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Police stand near a garbage truck ablaze during protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha on Aug. 24, 2020.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash) Police stand near a garbage truck ablaze during protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha on Aug. 24, 2020.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Police stand near a garbage truck ablaze during protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha on Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke September 1, 2020

No, Trump doesn't deserve credit for Kenosha de-escalation

If Your Time is short

  • National Guard troops are called into action by governors, not the president, as long as an operation remains under state control. And Kenosha is under state control.

  • National Guard troops were en route and even on the ground well before the Trump administration got involved.

  • The National Guard presence ramped up throughout the week after the Blake and Rittenhouse shootings, but it was far from the only change.

  • There was also a drop in the number of armed men and women, and numerous voices on all sides were calling for peace in the streets.

The images emerging from Kenosha were jarring after Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a police officer and two protesters were shot and killed — all in the span of two days.

Buildings in flames.

People armed with baseball bats destroying property and looting.

Armed vigilante groups roaming the streets with long guns.

Police patrolling in armored vehicles and riot gear.

But the atmosphere took a distinct turn for the better in the days after the Aug. 25, 2020, shooting that left 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse facing multiple homicide charges.

And President Donald Trump says you can thank him for that.

"If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now," Trump tweeted early on Aug. 31, 2020. "Also, there would have been great death and injury."

It’s not a new maneuver from Trump, who has regularly swooped in to claim credit for development projects and other initiatives he had little role in.

But this claim is particularly jaw-dropping. His sweeping assertion assumes at least three things to be true.

  • Kenosha was on a trajectory for destruction.

  • No other changes happened that would have improved the Kenosha situation.

  • He alone is responsible for activating the National Guard.

Each of these is wrong. Let’s break it down.

Protests occurred in a limited area

This is the most obvious hyperbole in Trump’s tweet. (It's also a claim he repeated even more strongly the next day, saying during a Sept. 1 roundtable with Kenosha leaders, "I come into an area like this and I see the town is burned down.")

The events in Kenosha have been tragic and shocking. But there’s a big difference between protests damaging a limited area and destroying or altering a large portion of a city of 100,000 people.

The protests, even at the peak of the unrest Aug. 25, were largely concentrated in the 1-acre Civic Park and a nearby area a few blocks wide. Though people spilled into nearby neighborhoods after the largest groups were dispersed.

That drastically exaggerates the scope of the situation in Kenosha, a city of 28.4 square miles, even at its worst.

Many factors in reduction of violence

Trump’s attempt to claim credit assumes the National Guard presence was the only factor in the lack of violence after the Rittenhouse shooting. There are many reasons that’s wrong.

The simple makeup of the crowd changed.

A group described by Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth as "a militia" and "vigilante group" had been patrolling the streets of Kenosha and even standing watch on roofs with long guns the first couple nights after the Blake shooting. On Tuesday, in the hours before the shooting, the "Kenosha Guard"  issued a call on Facebook for "patriots willing to take up arms and defend out (sic) City tonight from the evil thugs."

That page was removed by Facebook after the Rittenhouse shooting, and the presence of people wearing military gear and openly carrying weapons dropped drastically after the night of chaos that included the shooting, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters who have been on the ground in Kenosha — though citizens with handguns were observed as late as the weekend.

During the height of the protests, the vigilante groups and Black Lives Matter protesters were regularly clashing with each other, by hurling insults or worse. Removing half of that equation — for whatever reason that occurred — changed the situation dramatically.

There have also been calls for peace from all corners, including Blake’s family, at marches and rallies, and — to varying degrees — from Gov. Tony Evers and local officials. 

In addition, Evers has declared a state of emergency, and local officials have taken steps such as closing off freeway access to better control the area — beyond simply increasing the number of troops (which has also happened).

"The last five days have been closer to normal for Kenosha," Beth said at an Aug. 31 news conference. "And really if you go outside a few block area in Kenosha, life has been just like it has been all the time."

Trump didn’t send the National Guard

All of which brings us to the most fundamental claim here — that Trump dispatched the National Guard.

And even that isn’t true.

The White House described itself as authorizing 2,000 National Guard troops to go to Kenosha. But Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, who commands the Wisconsin National Guard, said that’s not really how that system operates. 

He described it this way when asked Aug. 31 what role the White House has played in the Kenosha response.

"What I want to re-emphasize is the process is actually a governor-to-governor compact," Knapp said. "Through the (Emergency Management Assistance Compact) process we had already started talking to other states (when the White House got involved), it’s one of the things we do right away during something like this."

The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment early on Sept. 1.

Each state has its own National Guard — as provided for in the Constitution — and the guard has a role at both the state and federal level, according to its website. Governors can call the National Guard into action during local or statewide emergencies, and the president can activate the guard for federal missions.

Examples of federal missions given on the website included deployments to Kosovo or the anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East.

But all National Guard members working in Kenosha have been mobilized by Evers or governors in Michigan, Arizona and Alaska as part of the inter-state agreements. They are commanded by Knapp and remain under state control.

The Kenosha effort has not been federalized, said Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback.

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In other words, none of the National Guard troops now in Wisconsin have been dispatched or authorized by Trump. And the state-run efforts to bring troops were underway a full day before Trump first had contact with Wisconsin officials. 

"The governor had already activated the Wisconsin National Guard to respond in Kenosha and doubled their presence before Trump or his Administration offered federal support," Cudaback said.

The timeline of events in Kenosha makes this crystal clear.

The timeline

Here are key moments in the Kenosha unrest and the law enforcement response, as detailed by Evers’ office and media reports. Times of key events are provided where relevant.

Sunday, Aug. 23

  • 5:15 p.m. — Jacob Blake is shot.

  • 9:31 p.m. — Wisconsin Emergency Management authorizes neighboring agencies to assist local law enforcement.

Monday, Aug. 24

  • 3:05 a.m. — Kenosha County requests a National Guard Quick Reaction Force, a team trained to deploy anywhere in the state within 12 hours. Evers then formally endorses that request.

  • The National Guard provides 125 troops — the full number who are part of that team.

  • Neighboring jurisdictions provide more than 100 law enforcement officers.

Tuesday, Aug. 25

  • 2:33 p.m. — Evers’ office sends a bulletin declaring a state of emergency and increasing the National Guard support from 125 to 250.

  • 2:45 p.m. — The Trump administration speaks to Evers (first Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, then Trump himself). Evers ultimately declines offers of federal help

  • 7:16 p.m. — Trump tweets implying the National Guard was not in Wisconsin — "Governor should call in the National Guard in Wisconsin. … End problem FAST!" — though the guard at this point had already been on the ground for more than a day.

  • 11:45 p.m. — Police say Rittenhouse opens fire on protesters, killing two and injuring a third.

  •  Wisconsin began coordinating with other states about obtaining additional National Guard resources and support.

  • The Wisconsin State Patrol provides more than 70 officers.

  • Neighboring jurisdictions are still providing more than 100 law enforcement officers.

Wednesday, Aug. 26

  • 11 a.m. — Meadows talks to Evers again, with federal authorities ultimately sending FBI and U.S. Marshal support to the area later in the day. Cudaback said as of Aug. 31 this remained the only federal government assistance provided.

  • The Wisconsin National Guard is now providing 500 troops.

  • Neighboring jurisdictions are still providing more than 100 law enforcement officers.

  • The Wisconsin State Patrol is now providing 80 officers.

Thursday, Aug. 27

  • 1:30 p.m. — Evers enters an agreement with other states to provide National Guard help as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

  • The Wisconsin National Guard is now providing 750 troops.

Friday, Aug. 28

  • 12:01 p.m. — Trump tweets, "Success: Since the National Guard moved into Kenosha, Wisconsin, two days ago, there has been NO FURTHER VIOLENCE, not even a small problem." The National Guard had actually been deployed in Wisconsin for four days at this point, not two.

  • The Wisconsin National Guard is now providing 1,000 troops.

  • Arizona, Alabama and Michigan National Guard troops arrive, accounting for at least 500 more guardsman (total of 1,500). All of these troops are under Knapp’s command.

Knapp said Aug. 31 that those 1,500 National Guard troops remained deployed in Kenosha. The guard members do not make arrests, but "fulfill roles that allows those (local) law enforcement officers to be freed up" to more active work in the streets, he said.

We should also note Trump was taking steps before and after this claim that served more to increase division than limit it. On Aug. 30, Sunday night, he liked a tweet that said "Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump."  Rittenhouse is a Trump supporter.

The next day, at a White house briefing, Trump asserted Rittenhouse was "trying to get away" and was "violently attacked" before opening fire — a description that ignores the fact Rittenhouse had already allegedly shot and killed a man prior to that point.

Repeated claim

Trump made a similar claim while visiting Kenosha Sept. 1, saying, "Violence has stopped since the time the National Guard came — literally when they set their foot on this location it stopped."

The timeline shows this is clearly wrong. The National Guard had been in Kenosha for more than a day when the Rittenhouse shooting occured.

Our ruling

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

That’s 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 Evers and Knapp or sent from other states as part of agreements entered into by the states’ governors.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire. 

Our Sources

Donald Trump, tweet, Aug. 31, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2 shot dead and 1 injured in Kenosha during protests; police looking for man armed with a long gun, Aug. 26, 2020

WISN 12 News, Facebook live feed of Kenosha news conference, Aug. 31, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, After calls for unity and healing, tension still simmers in Kenosha after police shooting of Jacob Blake, Aug. 27, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, White House says Gov. Tony Evers turned down federal help to quell Kenosha disturbances, Aug. 25, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, White House authorizes up to 2,000 National Guard members from other states to help in Kenosha, Aug. 26, 2020

Army National Guard, About Us, accessed Sept. 1, 2020

Email exchange with Britt Cudaback, spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers, Aug. 31, 2020

Gov. Tony Evers office, Wisconsin National Guard to Support Local Law Enforcement in Kenosha, Aug. 25, 2020

Gov. Tony Evers office, Gov. Evers Declares State of Emergency in Wisconsin, Aug. 25, 2020

Gov. Tony Evers office, Gov. Evers Authorizes Additional Wisconsin National Guard Support

 for Kenosha County, Aug. 26, 2020

Gov. Tony Evers office, States Providing Additional Support to Wisconsin for Kenosha Protests, Aug. 26, 2020

Donald Trump, tweet, Aug. 25, 2020

Donald Trump, tweet, Aug. 28, 2020

New York Times, Trump Embraces Fringe Theories on Protests and the Coronavirus, Aug. 30, 2020

Tim Pool, tweet, Aug. 28, 2020

Interview with Jessica Rodriguez, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter covering Kenosha protests, Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2020

Interview with Ricardo Torres, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter covering Kenosha protests, Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2020

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More by Eric Litke

No, Trump doesn't deserve credit for Kenosha de-escalation

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