What’s True and False About Kyle Rittenhouse’s Alleged Victims

Fans of the 17-year-old, charged in a double killing, launched an online campaign to smear the reputations of his victims.

  • Published 11 September 2020
  • Updated 23 September 2020

In attempt to justify the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse — the 17-year-old accused of shooting three people, killing two, with a semi-automatic rifle during a protest on Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin — Americans on the political right launched a grassroots effort to uncover any evidence to deny the shooting victims martyrdom among opponents.

The makeshift investigations revealed what hardline conservatives believed to be proof of criminal wrongdoing by the deceased — Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 —as well as by Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, who shot was shot in the arm and survived. One blog post alleged:

Anthony Huber was jailed for domestic violence. Joseph Rosenbaum was a pedophile. Gaige Grosskreutz was arrested and charged with burglary among other crimes […] are you really saying the backgrounds of these ‘peaceful protestors’ aren’t relevant to the discussion?

Ultimately, the focus on the victims’ backgrounds aimed to prove Rittenhouse’s actions defensible, and discredit an underlying belief by the political left: that the victims acted heroically, and were wrongfully targeted by the armed teenager at the protest. 

And though the rumors about the shooting victims varied in severity and nature, many alleged this: Huber was a known offender of domestic violence and rapist; Rosenbaum had sexually abused children; Grosskreutz had been arrested on suspicion of multiple crimes, including felony burglary, and all three victims were convicted felons. Based on court records and inmate rosters, aspects of those claims were indeed accurate, while others were outright false.

What follows is an explanation of those findings, as well as everything we know about the incident that made the three men symbols of the country’s political divide, at the request of Snopes readers to investigate the wide-ranging online campaign to celebrate Rittenhouse, and smear the reputations of his alleged victims.

But we should note here: No evidence showed the victims’ histories had anything to do with the protest, which began as a peaceful showing of people against racism by U.S. law enforcement after a white police officer days prior shot and wounded a Black man, Jacob Blake, who is now paralyzed from the waist down.

Additionally, no proof existed to confirm or deny whether Rittenhouse knew of Huber, Rosenbaum, or Grosskreutz — or their criminal histories — before he was captured in video footage patrolling the protest with the rifle.

‘I Just Killed Someone’: How the Kenosha Shooting Unfolded

To understand the gravity of the rumors swirling about the shooting victims’ past, let’s unpack what happened that chaotic night in Kenosha.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Giving ideological ammo to Rittenhouse supporters on the frontlines of the country’s culture war online, his legal defense team have framed the teenager from Antioch, Illinois, as a courageous vigilante who was patrolling the streets of Kenosha to prevent property destruction and theft when he needed to use his gun to defend himself. U.S. President Donald Trump, too, has said the teen appeared to be “in very big trouble” and “probably would have been killed” had he not acted the way he did.

That said, according to a statement to reporters by one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, the teen had heard the owner of a Kenosha car dealership wanted help patrolling his properties during the protest, so Rittenhouse and a friend armed themselves with rifles and headed to one of the auto shops.

After the city’s mandated curfew of 8 p.m. passed, law-enforcement officers tried to clear a crowd of people a couple of blocks away — which, in effect, pushed the group toward the auto shop where Rittenhouse and others were stationed with guns. People in the crowd apparently threatened the teen and others acting as vigilante security guards, per the attorney’s account. Then, after some running around, Rittenhouse attempted to go to a second mechanic shop, which he apparently believed was vulnerable to property damage. That’s when the attorney said people “began chasing him down.”

The back and forth between the teenager and the alleged “mob” was unknown, including if or to what extent they exchanged words. Also unknown were the locations of Huber, Rosenbaum, or Grosskreutz at that point in the night, or whether they had interacted with Rittenhouse before shots were fired.

The complaint outlining Rittenhouse’s criminal charges which include murder and first-degree reckless homicide as well as bystanders’ videos, explained what happened next, shortly before midnight: For some reason, Rittenhouse started running in the auto shop parking lot, while his first shooting victim, Rosenbaum, followed him at a close distance, and a journalist trailed Rosenbaum.

At one point, Rosenbaum — who appeared to be unarmed in at least one video — threw what appeared to be a plastic bag in the teen’s direction while running, and it landed short of Rittenhouse. And within seconds, shots rang out, and Rosenbaum fell to the ground, according to the complaint. It was unclear who fired first.

Rittenhouse’s legal team has said the teen didn’t open fire first — but rather he heard a gunshot behind him as he ran, turned around, and saw Rosenbaum lunging toward him and reaching for the rifle.

As the journalist attempted to give Rosenbaum medical aid, Rittenhouse apparently called someone — and then fled. The complaint stated:

As the defendant is running away, he can be heard saying on the phone, ‘i just killed somebody.’ … [The journalist] stated that he then heard other shots really soon after.

According to cellphone footage, a group of people followed Rittenhouse, yelling “Beat him up!” and “Hey, he shot him!” The teenager continued running, tripped, and then fell to the ground — from where he fired four shots.

Per the complaint, several people rushed toward the teen and hit him or tried to disarm him while he was lying on the ground. Among that group was Rittenhouse’s second victim, Huber, who had apparently hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard during the scuffle. Then, the complaint stated:

The defendant then fires one round … Huber staggers away, taking several steps, then collapses to the ground.

Rittenhouse sat up and pointed his gun at Grosskreutz, who ducked, put his hands in the air, and stepped back. Seconds later, when Grosskreutz moved toward the teen — apparently while holding a handgun — Rittenhouse fired one shot and struck Grosskreutz in the arm, the complaint alleged. 

Grosskreutz ran away and medics took him to the hospital, where he was treated for a severe gunshot wound. Weeks later, in an interview with CNN that published Sept. 11, Grosskreutz said he was still recovering and missing most of his bicep where he was shot.

“I never fired my weapon that night,” Grosskreutz said. “Everybody was there exercising their right to protest. And there were some people who were exercising their right to bear arms, including myself.”

What We Know About the Victims — Aside From Their Rap Sheets

All victims apparently were familiar faces at protests against police brutality beginning in May 2020, when George Floyd, a Black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for about nine minutes, and sparked an international reckoning over race and policing.

Porche Bennett, a Kenosha activist and business owner, told The Kenosha News while all three men were known by protest organizers, Rosenbaum and Huber were regular attendees of gatherings in the Kenosha area.

“They came out here every time with us,” Bennett said of the deceased.

Rosenbaum was originally from Waco, Texas. He lived in Arizona, where he went to high school and a community college, before moving to Wisconsin in 2020, per news reports and his Facebook page. He apparently worked at a Wendy’s restaurant in Kenosha at the time of his death, and he was survived by a fiancée and young daughter.

Those closest to Huber, a Kenosha resident, remembered him as a friendly, laid-back guy who loved skateboarding. His obituary said he “died a hero fighting for a cause he believed in.” 

Grosskreutz, meanwhile, isn’t from Kenosha, a lakeside city between Milwaukee and Chicago with a population of about 100,000 people. Following Blake’s shooting by a police officer there, however, Grosskreutz traveled about 40 miles south to Kenosha from his home in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb, to show solidarity with those protesting the police officer’s use of potentially lethal force against Blake.

Grosskreutz is reportedly a member of a Milwaukee-based social justice group called the People’s Revolution Movement, and was patrolling Kenosha streets as a volunteer medic when the Aug. 25 demonstration turned deadly. And in addition to social justice work, Grosskreutz has worked as a wilderness medical instructor, among other jobs, and was a senior at a private liberal arts college in Ashland, Wisconsin, when he was shot and wounded, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“I’m not an Antifa terrorist organizer,” he told CNN. “I go to school. And yeah, I exercise my First Amendment right to peacefully protest.”

What’s True — and False — About the Victims’ Criminal Histories

The viral claims alleging unlawful behavior by Huber, Rosenbaum, and Grosskreutz before the Kenosha shooting were a mixture of truth and falsehoods.

For example, yes, Rosenbaum was found guilty of engaging in “sexual conduct with a minor” in Arizona’s Pima County in March 2002, almost two decades before his death, according to an online database of prison inmates in Arizona, via the state’s department of corrections. Per that online portal, he was sentenced to prison or parole for roughly 15 years. The state’s law defines the felony offense as “intentionally or knowingly engaging in sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with any person who is under eighteen (18) years of age,” though we could not confirm the details of Rosenbaum’s case. We requested copies of probable-cause statements from the Pima County Superior Court’s Office, and we will update this report when or if we hear back.

Considering that evidence, the claim that Rosenbaum at one point was convicted of sexually abusing at least one child before his death was true.

Next, we analyzed criminal records involving Huber, and determined it also accurate to state he was charged with domestic abuse. We uncovered a Kenosha County criminal complaint that outlined his first serious run-in with law enforcement, in December 2012. And per that complaint, Huber, who was 18 years old at the time, threatened his brother and grandmother at their home with a knife, choked the brother, and demanded that they follow his orders. The complaint said the brother wanted to take Huber to a hospital, apparently for emergency mental health help, but Huber resisted. In the end, he was charged with strangulation and suffocation and false imprisonment, both of which are felony crimes.

On another occasion, about three years later, Huber paid a roughly $150 citation or possessing drug paraphernalia, court records showed. Then, in 2018, Huber was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor offense, after a fight with his sister at their house, per a criminal complaint by Kenosha prosecutors.

But unlike what many Rittenhouse supporters claimed, we could find no court evidence that Huber had sexually assaulted anyone.

Also false was the assertion that all three of the teenager’s victims were felons. Grosskreutz had not committed a felony crime, our analysis of court records showed.

He was, however, 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. However, no evidence showed he had indeed committed burglary, like supporters of the alleged killer claimed, though he had been arrested on suspicion of the crime in 2012. The felony charge was later dismissed, per Wisconsin Department of Justice’s criminal data.

In the interview with CNN, Grosskreutz said he has paid his debt for his past crimes and that he had every right to carry a gun at the Aug. 25 protest. “I’m not a felon,” he said. “I had a legal right to possess [a firearm] and to possess it concealed.”

The Victims’ Criminal Past ‘Have No Bearing on Them Being Shot’

As of this writing, Rittenhouse was set to make his next court appearance on Sept. 25, and no court proceedings have called attention to the criminal histories of his alleged victims.

Threads on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites for Americans on the far political right, as well as white supremacists and armed militias, were a different story, however. Those type of discussions were not unusual; onlookers of high-profile, controversial killings often focus on the criminal records of the victims, no matter the relevance of that history.

The phenomenon is particularly prevalent when authorities kill non-white people; for example, conservative corners of the internet focused on Floyd’s alleged criminal background after his death, which sparked a civil rights movement, and the rapsheet of another Black man, Rayshard Brooks, after a white Atlanta police officer fatally shot him in a Wendy’s parking lot in June 2020.

Psychologists have said the strategy — whether intentional or not — of shifting focus away from questionable violence and onto the past unlawful behavior of victims makes it easy for people to subscribe to the “they had it coming” trope and justify deaths or injuries.

In response to that campaign, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel released a statement on Sept. 1 in which it explained why the newspaper had not reported on the victims’ past legal records. The statement read:

There is no evidence so far that the backgrounds of the three victims — Anthony Huber, Joseph Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz — had anything to do with the clashes that led to the deaths of Huber and Rosenbaum and the wounding of Grosskreutz.

They are the victims of a shooting, and as far as we can tell their past legal records have no bearing on them being shot during a protest.

If more facts emerge that show their backgrounds are relevant to what happened that night in Kenosha, we would revisit our decision. For instance, if there is evidence that any of the victims’ backgrounds could have affected their interactions with Rittenhouse, or if he knew anything about them before the shooting.