Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Kyle Rittenhouse, the right-wing activist who was famously acquitted of killing two Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020, is stepping up his involvement in Texas politics.
Already this year, he’s rallied with a Texas secessionist movement leader, endorsed ultraconservative midterm candidates, and railed against Texas gun control legislation and the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Now, Rittenhouse is creating a nonprofit in the state — with help from well-connected, far-right political actors.
In a July 23 filing with the Texas secretary of state’s office, he described “The Rittenhouse Foundation” as a nonprofit that “protects human and civil rights secured by law, including an individual’s inalienable right to bear arms” and “ensures the Second Amendment is preserved through education and legal assistance.”
The foundation’s directors are Rittenhouse, Texas Gun Rights President Chris McNutt and Shelby Griesinger, treasurer for Defend Texas Liberty PAC, a key financier of far-right candidates in the state. The foundation’s registered agent is the law firm of Tony McDonald, who has for years represented Empower Texans and other deep-red organizations.
Defend Texas Liberty and Empower Texans have received tens of millions of dollars from a trio of West Texas oil tycoons — Tim Dunn and brothers Farris and Dan Wilks — who have for decades funded campaigns, nonprofits and movements to promote their ultraconservative religious and social views.
McDonald declined an interview request Tuesday. Other foundation officials could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, after The Texas Tribune published this story, Defend Texas Liberty leader Jonathan Stickland posted a photo on X, formerly known as Twitter, with Rittenhouse.
“Let me end the speculation,” Stickland wrote.
“Most conservative boss out there!” responded Rittenhouse, who in the photo is wearing a hat and shirt for Pale Horse Strategies, a political consulting firm owned by Stickland that works with Dunn-backed candidates.
Rittenhouse moved to Texas last year after being acquitted of homicide charges in the fatal shooting of two people at a 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He’s since steadily ramped up his political involvement in Texas, often railing against the media, “cancel culture” and gun control groups.
In January, Rittenhouse appeared at a Conroe “rally against censorship” with Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, which advocates for Texas to secede from the United States. The event drew national media attention after a Conroe brewery said it was inundated with threats and harassment after pulling out as the event’s host venue.
In May, Rittenhouse joined Texas Gun Rights in opposing a House bill that would have raised the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. And he’s been active on social media, condemning the Texas House impeachment of Paxton and endorsing pro-Second Amendment, ultraconservative candidates who were also backed by groups affiliated with Dunn and the Wilks brothers.
Rittenhouse has endorsed Andy Hopper, a primary challenger to state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton. Hopper, who came close to unseating Stucky in a runoff in 2022, had the support of Defend Texas Liberty in that primary and is expected to have it again.
Rittenhouse more recently backed Brandon Herrera, a gun rights activist and YouTube star known as “The AK Guy” who is running against U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio. Gonzales represents the district where the 2022 Uvalde school shooting took place, and he was the only Texas Republican in the U.S. House to vote for a bipartisan gun law afterward.
Last year, Rittenhouse announced plans to attend Texas A&M University, only to walk back the claim after the university said he had not been accepted. Rittenhouse, an Illinois native, later said he planned to attend Blinn College, a two-year school in Brenham. It’s unclear if Rittenhouse is attending the school, which said he had not enrolled in classes after he announced his intention to go there.
Rittenhouse’s foray into Texas politics comes as Republicans continue efforts to reach out to younger Americans who are increasingly supportive of liberal policies. On Monday, the Tribune reported on a new company, Influenceable, with ties to Dunn that has been quietly recruiting Gen Z social media influencers to do undisclosed political promotions.
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.
The full program is now LIVE for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 21-23 in Austin. Explore the program featuring more than 100 unforgettable conversations coming to TribFest. Panel topics include the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead, how big cities in Texas and around the country are changing, the integrity of upcoming elections and so much more. See the full program.