Kyle Rittenhouse, appearing on Fox News Monday evening, and told host Tucker Carlson that President Joe Biden had defamed his character when Biden was a Presidential candidate in 2020

Last September, the day after one of his debates with then-President Donald Trump, Biden tweeted, “There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night.”

Biden’s tweet included a 50-second clip apparently posted to illustrate the white supremacists Biden had in mind. That clip included a photo of Kyle Rittenhouse holding a weapon in Kenosha, Wis. the month before.

“It’s actual malice, defaming my character for him to say something like that,” Kyle Rittenhouse told Carlson during their hour-long conversation on Tucker Carlson Tonight. 

Kyle Rittenhouse, after a high-profile murder trial in Kenosha, Wis. was acquitted on all charges on Nov. 19.

He was echoing a comment that his lawyer, Mark Richards, made immediately after the jury verdict. Richards said, “Biden said some things that I think are so incorrect and untrue, he’s not a White Supremacist.”

Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, had made the same point while the trial was still underway.

A violent protest broke out last summer in Kenosha after a white police officer, Rusten Shesky, shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in that city.

Rittenhouse is a resident of Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles from Kenosha. He drove to Kenosha, where he and a Kenosha resident friend of his, Dominick Black, determined to protect a car dealership, Car Source, from harm if rioting continued. Accounts differ as to what the proprietor of Car Source thought of this idea.

On Aug. 25, Rittenhouse shot and killed two men — Joseph Rosenbaum in the parking lot of a Car Source and Anthony Huber moments later on Sheridan Road. He shot and injured a third: Gaige Grosskreutz.

The phrase Rittenhouse used in the Carlson interview in referring to President Biden, “actual malice,” is a phrase drawn from the legal precedents on the issue of libel, and when the libel laws can limit what might otherwise be constitutionally protected speech.

In a landmark decision in 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court said, “The constitutional guarantees [freedom of speech and of the press] require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Of course, Kyle Rittenhouse is not a “public official,” but in subsequent decisions the courts have expanded that principle, to require showing actual malice whenever the alleged libel involves a “public figure,” understood as a person who has placed himself in a position requiring scrutiny and commentary.

In the context of last September’s debate, the white supremacists under discussion explicitly included the Proud Boys. And former President Trump’s message to them was, “Stand back and stand by.”