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Eric Litke
By Eric Litke November 25, 2020

Did Kyle Rittenhouse use COVID-19 stimulus funds to buy AR-15 used in Kenosha shootings?

If Your Time is short

  • Kyle Rittenhouse said he bought the gun with "$1,200 from the coronavirus Illinois unemployment," which muddles the payments for unemployment with the standalone stimulus checks.
  • Rittenhouse wouldn't likely have been eligible for stimulus funds as a 17-year-old living with his mother.
  • He was likely referring to  boosted coronavirus-related unemployment payments.

Out of jail for the first time since August, Kyle Rittenhouse is garnering a new wave of attention.

The 17-year-old from Antioch, Ill., had been held on a $2 million bond on charges he shot three people — killing two — during the Kenosha unrest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake. In that time the Illinois teen has become something of a conservative celebrity, generating millions of dollars for his release and the ongoing legal case where his lawyers will argue he acted in self defense.

Rittenhouse was released from custody Nov. 20, 2020, but we learned an array of new details the day before in a jailhouse interview with the Washington Post — including how he came by the gun used in the shooting.

One widely shared Instagram post honed in on that detail Nov. 20, saying, "Kyle Rittenhouse used his COVID-19 stimulus check to purchase the AR-15 he used in the fatal Kenosha shooting."

Did the gun used in the streets of Kenosha really come from a federally-funded stimulus?

A confusing quote

The balleralert Instagram account that posted the claim cited the Washington Post as its source, and that is largely what the paper reported.

The Nov. 19 story reads in part, "The Post found that Rittenhouse, who was too young to buy a rifle, had arranged for an adult friend to buy the weapon for him using money Rittenhouse had received from a government stimulus program."

That friend, 19-year-old Dominick Black of Burlington, Wis., purchased the weapon for him at an Ace Hardware store in Ladysmith, Wis., on May 1, 2020, according to a criminal complaint charging Black with two felony counts of intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to someone under 18, resulting in death. The gun was then stored at Black’s stepfather’s house in Kenosha, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Here’s how Rittenhouse described the purchase to the Post.

"I got my $1,200 from the coronavirus Illinois unemployment because I was on furlough from YMCA," he said. "And I got my first unemployment check so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll use this to buy it.’"

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This is where the matter gets a bit muddled.

The Post reported generally that stimulus funds were used, while the Instagram post made a more specific reference to "stimulus checks," which would reference the payments of $1,200 per person. And Rittenhouse appears to confuse the two in his statement.

The stimulus checks approved by Congress in March were indeed for $1,200, but those are different from unemployment. Stimulus payments went to all adults under certain income limits, while unemployment benefits are paid only to those out of work — as Rittenhouse was, based on his furlough description. 

Rittenhouse told the Post he lived with his mother, a circumstance that would typically mean she claims him as a dependent on her taxes. That would make him ineligible for the $1,200 stimulus payment.

Instead, it appears Rittenhouse was referencing several weeks of unemployment compensation approved through the CARES Act, said Washington Post Investigations Editor Jeff Leen. He said Rittenhouse’s mother later told the paper that money for the gun came from "special unemployment" related to the pandemic.

Rittenhouse had noted he was off work, and the act signed into law March 27 provided an extra $600 per week in unemployment through the end of July.

Rittenhouse’s attorneys did not return a phone call or email seeking clarification.

Our ruling

An Instagram post says "Kyle Rittenhouse used his COVID-19 stimulus check to purchase the AR-15 he used in the fatal Kenosha shooting."

We don’t have bank records or documents to concretely prove this, leaving us to take Rittenhouse at his word on the source of the funds. 

Rittenhouse did tell the Post he used $1,200 in coronavirus funds, but he appears to confuse stimulus and unemployment payments. 

It’s more likely Rittenhouse was referring to unemployment than the stimulus program itself, based on his life circumstances and description from him and his mother. That is indeed a "COVID-19 stimulus," but not the one people would think of based on this post’s description.

We rate this claim Half True.

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Did Kyle Rittenhouse use COVID-19 stimulus funds to buy AR-15 used in Kenosha shootings?

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