Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Madeline Heim
By Madeline Heim September 1, 2020

Johnson misses mark with claim Evers, Barnes participated in rallies that incited Kenosha chaos

If Your Time is short

  • On Saturday, Aug. 29, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes spoke at a rally led by the family of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer the previous Sunday. 

  • Near the end of the rally, an unidentified man said, “If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours.”

  • But that message was not the message of the day from the peaceful rally where activists, community members and state leaders marched and called for change

  • Furthermore, the violence in Kenosha occurred days before the rally -- not after -- meaning the lone speaker’s message did not “incite” as Johnson claims

  • What’s more, Johnson himself has touted the fact that violence and unrest in Kenosha had been tempered days before this rally.

Wisconsin’s elected officials didn’t hesitate to point fingers at one another after Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times at close range on Aug. 23, 2020. 

The shooting and the video of it that went viral ignited days of protest and unrest in the city, which reached a breaking point Aug. 26, 2020 when an Illinois teen — who had joined a group of armed people responding to a Facebook call to protect and defend the city — shot and killed two people, according to criminal charges. 

Wisconsin Democrats say their counterparts across the aisle haven’t done enough to act on racial disparities and police brutality, criticizing GOP leaders for gaveling out of an Aug. 31, 2020 special session called by Gov. Tony Evers to address such issues in less than 30 seconds

Republicans, meanwhile, have pointedly blamed Evers, saying the deaths of the two people that Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of shooting could have been avoided if the state had been more aggressive earlier about deploying National Guard troops.

Trump appeared in Kenosha on Sept. 1, 2020 to meet with local law enforcement officers and business owners, despite a plea from Evers and other Democratic state leaders to stay away during a painful time for the city. 

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, welcomed the visit and in an Aug. 31, 2020 statement blasted Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, saying that instead of working with Trump they "made statements, leapt to conclusions, and have participated in rallies that have done more to incite than calm the situation." 

Did Evers and Barnes participate in rallies that have "done more to incite than calm the situation in Kenosha," as Johnson claims? 

Barnes attended one rally at request of Jacob Blake’s family 

Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for the evidence that he used to make the claim, but his statement echoes an Aug. 25, 2020 claim from state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, that Evers and Barnes did not "call for peace" or "encourage calm" after Blake was shot. 

We rated that claim Mostly False. Evers released a video statement the day prior asking protesters to remain peaceful. 

What about the rallies?

Besides a joint news conference on Aug. 27, 2020 in Kenosha, Evers and Barnes have not appeared together publicly to discuss the situation.  

Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said the pair have gone to one rally between the two of them, an Aug. 29, 2020 event that Blake’s family asked Barnes to attend. 

Barnes met with Blake’s family, spoke at the event and marched alongside thousands who showed, Cudaback said. 

Reports from the rally confirm it was a peaceful one, but the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Kenosha News seized on a comment near the end of the event in which an unidentified  man took the microphone, decried police shootings of Black people and said, "If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours." 

The remarks were met with a muted response from the crowd.

To be sure, the comment strayed from the message of the event. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s reporting, Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., is quoted asking people to be calm and civil, saying, "If we tear it up, we have nothing."  

Barnes, meanwhile, spoke on the importance of voting and continued activism, commended Blake’s family for their resilience despite "centuries of injustice" that Black people have endured and urged the crowd to demand accountability from police departments. 

In any case, Johnson’s claim was that the rally did more "to incite than calm the situation."

But examining the timeline of the last week in the city, the violence and property destruction in Kenosha took place in the days before the Saturday rally — not after. 

Protests and cases of arson and looting began the night Blake was shot and reached a chaotic point two nights later, on the night Rittenhouse is charged with killing two and injuring one. 

The rally Barnes attended was days later.

Indeed, Johnson himself noted during Trump’s visit that the situation in Kenosha became much calmer after the night where the protesters were shot. He credits the president. But in praising Trump for bringing calm, he undermines his claim here that an event days later attended by Barnes somehow incited violence again.

In short, it can’t be both.

Our rating 

Johnson claimed that Evers and Barnes "have participated in rallies that have done more to incite than calm the situation" in Kenosha.

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, has acknowledged things had been quiet for days before the Barnes speech -- and have remained so in the days since.

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Kyle Rittenhouse, charged in Kenosha protest homicides, considered himself militia," Aug. 26, 2020 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Monday's legislative session on policing policies ended after seconds and GOP leaders aren't promising action later," Aug. 31, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says 2 Kenosha deaths are 'because of Tony Evers' actions'", Aug. 26, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers urges President Trump to reconsider Kenosha visit," Aug. 30, 2020 

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, statement on President Trump’s visit to Kenosha, Aug. 31, 2020

Politifact Wisconsin, "Claim that Evers, Barnes did not call for peace, calm after Blake shooting goes too far," Aug. 28, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes says Kenosha now among cities like Charlottesville that have seen death in protests," Aug. 27, 2020 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Thousands march with Jacob Blake family in Kenosha and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Rep. Gwen Moore call for change," Aug. 29, 2020 

Republican Party of Wisconsin, "In case you missed it: Lt. Governor Shares Stage with Radicals Threatening Violence Against Police," Aug. 31, 2020 

Kenosha News, "WATCH NOW: Kenosha speaker strays from message at rally," Aug. 29, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Much of Kenosha's deadly protest shooting was captured in social media videos. Here's what they show," Aug. 26, 2020

New York Times, "Journalist Quits Kenosha Paper in Protest of Its Jacob Blake Rally Coverage," Aug. 31, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Trump in Kenosha: Ron Johnson credits Trump for peace in Kenosha streets," Sept. 1, 2020

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Madeline Heim

Johnson misses mark with claim Evers, Barnes participated in rallies that incited Kenosha chaos

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up