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Fact-checking claims about Kyle Rittenhouse, shooter in Kenosha, Wis., protests

18 Nov 2021

The jury deliberating in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse is deciding whether the teen acted in self-defense or should potentially face life in prison for shooting three people, two fatally, during a violent protest in Wisconsin.

Rittenhouse traveled from his home in Antioch, Ill., about 20 miles from Kenosha, Wis., in response to the protests that erupted after a white Kenosha police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, during an Aug. 23, 2020, arrest. Rittenhouse arrived two days later on a self-described mission to protect property.

We’ve fact-checked a number of claims about the case, including whether Rittenhouse, who is white, was treated more harshly than an alleged teen shooter who is Black; whether Rittenhouse’s mother dropped off her armed son at the protest; and a distortion from then-President Donald Trump about what the video evidence of Rittenhouse showed.

Most of the fact-checks are on claims made in social media posts.

Claim: Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother "drove him across state lines and dropped him off in the middle of a riot armed with an assault rifle" in Kenosha.

Our ruling: False.

Rittenhouse went to the protests with a Wisconsin friend who had purchased the AR-15 for him. There is no evidence that Wendy Rittenhouse drove her son to Kenosha, and no evidence that her son was armed when he left for Kenosha from their home in Antioch.

Claim: Timothy Simpkins, a Black teen shooter, got 1 day in jail and $75,000 bail, while Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teen, got 2 months in jail and $2 million bail. "I think it’s pretty evident ... that white privilege is a myth."

Our ruling: Half True.

The details provided are accurate, but the comparison left out something big: Two people were killed and a third was wounded in the shooting involving Rittenhouse. No one died in the Arlington, Texas, school shooting involving a Black teen, Simpkins, that left three people wounded.

Claim: "500 National Guardsmen being called to Kenosha ahead of the Rittenhouse verdict. Had they done this in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a trial."

Our ruling: False.

On the order of Gov. Tony Evers, the National Guard arrived in Kenosha on the day before Rittenhouse shootings.

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

Our ruling: True.

A two-hour livestream of the protests showed Rittenhouse interacting with police. About 15 minutes before the shooting, officers threw a water bottle in response to Rittenhouse’s request. An officer then said to Rittenhouse’s group, "We appreciate you guys, we really do."

Claim: 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."

Our ruling: Half True.

The claim was made by U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat.

Kenosha police did allow Rittenhouse to walk away after the shootings. But an organization that tracks extremist activity said it didn’t find any evidence linking Rittenhouse to white supremacists.

Claim: A video shows Rittenhouse "was trying to get away from them" ... fell, and then they violently attacked him."

Our ruling: False.

The statement was made by Trump.

Rittenhouse tripped and fell as a group of people pursued him. But Trump’s claim left out vital context: that Rittenhouse ran away from protesters after, according to prosecutors, he had already shot and killed someone.

Claim: "Kyle Rittenhouse used his COVID-19 stimulus check to purchase the AR-15 he use

d in the fatal Kenosha shooting."

Our ruling: Half True.

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.

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

Our ruling: False.

On Nov. 15, 2021, the day before the jury began deliberations, the judge in the trial dismissed a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 against Rittenhouse. The claim we rated was made two days after the shooting.

As we wrote at the time, whether Rittenhouse violated the law by possessing a firearm underage was the subject of ongoing litigation at the time, it was not "perfectly legal."

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," with exceptions aimed at allowing children age 16 or 17 to use long guns to hunt.

At a pretrial hearing in October, the judge said the law was murky, but he refused to dismiss the charge at that time. In dismissing it, he said: "I think it ought to have been mighty clear that I had big problems with this statute."

Tom Kertscher

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