Rittenhouse declares 'self-defence is not illegal' as acquittal exposes bitter divide across US

ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports on the polarising verdict and what it means for the US

The acquittal of the teenage vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse is sending shockwaves through America this weekend. The jury found him not guilty of intentional homicide and other crimes. There were dramatic scenes in court when the verdict was read out. Rittenhouse collapsed to his knees and appeared to be in a state of disbelief as he embraced his defence lawyer.

In his first reaction to the verdict, 18-year-old Rittenhouse - in excerpts from an interview to be aired on Fox News on Monday - speaks of waking up in a cold sweat every night of the trial.

And he tells the right-wing anchor Tucker Carlson: "The jury reached the correct verdict, self-defence is not illegal, and I believe they came to the correct verdict and I'm glad that everything went well.

"It's been a rough journey, but we made it through, made it through the hard part."

Democrats and those active in campaigning for racial justice have expressed their outrage and quickly called it a miscarriage of justice, and a victory for white supremacy and vigilante-inspired violence.

The anti-racist group Black Lives Matter likened the case of Rittenhouse to that of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after shooting him in 2012 - that verdict also sparked huge protests across America.

Kyle Rittenhouse was armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon when he joined groups of vigilantes patrolling the riot-scarred city of Kenosha last summer.

He claims he was defending property; his critics say he was a provocative presence and was a trigger-happy teenage vigilante bringing intimidation to the streets. When he was chased down the road by protesters on that August night in 2020, he opened fire, killing two people, and injuring another. The incident was caught on video. Although both Rittenhouse and his victims were white, the protests followed the shooting of a black man by police, and there was always a racially sensitive backdrop to the trial. Many Republicans, and advocates for gun-rights, are now openly celebrating the outcome, while President Joe Biden admitted he was angry about the verdict.

Following the verdict Mr Biden said: "While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken."

One Republican congressman, Madison Cawthorn, has told his followers, "to be armed and dangerous and moral" and offered Rittenhouse an internship in his Capitol Hill office.

The Rittenhouse verdict is further polarising America. It is raising concerns that it will embolden militia groups and vigilantes who are already restless and angry with Biden's presidency. The potential for further violence cannot be ruled out. As Rittenhouse enjoys his freedom, the case has exposed America's angry and bitter fault-lines once more.