Rittenhouse connection shouldn’t define perception of Antioch, officials say

He doesn’t live in town anymore, but Kyle Rittenhouse and Antioch have been inexorably linked whenever the case is mentioned by the media nationwide.

Because Rittenhouse -- who was acquitted of all charges Friday -- lived in the suburbs when the August 2020 events in Kenosha erupted, he has been referred to as the “Antioch teen” repeatedly during coverage of his trial for shooting and killing two men and injuring a third. Rittenhouse and his attorneys argued he acted in self-defense in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz.

Have the continuing, widespread mentions of the community had an impact -- good, bad or indifferent -- for the little town on the Wisconsin border?

“Our community is more than this story,” said Mayor Scott Gartner.

“You’re looking at a snapshot” in time, he added. “It’s not a reflection of our community as a whole, who we are.”

Part of that, for example, is a tradition of seasonal family-focused activities, such as the upcoming tree lighting and holiday parade with Santa, which has been held for 40-plus years.

Looking ahead, efforts to improve and market the traditional downtown are gathering momentum with the arrival of new restaurants and other businesses. More public improvements are planned, officials say.

So, is there a Rittenhouse factor at work in people’s perception of the community?

“I haven’t had anyone make an issue with what’s happening in Kenosha,” said village spokesman Jim Moran. “People keep it separate.”

Mary Priller, a 20-year resident and marketing manager for Visit Lake County, a tourism organization, says there likely has been a big increase in Google searches for Antioch.

In the last 30 days, there have been 19,318 searches for “Antioch, Illinois” on the organization’s website, according to Priller. Over the past year, there have been 53,819 searches, she said.

In that sense, Antioch has become more noticeable to people outside the area. That could be a good thing, she said, noting the village’s positive features include natural resources and unique attractions.

“Awareness is awareness and there is so much positivity there,” she said of Antioch.

But there also are memories of boarded-up storefronts after Rittenhouse’s arrest in August 2020. Then-Mayor Larry Hanson ordered a curfew from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., saying police identified several social media posts showing Antioch as the potential target of civil unrest. The curfew was lifted less than 24 hours later without incident.

“We all recall the boarding up of the merchant windows for safety and that’s something that stays in your mind,” Priller said. “I don’t think we’re dwelling on it but if you do live in the town, it’s hovering.”

Hanson, a lifelong Antioch resident, said the village was praised for protecting the community and keeping residents informed. Rittenhouse -- who has drawn both strong support and opposition -- shouldn’t be a factor in what people think of Antioch, he added.

“He just happened to live here,” he said.

Gartner said Rittenhouse had a “pretty loose connection” to Antioch.

“It could have been Lake Bluff, Lake Forest (or) Lake Villa. He happened to live here at the moment,” Gartner said.

Settled in the late 1830s, Antioch became a center of local commerce. Because of its location near the Chain O’ Lakes and the arrival of the railroad, Antioch became a tourist destination.

Hunting, fishing, dancing and gambling were big draws, according to a history on the village website. But most tourists, and full-time residents, preferred the quiet country life.

“We don’t want to not pay attention to it, but we have to move on,” Priller said.

“Is it putting (Antioch) on the map? Just like the pandemic, we’ll be in the history books,” she added. “Rittenhouse is galvanizing.”