The Rundown: A stunning turn in the Rittenhouse trial

Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse, center, looks back as he waits with his attorneys Mark Richards, Corey Chirafisi, second from left and Natalie Wisco during his trail at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool / AP Photo
Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse, center, looks back as he waits with his attorneys Mark Richards, Corey Chirafisi, second from left and Natalie Wisco during his trail at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool / AP Photo

The Rundown: A stunning turn in the Rittenhouse trial

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Good afternoon! It’s Monday, and I’m not too excited about it either. But I got your back. Here’s what you need to know today.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. Judge tosses gun charge against Kyle Rittenhouse

Shortly before closing arguments were made today in the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, a judge dismissed a misdemeanor weapons charge, which legal experts said was the easiest charge for the state to prove.

As the Chicago Tribune reports: “Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled Wisconsin’s open carry law is so confusingly written it can be interpreted to mean 17-year-olds can openly carry firearms as long as they’re not short-barrel rifles. He believed the jury could only convict if prosecutors proved the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle was less than 16 inches and has an overall length shorter than 26 inches.”

The newspaper adds that the judge’s interpretation means “it would be illegal for a 17-year-old to carry brass knuckles in Wisconsin but permissible to carry a semi-automatic rifle.”

Legal experts told the Trib that state lawmakers were trying to accommodate teenage hunters when they wrote the law. [Tribune]

2. Chicago FOP president faces termination hearing this week

John Catanzara, the controversial president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, faces the possibility of being fired from the Chicago Police Department this week.

He is accused of violating several department rules for allegedly posting inflammatory comments online, such as referring to Muslims as “savages.” Catanzara is also accused of filing a false police report in 2018 against then-Police Supt. Eddie Johnson for joining an anti-violence march on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

The Chicago Police Board today began a three-day hearing of the allegations against Catanzara, who was elected as FOP president last year while stripped of his police powers. [WBEZ]

3. Sandy Hook families claim a huge victory against Alex Jones

A judge in Connecticut today ruled far-right broadcaster Alex Jones was guilty by default in defamation lawsuits filed by families of eight people killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Jones spread false claims the shooting was staged by the federal government in an attempt to take away firearms from Americans. Some of the families said Jones’ followers began harassing them after he promoted a bogus claim that the families were paid actors.

Jones refused to hand over documents to the court, including financial records, causing the judge to rule Jones was guilty by default.

The New York Times reports the “ruling combines with three previous rulings in Texas to grant the families of 10 Sandy Hook shooting victims four victories in four defamation lawsuits against Mr. Jones.” [NYT]

4. Biden’s approval rating hits a new low

Just 41% of Americans say they approve of President Joe Biden in a new poll from The Washington Post and ABC News. The survey found that growing dissatisfaction among Democrats and independents has propelled the president’s disapproval rating to 53%.

Unsurprisingly, concerns over rising consumer prices are part of the problem. About half of Americans blame Biden for the current bout of inflation, and 70% say the economy is not moving in the right direction.

At the same time, majorities of Americans say they support the president’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and a separate bill addressing climate change. [WaPo]

A growing number of Democrats are worried the White House has underestimated the problems facing the nation, and it could cost the party its control over Congress in the midterm elections. [WaPo]

5. U.S. journalist Danny Fenster is freed from Myanmar prison

Fenster, who studied at Columbia College Chicago, was released today after being imprisoned for the last six months by the ruling military in Myanmar.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson helped secure Fenster’s freedom just days after a court sentenced the journalist to 11 years in prison. Richardson said he and Fenster will return to the U.S. via Qatar over the next day and a half.

Myanmar’s military began imprisoning journalists and activists after it overthrew the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February. The U.S. government and free press advocates have condemned the treatment of Fenster and six other journalists. [AP]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Trump ally Steve Bannon turned himself over to federal authorities today after he was indicted last week for defying a congressional subpoena. [AP]
  • An explosion outside a Liverpool hospital was declared an act of terrorism. [BBC]
  • WBEZ’s Natalie Moore went to Finland to see how the nation’s open prison system works and what it could mean for the prison abolition movement in the U.S. [WBEZ]
  • Expect packed planes, unruly passengers and cancellations this Thanksgiving. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

The Chicago billionaire behind Beanie Babies is spending millions of dollars to airlift the stuffed animals out of China and into the U.S.

The Chicago Tribune reports Ty Warner has chartered more than 150 flights as bottlenecks in the global pipeline threaten the nation’s critical supply of Beanie Babies.

“I’m here to tell our customers that, despite what they might have read or heard, Christmas is not canceled,” Warner said in a statement. [Tribune]

LOL, OK, dude. What newspaper ran a frontpage headline saying Christmas was officially canceled this year?

And even when Beanie Babies were a thing back in the ’90s, I remember seeing more middle-aged women than kids going nuts over them. Case in point: The legendary Princess Di Beanie Bear, which once sold for large fortunes but you can now find for a couple of bucks on eBay. [Reader’s Digest]

Tell me something good …

It’s snowing right now in Chicago as I write this, and I’d like to know: How do you pass the time indoors during the winter?

Because I’m a bad boi nerd, I play board games with my husband, drink mulled wine and try to go to bed at a responsible time so I’m not late to work.

Feel free to email me at therundown@wbez.org or tweet me at @whuntah, and your responses might be shared here this week.

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