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By Vanessa Swales August 24, 2021

A year after a week of violence and upheaval, we are looking back at some of our past fact checks about the shooting of Jacob Blake and the killing of two men by Kyle Rittenhouse.

The incidents propelled Kenosha to the center of a national reckoning on race — and, for a time, to the center of the 2020 presidential campaign. Then-President Donald Trump and then-challenger Joe Biden both visited Kenosha. 

A year on, it is an issue that continues to dominate conversations across politics, media and beyond.

It began Aug. 23, 2020, when a Kenosha police officer shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times from behind. Blake survived but is paralyzed from the waist down. Blake has since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Officer Rusten Sheskey, who was not criminally charged, saying Sheskey used excessive force. 

Violent protests ensued, prompting 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse to arrive at the Kenosha protests with an AR-15 and a self-described mission to protect property. In a confrontation Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two.

Rittenhouse, now 18, has been charged with five felonies, including reckless homicide and reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor and a curfew ticket.

Here’s a quick roundup of fact-checks from PolitiFact Wisconsin and PolitiFact National from last year, which addressed key issues and widely circulated claims around those Kenosha shootings —many of which remain of interest today.

On Jacob Blake

Says Jacob Blake, shot by police in Kenosha, had a warrant for sexual assault and prior convictions for gun use

This claim came from a series of Facebook posts. Blake had an active warrant for sexual assault and several other crimes related to domestic violence at the time he was shot.  (The charge has since been dismissed in a plea agreement.)

But Blake was not convicted of any prior gun offenses. Charges filed in 2015 were ultimately dismissed at the request of prosecutors in 2018, who cited lack of witness cooperation and the age of the case.

We rated this claim Half True

On Kyle Rittenhouse

Says a photo shows accused shooter Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother, armed with a long gun, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the night two protesters were killed and one injured.

The photo, which like the claim, was circulated on Facebook, was not from that protest. It was cropped from a larger image of a handful of people with guns standing outside the state capitol in Madison two days prior.

We rated the claim False

Says video shows Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, "was trying to get away from them" ... "fell, and then they violently attacked him."

Rittenhouse did fall as a crowd followed him, but President Donald Trump’s comments left an incendiary and false picture: By the time he fell, according to criminal charges, Rittenhouse had already shot and killed one person that night.

We rated the claim False.

 "Video showed police thank (Kyle Rittenhouse) & give him water prior to the killings"

Video taken 15 minutes before Rittenhouse shot and killed two people shows exactly that. Police thanked his group for their presence and gave them water — in response to a request from Rittenhouse.

We rated this claim, from Facebook, True.

"At 17 years old Kyle (Rittenhouse) was perfectly legal to be able to possess that rifle without parental supervision."

Wisconsin law stipulates that "any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor." On Aug. 27, prosecutors charged Rittenhouse with a misdemeanor count of possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18, according to court records.

We rated this claim, also from Facebook, False.

Suggests the alleged Kenosha shooter’s father is a deputy in the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department.

This is made up. We called the sheriff's department and they said they don’t know of any employee by that name. We checked with the City of Kenosha, and its human resources department told us no Rittenhouse has worked for the city in any capacity.

And Rittenhouse was living with his single mother in Antioch, Ill., not Kenosha.

We rated this claim Pants on Fire.

On the government response

"If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now."

This claim from Trump was wrong on every level.

It’s a vast exaggeration to say the situation in Kenosha was so dire as to threaten its very existence. And many other factors played a role in the reduced violence in the days before Trump’s tweet.

But the most fundamental element of this claim is also completely wrong. National Guard troops were en route and even on the ground well before the Trump administration got involved.

The National Guard troops ultimately sent were deployed in Wisconsin by Gov. Tony Evers and Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, head of the Wisconsin National Guard, or sent from other states as part of agreements entered into by the states’ governors.

We rated this claim Pants on Fire

Says Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes "have participated in rallies that have done more to incite than calm the situation" in Kenosha

This claim was from Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Barnes was present at a rally where a threat was made, but the event was overall a peaceful one, and reports of violence tied to Blake’s shooting came before the rally, not after.  

And Johnson himself, while praising Trump’s actions, had acknowledged things had been quiet for days before the Barnes speech —and remained so in the days before the claim.

We rated the claim False.

Other claims

In contrast to how a Black man who was shot by police was treated, Kenosha police officers "let an armed white supremacist walk right past them after shooting people."

This claim was from U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee. Kenosha police did let Rittenhouse walk by and ultimately return home to Illinois after prosecutors say he killed two protesters and injured a third. 

But social media posts and profiles haven’t revealed any evidence linking him to white supremacist groups, according to a key organization that tracks extremist activity. 

We rate this claim Half True.

"BLM rioters just burned down a black church in a black community with a BLM sign out front."

A fire that was set at a used-car dealership adjacent to Bradford Community Church in Kenosha, Wis., burned the church’s sign, which said "Black Lives Matter." 

But the church did not burn down, and the church’s minister said he does not think the church was a target. And while the church is near a primarily Black neighborhood, the congregation is largely white, the minister said.

We rated this claim, which circulated on Facebook, False.

 

 
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