the significance of crossing a state boundary specifically? I don't know anything about the geography of the case but depending where you live it might be that you could walk for 1 minute in one direction and cross a state boundary or drive for 100 miles in another direction and not cross a state boundary.
    – Nemo
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 22:06
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    @Nemo I think it’s a mental leftover from a time when travel was more difficult, but also there is a sense in which you lose some privileges in another state. But those privileges are largely irrelevant to whatever facts are at hand. It’s sort of like when you’d say someone called long distance. Like, that must have been important. There are more examples, like you “actually got on a plane and went to… Yeah, a plane. Big deal. Cheaper than a cab ride in a city. Not really a big deal at all, but it resonates with people.
    – jqning
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 1:28
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    @Nemo While what you say is true, "crossing state lines" is suggestive of deliberately traveling a significant distance.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 14:01
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    @MarkJohnson worth noting, "his mother drove him" is actually a media myth that's not in line with the evidence presented during the trial.
    – Allison C
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 14:45

6 Answers 6


The "crossing state lines" narrative originated from the false presumption that Kyle Rittenhouse illegally carried a rifle across state lines from Illinois into Wisconsin. If this had been the case, Rittenhouse could have potentially been charged with a federal crime.

In the context of this case, it was never a relevant factor as he was charged by the District Attorney's office and not the Department of Justice.

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    @jqning law.stackexchange.com/questions/72782/…
    – BowlOfRed
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 4:33
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    @jqning 'crossing state lines with a gun' didn't actually happen, which is the most important part in determining whether Rittenhouse could be charged re: that. Rittenhouse obtained the AR-15 from a friend who lived in Kenosha, so after he had crossed the state line. The friend who illegally purchased the gun for Rittenhouse happens to be facing multiple felony charges related to that act.
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 16:40
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    Further, it was not relevant in this case because Rittenhouse did not cross state lines with a firearm, the firearm was already in WI, as proven in court.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 0:54
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    @SnakeDoc the firearm was not his father's. It was his friend's, who is also being prosecuted by Thomas Binger for straw purchasing the rifle for Kyle.
    – Rstew
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 9:26
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    @AnthonyHiscox Yes, definitely not straw purchase. He was charged under the same section that Rittenhouse was charged under. And that charge was thrown out because Rittenhouse had not broken the law. It seems likely that that case will also be thrown out.
    – thelawnet
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 17:30

I think this is more of a Politics question than a Law one. From a political point of view, it's useful to frame someone as part of the outgroup to discredit them and paint them as not having a "right" to participate in the community. See the civil right era, in which Southerners insisted that Northern whites who went South to protest were meddling in things that were none of their business. From a legal perspective, it is of little relevance. While one can lose the right to self defense by provoking the other person, that provocation has to be illegal acts, not merely offending their parochial sensibilities.

Politically, the idea is suggest that he was an outsider who was not acting on protective motives (because, apparently, it's not possible to have legitimate concern for other people, if those other people live in another state), but rather he went out of his way to put himself in a situation where he would have an excuse to shoot leftists.

There is a large set of circumstances that led to Rosembaum and Huber's death, and the idea is to convert "cause" in the sense of "X would not have happened if Y hadn't happened" to blame, in which the person who did X is to morally culpable for Y. If Rittenhouse had not traveled to Kenosha, Rosembaum and Huber would not have died. The suggestion is that Rittenhouse had a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to "mind his own business", as not doing so was part of the causal chain that led to two deaths (distracting from the more immediate, more morally fraught, and more foreseeable as being likely to cause, link in that chain of Rosenbaum engaging in arson and then beating up someone who tried to put the fires out).

Rittenhouse lives in Antioch, IL, which is 20 miles away from Kenosha. Anthony Huber lived in Silver Lake, which is also about 20 miles away from Kenosha, and Gaige Grosskreutz lives in West Allis, which is 40 miles away from Kenosha, and was carrying a concealed weapon despite his permit to do so having expired, so the arguments about Rittenhouse being an "outsider" and supposedly being in illegal possession of a firearm are a bit hypocritical.

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    The question specifically asks 'what was the relevance to the case?', so it is a question about the law, not political opinions.
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 23:10
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    @DrMcCleod - Given that the prosecution was politically motivated, a political analysis of why the prosecutors thought it important is worthy of examination.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 23:59

They framed him as a chaos tourist who provoked people, and so was provoking and so caused himself to be attacked.

Just a small part of the deluge of chaos tourists we saw here in Kenosha, trying to feed off of what we were going through. Despite everything we did to try and tell them go away, stay out.


But the defendant’s down there he says, because he wants you to believe he’s protecting Car Source, even though he had no actual ties or genuine concern for this building. You have this caravan of people from West Bend, Ryan Balch, Jason Lackowski, Joanne Fiedler. Coming down from some other community, having no idea what’s going on here in Kenosha, having no idea what businesses are, having never dealt with Car Source before, just injecting themselves into this situation.

The idea is that because he was an outsider forcing his way into Kenosha, he was provocative with his actions, and therefore provoked Rosenbaum and others into attacking him.

It also goes into the narrative that he went to Kenosha to kill people. Stories and narratives are important to juries.

So consider, for example, whether or not it’s heroic or honorable to provoke and shoot unarmed people. Consider whether it makes someone a hero when they lie about being an EMT. I think all of us are familiar with someone who does the sorts of things that the defendant has done. They enjoy the thrill of going around and telling people what to do without the courage or the honor to back it up, and without the legal authority to do so.

This was part of a bit of legal obfuscation. Legally, you can only use provocation as a legal defense for self defense if the other person does an illegal action.


Provocation affects the privilege of self-defense as follows: (a) A person who engages in unlawful conduct of a type likely to provoke others to attack him or her and thereby does provoke an attack is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defense against such attack, except when the attack which ensues is of a type causing the person engaging in the unlawful conduct to reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. In such a case, the person engaging in the unlawful conduct is privileged to act in self-defense, but the person is not privileged to resort to the use of force intended or likely to cause death to the person's assailant unless the person reasonably believes he or she has exhausted every other reasonable means to escape from or otherwise avoid death or great bodily harm at the hands of his or her assailant.

However, the laymen understanding of provocation is that it means if someone does something bad that annoys you it's provoking.

In theory, the jury should follow the jury instructions and judge Kyle under the innocent until proven guilty ideals. But, the jury instructions are hard to read, and people often don't care what the law says, and juries often judge on a guilty until proven innocent basis.

This sort of thing is why Kyle's defense lawyer felt he had to put Kyle on the stand, despite the immense risk. The jury needed to be able to see if Kyle was a chaos tourist who crossed state lines with dishonorable intent.

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    This answer does not deal with the specific issue of crossing a state line as opposed to simply coming from a distance. Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 15:44
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    @DavidSiegel My interpretation of this answer is that it implies the phrase "he crossed state lines" was only used to emphasize that he came from a distance (and dives into why that's important). The phrase has the added benefit to give the impression that he came from further away than he actually did (Kenosha and Antioch are only 20 miles apart).
    – Aubreal
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 21:07
  • As I noted, they were saying how he was an outsider who lacked community ties. The word state just emphasizes that. They didn't mention state in the close.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 23:21
  • "innocent until proven guilty ideals" is not used in self-defense defense. The point is that you admit to the killing, but assure it was in self-defense. If the latter is the case is judged on a standard like "beyond reasonable doubt", depending on local jurisdiction. Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 9:21
  • The state has to, to be exact, prove that the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt shows the defendant did not act in self defense. I was noting that in cases like this, the jury may ignore the jury instructions (the person is innocent unless the state can prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) and judge instead by their standards (the person is guilty unless the defense can prove them innocent beyond reasonable doubt).
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 16:00

Legally Speaking, Ultimately None

There was no significance to Rittenhouse crossing borders once all the facts were known, but in the immediate aftermath of the event, it appeared as though Rittenhouse crossed state borders with his AR. Rittenhouse could not legally posses the gun in Illinois, but he could in Wisconsin. The facts ultimately showed that he knew this, however, and intentionally (and legally) obtained his gun in Wisconsin.

But He Is An "Outsider"

Rittenhouse isn't from Kenosha. He's not even from Wisconsin. When you start asking the question of why he was at that protest armed in the first place, it creates a lot of gray area for bad intentions. This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision on his part like you might assume if he lived in Kenosha. He took the time to arm himself. He took the time to cross state lines.

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    Rittenhouse actually is from Kenosha; he'd only recently moved to Antioch with his mother, and the rest of his family still lived there.
    – Allison C
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 21:04
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    Maybe you want to rephrase that second part. The prosecutors (and some media outlets) used the fact he crossed state lines to give the impression he was an outsider, but in fact Rittenhouse had strong ties to Kenosha -- his father lived there and Rittenhouse worked in Kenosha County as a lifeguard
    – Aubreal
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 21:09
  • @Michael W "took the time to cross state lines"? Antioch IL is literally zero miles from Kenosha County WI; crossing that border would take no time at all.
    – D M
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 1:51

As I understand it; (this is based entirely on listening to this podcast with Robert Evans )

It was to do with whether he could be tried at a federal or state level, this is important because federal defendants are normally pressured hard into making a guilty plea bargain. Federal cases don't normally get as far as a trial.

Relatively trivial crimes by leftist have been tried at federal level, which is where the claims of bias kick in. ( A yoga teacher saying 'Ill advised' comments is mention as an example, I don't know the details )

It's well worth a listen if you are interested.


This is a political question, but we must look at the timeline.

26 or 27 August 2020: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/crime/2020/08/26/illinois-teen-charged-homicide-kenosha-protest-case/5633334002/

"Court records show Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, of Antioch, Illinois, was charged in Lake County, Illinois, as a fugitive from justice. That document, reviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said he faces a first-degree intentional homicide charge in Kenosha County."

"Since Rittenhouse was taken into custody in Illinois, Wisconsin must file documents to extradite him to the state to face homicide charges in Kenosha County."

In other words, it was absolutely relevant during the arrest that Rittenhouse lived and was arrested in Illinois, but was accused of homicide in Wisconsin.

He therefore 'crossed state lines' to return to his home, as many millions of Americans do every day, so from the beginning the 'state lines' was relevant.

We see this article of 27 August 2020, which employs strident rhetoric:


"Rittenhouse traveled to the protests in illegal possession of an assault weapon to act as a vigilante. He placed himself at the center of the violence, then escalated it by shooting a man in the head. Minutes later, he shot two more people who appeared to be trying to disarm him, then fled across state lines. "

Much of that is not true (the gun is not classed as an assault weapon under Wisconsin law), but the 'state lines' issue arises because Rittenhouse crossed them, for simple reasons of geography.

L. Lin Wood, who sought to associate himself with the case, said https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/crime/2020/08/26/wisconsin-open-carry-law-kyle-rittenhouse-legally-have-gun-kenosha-protest-shooting-17-year-old/3444231001/

"Kyle did not carry a gun across state line"

So the 'state lines' were relevant to the process of arrest, and the confusion between the fact of Rittenhouse himself crossing state lines, and the gun, which did not, caused people to falsely claim that the gun had been brought across state lines.

  • So the only legal relevance is in the cross-state extradition process?
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 18:01
  • that was the only actual legal reference. In terms of people who didn't know the facts about the case, then the possibility this was a federal crime became relevant.
    – thelawnet
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 18:20

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