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Evers had already deployed the National Guard on Aug. 24 — less than 24 hours after Jacob Blake was shot by a Kenosha police officer.
By Aug. 25, the same night that Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protesters and injured a third, a total of 250 troops were on the ground in Kenosha.
A year after the violent and fatal protests that took place in Kenosha, and a year before the 2022 election, political opponents are focusing on Gov. Tony Evers and his response to the crisis that left dozens of buildings burned and two dead.
The critique, in short: He did too little, too late.
Most recently, Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, the former lieutenant governor, made such a claim as she launched her bid Sept 9, 2021 to take on Evers, a first-term Democrat.
In most cases, the criticism is presented as opinion. But a recent television and digital ad from Empower Wisconsin, a right-wing super PAC that describes itself as "Wisconsin's premier information hub," got its facts jumbled.
So, we thought it was worth a fact-check to examine just what happened in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, and the protests that almost immediately followed.
The ad features Kimberly Warner, a Kenosha resident and business owner, though on the screen she is identified only by her first name. At times, she speaks directly to the camera. At other points, there are images of burned-out buildings and words that reinforce her series of criticisms of Evers.
Most notable is this claim: "It took the loss of lives before help finally came."
Since the ad is from Empower Wisconsin, that’s who we are fact-checking here. Is the group right that Evers did not act until people had died?
When asked for evidence, Empower Wisconsin did not provide any specific details, but the comments from spokesperson Stephan Thompson made clear they were talking about the response by Evers to help sought by local leaders.
Said Thompson: "For three straight nights, Kenosha was burning. Local and federal leaders were pleading for help and Evers ignored it."
Let’s start with the basics.
The protests broke out Aug. 23, 2020, hours after Jacob Blake, 29, was shot from behind at close range seven times by Kenosha Officer Rusten Sheskey. The officer had responded to a call about a domestic incident a little after 5 p.m. A bystander caught much of the incident on video, which showed Blake walking away from several officers and trying to get into an SUV, with three of his children inside, before he was shot.
Blake survived, but was paralyzed from the waist down. Prosecutors decided not to charge Sheskey. Blake has filed a lawsuit against Sheskey.
Two nights later, on Aug. 25, 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse, arrived at the ongoing protests with an AR-15 and a self-described mission to protect property in the city. Rittenhouse ultimately shot three people, killing two and wounding the third -- incidents also caught largely on video. He is scheduled to go to trial in November.
The question at hand is what happened between those two incidents.
"The fact of the matter is, the state and Governor Evers worked closely with local leaders to provide assistance and fulfill every request they had," said Sam Roecker, Evers’ communication director.
What happened in Kenosha?
Let’s look at the timeline. This review is based on past articles and fact-checks, which have explored this sequence in detail.
Sheskey shot Blake at around 5:15 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2020.
Soon after the first stories were posted, crowds began to form. This was in the middle of a summer of protests over police brutality following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes.
At around 3 a.m. on Aug. 24, Kenosha Sheriff David Beth submitted a formal request to the state, calling for support from the Wisconsin National Guard.
Later that day, at 3:05 p.m. — less than 24 hours after Jacob Blake was shot — Evers authorized 125 members of the National Guard to support local law enforcement agencies. Neighboring jurisdictions had provided more than 100 law enforcement officers the night before -- a presence that would continue.
On Aug. 25, 2020 at 2:33 p.m., the governor doubled the number of National Guard members to 250 troops.
Earlier that day, the Trump administration spoke to Evers (first Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, then President Donald Trump himself). Evers declined their offers of federal help in Kenosha.
That night, protestors were not met just by law enforcement, but groups of self-described militia members, who said they were there at the request of business owners. Rittenhouse killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber and injured 26-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz at around 11:45 p.m on Aug. 25.
By that time, the aforementioned 250 National Guard troops had been sent to Kenosha, so the ad is way off base when it claims state help did not come until after the deaths.
The following night, Evers increased troop numbers to 500.
After more talks with Meadows, the governor also accepted assistance in the form of federal troops from the Trump administration. In an earlier fact-check, Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said as of Aug. 31 that was the only federal government assistance provided.
To be sure, we are not checking claims about whether Evers did enough, or did it soon enough. Kleefisch and others are signaling that this will be a major point in the 2022 campaign. Voters will hear plenty from both sides to sway their views.
Here we are looking narrowly at this specific claim, which mangles the timing of what happened.
In an ad, Empower Wisconsin said of Evers and Kenosha violence: "It took the loss of lives before help finally came."
But the timeline shows Evers had sent in 250 National Guard troops in the days before the night Rittenhouse shot and killed the two men.
We rate this claim False.
Empower Wisconsin’s Youtube channel, "Empower Wisconsin: ‘Kimberly’ 30s," Aug. 17, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, After calls for unity and healing, tension still simmers in Kenosha after police shooting of Jacob Blake, Aug. 28, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kyle Rittenhouse's case quickly became a sensation during Kenosha unrest. A year later, there's a long way to go, Aug. 19, 2021
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jacob Blake was shot less than 3 minutes after Wisconsin police arrived at the scene, according to dispatch audio, Aug. 26, 2020
PolitiFact, No, Trump doesn't deserve credit for Kenosha de-escalation, Sept. 1, 2020
Press conference with Kenosha Sheriff David Beth, video and transcript, Aug. 26, 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
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, White House says Gov. Tony Evers turned down federal help to quell Kenosha disturbances, Aug. 26, 2020
Gov. Tony Evers office, Gov. Evers Authorizes Additional Wisconsin National Guard Support for Kenosha County, Aug. 26, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Crowds gathered in Kenosha on Sunday, Aug. 23, after police earlier shot Jacob Blake, Aug. 24, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jacob Blake sues Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who shot him in the back in August, March 26, 2021
Kenosha News, Kimberly Warner, an authentic downtown Kenosha serial entrepreneur, Aug 30, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Video shows Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha on the night three protestors were shot, Aug. 27, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Jacob Blake shooting was one year ago. The legal fallout from what ensued in Kenosha is still playing out, Aug. 20, 2021
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