Seven claims in a viral message about Kyle Rittenhouse's murder trial were false, five were true, and one was a combination of accurate and false information.
Rumors about Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who killed two people and wounded a third during civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020, spread rapidly online after he was acquitted of all charges on Nov. 19, 2021.
This report assessed the validity of popular claims within the below-transcribed copypasta text, which people who agreed with the jury's decision to clear Rittenhouse of any wrongdoing circulated widely on social media and blogs. The accusations ranged from the alleged criminal history of the deceased and wounded (which Snopes investigated thoroughly here) to those people's actions before getting shot to the teenager's purported connection to Kenosha.
I have watched the whole Rittenhouse Trial.
I didn't know that Kyle put out a dumpster fire that was being rolled down to a gas station to blow up, with people all around.
I didn't know that the Police were told to stand down as businesses were destroyed.
I didn't know that Kyles Dad, Grandma and Friends all lived in Kenosha, 20 minutes from where he resided with his Mom part time in Illinois.
I didn't know that Joseph Rosenbaum knocked him down twice and then attempted to kick him with lethal force to the head. I didn't know that Huber had hit him in the head 2x with a skateboard.
I didn't know Gaige Grosskreutz, a felon in possession of firearm, aimed his gun at Kyle first, as he admitted on the stand.
I also didn't know that in the State of Wisconsin, it is legal for Kyle to have a gun, even at 17 (which was why the gun charge was dismissed).
I didn't know that Kyle did not cross state lines with a gun he wasn't supposed to have. The rightful gun owner did, as he was legally permitted to do.
I also didn't realize that Rosenbaum was a 5 time convicted child rapist and that Huber was a 2 time convicted woman beater. I didn't know that Grosskreutz was a convicted Burglar with an assault on his record also.
IF THE MEDIA DID THEIR JOB... EVERYONE would have known this!
Ultimately, by making the series of claims, the text attempted to ring the alarm on journalists who covered Rittenhouse's murder trial, accusing them of omitting key "facts" about him and his victims. (We addressed that erroneous portrayal of the trial's media coverage here.)
For the purpose of this fact check, we sought evidence to confirm or deny the validity of assertions presented in the text, which were circulating individually online, as well. They were:
- Before opening fire, did Rittenhouse stop a dumpster fire that could've caused an explosion at a gas station? (False)
- Did an unidentified person or group with authority tell police officers on the streets in Kenosha to "stand down"? (False)
- Did Rittenhouse say his relatives live in Kenosha, and does he have friends there? (True)
- Did Rittenhouse say, at the time of the shootings, he lived with his mom in an Illinois town that's not far from Kenosha? (True)
- Did Joseph Rosenbaum (who Rittenhouse killed first) knock the teenager off his feet and try to kick him in the head with "lethal force"? (False)
- Did Anthony Huber (who Rittenhouse killed second) hit the teenager with a skateboard? (True)
- Did Gaige Grosskreutz (whom Rittenhouse shot in the arm and survived) tell the jury that he aimed his gun at Rittenhouse first? (True)
- Is Grosskreutz a felon who is prohibited from having a gun? (False)
- Does Wisconsin law allow 17-year-olds (Rittenhouse's age at the time of the shootings) to carry any type of gun? (False)
- Did Rittenhouse's legal defense team argue that he did not cross state lines with the AR-style semiautomatic rifle used in the shootings, and did the owner of the gun lawfully transport the firearm across states? (Mixture)
- Was Rosenbaum convicted of sexually abusing children before his death? (True)
- Was Huber convicted of "beating" women before dying? (False)
- Was Grosskreutz convicted of burglary and assault before the Kenosha shootings? (False)
In sum, our evidence (which we outlined in detail below) concluded the majority of claims in the viral copypasta text were inaccurate or an extreme exaggeration of facts, while others contained more slivers of truth. For that reason, we issued an overall "Mixture" rating on this report.
The claim that Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, "put out" a fire in a dumpster heading to a gas station was, at best, a mistaken interpretation of facts or, at worst, a blatant lie to bolster the teenager's reputation.
It was true that a videographer recorded someone (a so-called "Good Samaritan," according to the recording's caption) using a fire extinguisher to clear a dumpster fire near a gas station during the chaos.
However, according to Rittenhouse's legal defense team, that person was a "guard" — not Rittenhouse — and Rosenbaum had allegedly started the flames.
In an 11-minute video released on Sept. 22, 2020, the legal defense team argued via the video's narration:
Tensions began to rise as protesters set a dumpster ablaze then began pushing it toward a gas station. A guard quickly extinguished the flames, angering firestarter Joseph Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum retaliated, focusing his rage on a guard in a green T-shirt.
No other details about the unidentified person who extinguished the blaze were available.
Rittenhouse's legal team and the teenager himself said he, too, at one point during the chaos toted a fire extinguisher. But he was carrying the item with the intention of putting out car fires, not dumpster fires, The Associated Press reported.
We were suspicious of this accusation at first glance for several reasons.
First, its wording did not make clear who, exactly, was responsible for giving the alleged directive to cops on streets.
Also, the claim also did not explicitly identify whether that unidentified source supposedly told all law enforcement officers in attendance — Kenosha city police, Kenosha County sheriff's deputies, or National Guard troops — or just some to "stand down" on their commitment to upholding the law.
Nonetheless, we considered the departments of defense and homeland security (which oversee the federal government's law enforcement operations), Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, the sheriff's office, the city police department, or Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian as possible sources of the purported demand.
[See also from Snopes: No, Ben and Jerry’s Did Not Honor Rittenhouse Shooting Victim with New Flavor]
We analyzed news releases from those people or agencies between Aug. 23, 2020, (the day a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, sparking the Aug. 25 protest that devolved into deadly gunfire) to Aug. 26, and we found no evidence of the authority figures telling officers on Kenosha streets to "stand down."
In fact, the advisories documented officials' decisions to boost the amount of law enforcement officers monitoring police-brutality protesters and armed civilians, like Rittenhouse. For instance, just hours before the shooting, Evers said in a statement: "[We] will be increasing the presence of the Wisconsin National Guard to ensure individuals can exercise their right [to protest] safely..."
Around that same time, the sheriff's office stated in a release: "We are not sitting idly, watching the destruction of our community. We're making every effort to make it stop."
Just before the deadly altercations, video footage showed law enforcement officers in tactical riot gear telling people to evacuate the area.
Lastly, if the claim was true — if a powerful entity or person had indeed told officers not to intervene in dangerous or criminal situations — the directive would be eminently newsworthy.
However, a keyword Google search for "stand down" in news stories about the protests or shootings, including articles written by conservative outlets, such as The Washington Examiner and The Daily Mail, uncovered no such proof.
On Nov. 30, 2021, while on the stand in his murder trial, Rittenhouse said his father, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and a cousin indeed live in the lakeside city, located about 40 miles south of Milwaukee.
That proved this claim in the copypasta text mostly true — with the caveat that he did not say in that moment that friends of his live in Kenosha, too.
His exact wording on the stand, according to the transcription service Rev, was this:
Attorney: What’s your father’s name?
Rittenhouse: Michael Rittenhouse.
Attorney: Back on August 25th of 2020, where did he reside?
Rittenhouse: He lived in the city of Kenosha. [...]
Attorney: Do you have any other family that’s from Kenosha?
Rittenhouse: My grandmother, my aunt, my uncle and cousins all live in the city of Kenosha.
Earlier in the trial, 18-year-old Dominick Black took the stand, identifying himself as a friend of Rittenhouse and someone who also lived in Kenosha, USA Today reported. Considering that evidence, it was true that the teenager had at least one friend there, like the copypasta text implied.
(Another rumor was circulating at the time of this writing that, at the time of the gunfire, Rittenhouse was attempting to protect a gas station that was owned by his grandparents. That claim was false, and we debunked it here.)
During his testimony on Nov. 30, 2021, Rittenhouse told the jury he lived with his mom in Antioch, Illinois — which, according to Google maps, is about a 20-mile, 35-minute drive from Kenosha.
That estimation of the trip was slightly longer than what the copypasta text alleged (it claimed a "20 minute" difference between the two locations), though its underlying point was accurate: Rittenhouse indeed lived just a drive away from Kenosha at the time of the shootings.
His testimony, according to the Rev transcription, was:
Attorney: Directing your attention to August 25th of 2020, where did you reside?
Rittenhouse: Antioch, Illinois. [...]
Attorney: And who did you live with there?
Rittenhouse: My mother and two sisters.
This claim about Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, kicking Rittenhouse with "lethal force" was a mistruth.
Someone else — a person Rittenhouse's legal defense team referred to as "jump kick man" during the trial — kicked the teenager in the face, video evidence showed. That happened after Rosenbaum was shot.
Cellphone recordings showed Rosenbaum yelling at armed civilians, like Rittenhouse. Moments later, footage showed Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse and throwing a plastic bag in his direction. (A New York Times video investigation said that plastic bag held Rosenbaum's belongings from a stay at a hospital for mental health treatment.) Nearby, someone else fired a gun in the air for unknown reasons.
Then, Rosenbaum lunged toward the teenager and Rittenhouse fired four times, killing Rosenbaum.
After that, video footage showed Rittenhouse talking to someone on the phone and then running away. As he fled, a group of people followed him, yelling “Beat him up!” and “Hey, he shot him!” according to cellphone footage. Among them was Anthony Huber, 26, and "jump kick man."
Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground. There, he pointed his rifle up toward the people running toward him.
This underlying claim in the viral message was true, though deserved more context.
Cellphone video indeed showed Huber hitting Rittenhouse with a skateboard and attempting to disarm him after the teenager had fatally shot Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse then opened fire on Huber, killing him.
[See also from Snopes: Did Shooting Survivor of Kyle Rittenhouse Say Survivor Pointed Gun First?]
According to Rittenhouse's legal defense team, Huber indeed swung the skateboard twice. A lawyer told the jury on Nov. 2, 2021, according to a Rev transcript: "[Huber] hit [Rittenhouse] with the skateboard as he was running down Sheridan Road. And then as he’s laying prone on the ground, [Huber] comes in for another hit on his head, and then grabs Kyle Rittenhouse’s firearm to try and take it away from him."
On Nov. 8, 2021, the shootings' lone survivor — 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz — told a jury that he advanced toward Rittenhouse while pointing a loaded gun before Rittenhouse shot him in the arm. (We already fact-checked this claim here.)
Grosskreutz also said on the stand that he, moments earlier, saw Rittenhouse shoot another man (Huber), and that he had no intention of firing his loaded Glock pistol. Grosskreutz said in those split-seconds he believed Rittenhouse was an "active shooter" and that he himself needed to confront the shooter to prevent more violence.
The third person gunned down by Rittenhouse, Grosskreutz, is not a felon.
He was once arrested on suspicion of burglary — a felony crime — though a judge dismissed that charge, per Wisconsin Department of Justice’s criminal data. With that motion, the judge cleared Grosskreutz of any guilt or responsibility in the case, removing the accusation entirely from his criminal record.
That said, laws that prevent people convicted of felony crimes from owning firearms did not apply to Grosskreutz.
On the night of the bloodshed, however, his permit to carry a concealed weapon had expired, according to The Associated Press' coverage of his testimony. He said he was unaware of that at the time, per NPR.
The text's claim about 17-year-olds being able to legally possess firearms in Wisconsin — no matter the situation or type of gun — appeared to be another attempt by Rittenhouse's supporters to frame all of his actions on Aug. 25, 2020, as lawful.
However, the assertion was a misinterpretation of facts: Wisconsin state law prohibits 17-year-olds from possessing or carrying firearms unless certain circumstances apply, like if they are doing target practice with adult supervision or they are in the military. That was not the case for Rittenhouse when he took a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 downtown to, in his words, help friends protect businesses from destruction.
We analyzed the law word-for-word. After a paragraph that defines dangerous weapons as several things, including “any firearm, loaded or unloaded," the state statute says this: "Any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor." Someone found guilty of that crime could face a maximum of nine months in jail, according to The Associated Press.
But, according to Rittenhouse's legal defense team, that prohibition only applies to short-barreled guns such as pistols or sawed-off shotguns — not the type of firearm Rittenhouse used in the shootings. They made that case to Judge Bruce Schroeder, and he sided with them; he dropped the charge accusing Rittenhouse of illegally possessing the rifle. The AP reported:
The subsection that defense attorneys relied upon to seek dismissal reads: “This section applies only to a person under 18 years of age who possesses or is armed with a rifle or a shotgun if the person is in violation of s. 941.28 ...” That section of law isn’t specific to minors, but rather forbids any person from having a short-barreled shotgun or rifle. [...]
The evolution of the law on children and guns is murky. Prior to 1987, Wisconsin banned children from possessing pistols. Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, signed a law that year that expanded the prohibition to include short-barreled firearms, electric weapons, brass knuckles, throwing stars and nunchakus. Four years later, Thompson signed another law extending the prohibition to any firearm. But that law also allowed minors to possess long guns for hunting as long as the barrels were at least a foot long.
Legislative records show the statutory language went through multiple revisions until at least 2011.
The wording is hardly straightforward. Schroeder himself said he was confused about it when Richards first asked him to toss the possession charge out earlier this year.
Tom Grieve, a Milwaukee attorney and a former Waukesha County prosecutor, told that news outlet that the exception was drafted to ensure children could hunt, and lawmakers did not envision it could be used to protect minors who carry long guns at protests like the demonstrations in Kenosha. “Wisconsin is a hunting state. When people talk about long arms, they’re thinking in the hunting context," he said.
The claim about the rifle's journey before the shootings contained some truth and falsehoods.
It was true that — according to testimony by Black, the 18-year-old friend of Rittenhouse who was with him the night of the shootings — Rittenhouse did not cross state lines with the firearm. The copypasta text makes that correct point. However, "the rightful gun owner" did not transport the rifle across states either, contrary to the viral message.
[See also from Snopes: No, This Is Not Kyle Rittenhouse Wearing KKK Garb as a Child]
As the first witness called by the prosecution, Black testified that he bought the AR-15-style rife for Rittenhouse, who was underage, at a hardware store in northern Wisconsin in spring 2020, according to The New York Times. Black said he used Rittenhouse's money for the purchase and stored the gun at his family's home in Kenosha.
Before the sale, Black said Rittenhouse had expressed interest in wanting a rifle during a trip to Black's family's hunting property, USA Today reported. That news outlet continued in a Nov. 2, 2021, story:
Black said they discussed knowing [the gun purchase] was illegal, but agreed Rittenhouse wouldn't get the gun himself until he turned 18. They shot a couple hundred rounds that week, Black testified, and that was the only time Rittenhouse had used the weapon until Aug. 25, 2020. [...]
Normally, Black testified, Rittenhouse's rifle and his own were locked in gun safes at Black's house. The safes could be opened only by Black's stepfather. The stepfather, concerned the unrest might reach their home, had taken all the guns to the basement.
Black said he was in the kitchen when Rittenhouse came up the steps with his rifle. Before returning downtown, they bought tactical slings for the rifles.
In other words, according to Black's testimony, Rittenhouse did not ask permission to take the firearm from the family's home that night, though Black did not try to dissuade him from doing so, The New York Times reported.
As of this writing, Black is facing two counts of intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to a minor, resulting in death.
Also, on Nov. 10, Rittenhouse told the jury that the gun had never left Wisconsin before the shootings.
At the request of Snopes readers who had seen this accusation emerge shortly after Rosenbaum's death, we obtained numerous court records outlining his criminal history.
Based on that evidence, the claim was true: Rosenbaum was indeed convicted of sexually abusing children before Rittenhouse fatally shot him in Kenosha. From the Snopes archives:
[Yes], at age 19, Rosenbaum was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing five children — all boys between the ages of 9 and 11 — in Arizona’s Pima County in early 2002, according to his case file obtained via a public records request by Snopes.
The documents said Rosenbaum was temporarily living with the boys’ parents after his mother had kicked him out for disobeying her rules about one month earlier. Over the course of his weeks-long stay, Rosenbaum molested the boys, showed them porn, and performed oral sex on them, among other offenses, the documents showed. He was sentenced to prison for roughly 15 years, and authorities believed at the time “his risk to recidivate being of great concern to the community” considering the victims’ gender and age. (Let us note here: The records included an interview with Rosenbaum in which he said his stepfather sexually abused him and his brother on an almost daily basis when he was a preteen.)
A New York Times video investigation reported that, before his death, Rosenbaum had "just been released from the hospital after undergoing mental health treatment," and his reason for being at the Kenosha demonstration was unknown. The plastic bag that Rosenbaum threw in Rittenhouse's direction, before the teenager opened fire, reportedly held his belongings from the hospital.
The claim that Huber was convicted of "beating" women before his death was an instance in which the viral copypasta misreported facts.
Huber was not a "convicted women beater" — or someone who had been arrested twice for assaulting one or more women in his life. Rather, court records obtained by Snopes showed he was charged with domestic abuse, which is a type of crime that can include "beating" or assaulting female partners or relatives, as well as other types of fights between two people who know each other.
In Huber's case, authorities arrested him in 2012 after they said he threatened his brother and grandmother with a knife and choked the brother, court records showed. And, on another occasion, in 2018, Huber was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor offense, after a fight with his sister at their house.
The text also inaccurately reported the unlawful past of Grosskreutz, the lone survivor of the shootings.
Firstly, he wasn't convicted of burglary, like the viral message claimed. Instead, he was arrested on suspicion of the crime, but prosecutors later dismissed the charge, according to Wisconsin Department of Justice’s criminal data. Their rationale for dropping the case against Grosskreutz, absolving him of the offense, was unknown.
The allegation about assault was also false. Here's what we know about his criminal history:
[Grosskreutz was] found guilty in 2016 of breaking Wisconsin’s law governing the use of dangerous weapons — a misdemeanor offense — per Milwaukee County court records. He had apparently gone somewhere “armed while intoxicated,” though the court records did not elaborate on what exactly had happened. Snopes requested a copy of the probable cause statement from county records administrators, but we have not yet obtained it.
Additionally, Grosskreutz at various points received tickets for minor offenses including disobeying police officers and making loud noises, the court records showed.
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Tiefenthäler, Ainara, et al. ‘Video: Reconstructing the Rittenhouse Shootings: How Kenosha Echoed America’s Polarization’. The New York Times, 28 Oct. 2021. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000007409660/kyle-rittenhouse-shooting-video-analysis.html.
Romo, Vanessa, and Sharon Pruitt-Young. ‘What We Know about the 3 Men Who Were Shot by Kyle Rittenhouse’. NPR, 20 Nov. 2021. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2021/11/20/1057571558/what-we-know-3-men-kyle-rittenhouse-victims-rosenbaum-huber-grosskreutz.