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Before the #FightBack Foundation came to be associated with lawyer Lin Wood’s post-election conspiracy theories, the non-profit group known by the Twitter hashtag had been affiliated with Kyle Rittenhouse.
Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he was charged with killing two men and injuring a third during protests and riots that broke out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse claimed self-defense, and #Fightback raised the $2 million that his legal team needed to bail him out on Nov. 20, just weeks after a presidential election whose results Wood repeatedly tried to overturn.
In exclusive interviews for Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections,” the teenager’s mother Wendy Rittenhouse and #FightBack’s former executive director Dave Hancock speak out for the first time about their demands that the non-profit conduct an audit of the money that was fundraised.
Ms. Rittenhouse claims on the podcast that two of #FightBack’s leaders—Wood and conservative firebrand John Pierce—latched onto her son’s case for their own personal reasons.
“They used Kyle to gain money, gain Twitter followers,” Ms. Rittenhouse told Law&Crime. “I felt now they didn’t care about Kyle.”
The mother has cut ties with #FightBack to start a new legal defense fund for her son under her control called FreeKyleUSA, and she claims that Wood and Pierce have ignored repeated requests to open up their books.
“He used my son’s image to make profit off of that. And I asked for an accounting of it. And I never got it. I was ignored,” Ms. Rittenhouse said of Wood in an interview with Law&Crime. “They used a 17-year-old kid’s image for their own political shit.”
“I asked Lin, where’s the money?” Ms. Rittenhouse recalled separately. “I wanted to see the books, like the accounting books.”
In an email, Wood denied receiving any request for an audit and said FightBack would be “perfectly willing to undergo any audit required by law.”
Wood threatened litigation multiple times to prevent the publication of the untold story of #FightBack, including allegations of betrayal, violence and family strife backed up by multiple on-the-record interviews, police dashcam videos, business records, and secret recordings from his former business associate.
“I’m gonna answer your questions. But if you do what I think you’re going to try to do. I’m gonna sue your ass,” Wood told Law&Crime in a voicemail.
“There Was Going to Be Armageddon”
Ms. Rittenhouse told Law&Crime that Wood and Pierce damaged their client’s case with public messaging motivated more by their political ideologies than her son’s best interest. She also claims on the podcast that the two lawyers left her son in jail for 87 days because of Wood’s belief in a breakdown in U.S. society following the presidential election.
“He told me that my son would be safe in jail because he thought that on the night of the election—was Nov. 3 or the fourth, I can’t remember what day the election was on—that there was going to be Armageddon going to happen,” Ms. Rittenhouse said in an interview. “And Kyle was safer in jail.”
In an email, Wood emphasized that he is not a criminal defense attorney and did not represent Rittenhouse in that capacity. He claims that he agreed with a decision to keep Rittenhouse in jail because of death threats that he received, but that is not how the teen’s mother recounts it.
“I told Lin, ‘I want my son home. He needs to be home with his family. He needs to be home with his mom and his two sisters. He’s safer there,’” Ms. Rittenhouse continued. “That just made me cry. That night, I was in bed crying because of what Lin said to me.”
In a recording backing up that allegation, Wood appears to tell Rittenhouse’s lawyers to leave the teenager in jail.
“Keep this boy in that youth facility in Illinois,” Wood can be heard on the recording. “And the longer he can stay there, the better, because if things get as bad as they could half as bad as I think they will get, he’s safe there and nobody’s going to care much about handling criminal or civil cases. And so time is our friend with him in Illinois.”
That file is one of several tapes and documents provided to Law&Crime by Hancock, a former Navy SEAL who worked as a security consultant on Wood’s $7.9 million property in South Carolina: a former plantation called Tomotley.
“I think his supporters should listen honestly to the audio, and should look at some of the documents, and should understand that the Lin behind the phone that’s typing in the messages, they might not know,” Hancock told us. “They don’t know anything about Lin—about Lin, the man.”
The Lawyer’s Rise on the Pro-Trump Right
Roughly a year ago in March, Wood posed with then-President Donald Trump for their first Oval Office meeting. Both of the men flashed their white teeth with large smiles on their faces, but in his personal life, Wood was in turmoil.
The prominent defamation attorney would enter a settlement with his former law partners on March 17, 2020, less than a week after his big White House meeting. Wood felt that his family had turned against him, after he rejected his children’s demand that he get a mental health examination.
“Right now, they want me to tell them I’ll go to a mental health healthcare professional for regular monthly therapy however long it takes, which I’m never going to do,” an emotional Wood can be heard saying of his children on one recording provided to Law&Crime.
Wood, who has spoken of his estrangement from his children publicly, described the topic of his family as off-limits.
“Simply stated, it is none of your business,” he wrote in an email.
The State Bar of Georgia also has demanded that Wood get a mental health examination, a request that the lawyer compared to the Salem Witch Trials. Wood sued the Bar over its demand.
As his personal and professional lives fell apart, Wood’s star had been rising on the political right. GOP megadonor Steve Wynn sought Wood’s help fending off sexual harassment allegations and helped the lawyer in his campaign to secure a Presidential Medal of Freedom for one of Wood’s most famous clients: Richard Jewell, the man falsely accused of setting off a bomb at the Olympics in Atlanta.
Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann sought Wood’s help suing news organizations over his confrontation with a Native American activist, and a third client catapulted Wood to the status of conservative culture warrior: the Rittenhouse case.
Wynn, Sandmann and Rittenhouse have since cut ties with Wood.
“An Unregulated and Opaque ‘Slush Fund’”
Since viral videos of his shootings lit up the internet in August 2020, Rittenhouse’s case divided the nation about mostly undisputed facts. Rittenhouse traveled from Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, claiming that he wanted to protect local businesses following protests and riots that broke out after police shot Jacob Blake in August 2020. Videos appear to show the teenager being chased before shooting and killing two men—Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, who prosecutors say appeared unarmed.
#FightBack, co-founded earlier that month by Pierce and Wood, soon joined Rittenhouse’s cause, but Hancock said that supporting the teen was his idea.
“I believe wholeheartedly, especially today, that this kid acted in pure self-defense,” Hancock said in an interview. “I brought it up to Lin. So Lin started tweeting about it. And then I said, ‘We have to make sure that this kid—like he’s going to get tore up in the media: This kid needs help.’”
In the months leading up to the shootings, Pierce and his law firm had been hit with multiple lawsuits accusing him of racking up millions in unpaid debts, and a limited liability company linked to Wood poured in $16 million on three plantations. That company, Tomotley LLC, was recently sued by a construction company for non-payment.
In December, Rittenhouse’s prosecutors cited Pierce’s debts in a legal brief filed in a Kenosha County court depicting #FightBack as an “unregulated and opaque ‘slush fund’” that “provides ample opportunity for self-dealing and fraud.”
Rittenhouse fired Pierce roughly two months later, but the attorney’s short-lived representation left a lasting effect on the case’s public perception. Pierce, whose firm represented Rudy Giuliani, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page, told Fox News personality Tucker Carlson that Rittenhouse would raise a Second Amendment defense on the weapons charge and that the teenager had a right to carry his rifle as a member of a “militia.”
But Rittenhouse’s mother called Pierce’s “militia” rhetoric false and damaging.
“I told him, ‘No, the word militia is wrong,’ and I did not want him to use it,” Rittenhouse said. “He told me, ‘Oh, it’s okay. It’s okay. We’re going to use it in a different term.’ But I did not like it one bit.”
Pierce did not respond to an email requesting comment.
“That’s What the Police Are Getting Ready to Hear”
As the 2020 election approached, Hancock said that he grew frustrated with the direction of the #FightBack Foundation, and he expressed that Wood had been using what had been intended to be a non-partisan organization to advance his political agenda, including a fundraiser for the ill-fated Senate campaign of ex-Rep. Doug Collins.
“I absolutely do not agree with FightBack using FightBack funds for a political fundraiser, especially since Lin had maxed out his personal contribution,” Hancock said in a statement backed up by Federal Elections Commissions records.
On Oct. 21, two days after Wood’s 68th birthday, tensions boiled up into a never-before-reported incident during which the lawyer pulled a gun out of Hancock’s holster.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s records confirm the incident. Hancock claims that Wood punched him in the face. Wood denies that, claiming that he “disarmed” the ex-Navy SEAL.
Hancock claims that he taped Wood preparing a false story for police, sharing his recording of the incident along with police dashcam videos and 911 recordings with Law&Crime’s “Objections.”
“I grabbed your gun away because you were threatening me,” Wood can be heard saying on the tape. “That’s what the police are getting ready to hear, buddy.”
At one point in the recording, Hancock can be heard saying that he was not looking at Wood at the time of the incident, and the lawyer responded: “You’re in my house. I think the police will believe me.”
In dashcam video, Beaufort authorities can be heard questioning both Hancock and Wood, and both men decline to press charges.
“He’s an angry 68-year-old man,” Hancock can be heard telling a deputy. “He punched me in the face. He doesn’t have that much of a right hook. So I don’t want to pursue anything on that. I just want to head out.”
Wood can be heard telling the same deputy that he took the gun out of Hancock’s hand, before acknowledging that he took the weapon from his holster.
Months would pass before Hancock shared his story—and the evidence corroborating it. Wood accused Hancock of being a “fraud,” “thief,” and “con artist.” The ex-SEAL has no criminal record, and records show he received a medical discharge and Purple Heart that ended his decade-long service in the U.S. military.
Listen to the podcast for the full story and Wood’s response.
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