Viral Post Misrepresents Facts in Rittenhouse Trial


Kyle Rittenhouse looks at his attorneys during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on Nov. 18. Photo by Sean Krajacic/Getty Images

Rittenhouse and his largely conservative supporters argued that he acted in self-defense, while prosecutors and the primarily liberal crowd who wanted to see him punished argued that he was a vigilante who had been spoiling for a fight.

The sharp divide in public perception of Rittenhouse has led to the proliferation of false claims that support the view of either the right or left.  We recently wrote about one such claim circulating on left-leaning social media accounts. Another widely shared claim, which we’ll address here, has been circulating on right-leaning accounts.

The post has been copied and shared thousands of times, according to data from CrowdTangle. It makes numerous claims – several of which are true, or at least partly true, and some which are inaccurate.

Here are the facts relevant to each claim in the post:

Claim: “Until I watched the trial for myself, I didn’t know the gas station where it all started and where Kyle stayed up until they started attacking him, is owned by his grandparents. They came on to his property to attack him.”

Facts: This is false. Rittenhouse testified that he had seen videos on social media showing destruction of property at Car Source, a dealership in Kenosha, during protests on the evening of Aug. 24. The following day, he had gone to Kenosha and volunteered to “help watch over” the business, he said.

Two brothers whose family owns Car Source testified that they didn’t ask Rittenhouse, or anyone else, to guard the business. But they didn’t ask the volunteers to leave, either.

Regardless, the dealership is not owned by Rittenhouse’s grandparents. It is owned by the Khindri family, according to court testimony and property records.

At one point on the evening of Aug. 25, Rittenhouse left Car Source and walked down the street in an effort, he said, to see if anyone needed medical help. He ended up at a gas station called the Ultimate Convenience Center for a short time. That business isn’t owned by Rittenhouse’s grandparents, either. According to Kenosha County property records, it’s owned by Leen Property LLC, which, according to Wisconsin incorporation records, is run by Khitam Shahin.

So, according to his own account, Rittenhouse volunteered to guard Car Source and spent some time at the Ultimate Convenience Center. Neither of those establishments is owned by Rittenhouse’s family and, according to his testimony, he never claimed that they were.

Claim: “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.”

Facts: Mark Richards, Rittenhouse’s lead lawyer, played a video at the trial that showed a crowd surrounding a dumpster on fire near the Ultimate Convenience Center. The video also shows a man with a fire extinguisher putting it out.

But that man is not Rittenhouse, and Richards doesn’t say that it is.

Rather, both he and Rittenhouse said that Rittenhouse had gotten a fire extinguisher from another, unnamed person at the Ultimate Convenience Center and then headed to a Car Source parking lot with it, where he understood there were burning vehicles.

Neither of them claimed that Rittenhouse “put out a dumpster fire that was being rolled down to a gas station to blow up.”

However, Rittenhouse did testify during cross-examination that he retrieved a dumpster that had been taken from Car Source and set on fire, although he didn’t say that he had extinguished the fire.

Claim: “I didn’t know that the Police were told to stand down as businesses were destroyed.”

Facts: There is no evidence to support this claim and news coverage at the time shows police presence during the unrest.

Also, the Kenosha Police Department told us the claim was false. “That is definitely factually inaccurate,” Sgt. Leo Viola, spokesman for the department, told FactCheck.org in a phone interview.

“Our police department is 211 people strong,” Viola said. At the start of the unrest, the department was outnumbered by demonstrators, and it prioritized securing the campus that includes the jail, public safety building and courthouse.

“Our focus was on life, not property,” Viola said.

As the unrest continued, state and federal law enforcement arrived on the scene, adding to the number of officers in Kenosha.

Rittenhouse described in court seeing armored police vehicles near the scene of the shooting and approached a squad car to turn himself in on Aug. 25. He was turned away and told to go home, he testified. Rittenhouse then turned himself in at the Antioch Police Department, near his home in Illinois, about an hour later.

Claim: “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.”

Facts: In August 2020, Rittenhouse lived with his mother in Antioch, Illinois, which is about 20 miles from Kenosha.

He testified that his father, grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins lived in Kenosha at the time.

Dominick Black, a friend who purchased the semi-automatic rifle that Rittenhouse used, also lived in Kenosha. More on him later.

Claim: “I didn’t know that someone knocked Rittenhouse down twice and then attempted to kick him with lethal force to the head.”

Facts: After Rittenhouse had shot Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man to die that night, bystanders shouted, “Get his ass, get him,” Rittenhouse testified.

As he headed down the street to seek out police, he said, the crowd followed.

Similarly, Gaige Grosskreutz testified that bystanders had begun following Rittenhouse, saying, “He just shot somebody.” Grosskreutz was a volunteer paramedic at the demonstration and was later shot by Rittenhouse, but he survived. More on that later.

“I thought that the defendant was an active shooter,” Grosskreutz said in court, describing events leading to the other shootings that night.

Video of those moments taken by someone who describes himself as an independent reporter shows several people on the street with Rittenhouse as he leaves the scene of the first shooting.

It appears to show the same sequence of events that Rittenhouse described in court:

As Rittenhouse runs, an unidentified person hits the back of his head. Someone on the street asks, “What’d he do?” and another responds, “He shot someone.”

One of the people on the street, Anthony Huber, then runs up from behind and hits Rittenhouse with a skateboard.

Rittenhouse falls to the ground and an unidentified man runs toward him, Rittenhouse shoots, the man appears to kick him in the head, and Rittenhouse shoots again. He doesn’t hit anyone.

Huber then hits him with a skateboard for a second time. Rittenhouse shoots and Huber, who died that night, falls to the ground.

With Rittenhouse still on the ground, he shoots once at Grosskreutz, hitting him in the arm.

So, it’s true that Rittenhouse was hit with a skateboard and kicked, but that was after he had shot someone.

Claim: “I didn’t know that Huber had hit him in the head 2x with a skateboard.”

Facts: As we explained above, Huber hit Rittenhouse twice with his skateboard after Rittenhouse had shot Joseph Rosenbaum. Huber was the second man killed by Rittenhouse.

Claim: “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.”

Facts: As we’ve reported, according to court testimony and police records, the rifle that Rittenhouse used in the shootings had been stored at the Kenosha home of Rittenhouse’s friend, Dominick Black, and was not with Rittenhouse in the car when he drove himself from his home in Antioch to Kenosha on Aug. 24, 2020.

Black and Rittenhouse testified that the rifle never left Wisconsin after Black, using money Rittenhouse gave him, purchased the gun at a hardware store in the state in May 2020. Black and Rittenhouse said they agreed that Black would keep the rifle and that it would stay at Black’s home in Kenosha, where he lived with his stepfather. Black and Rittenhouse said the plan was for Black to transfer ownership of the gun to Rittenhouse when Rittenhouse turned 18 years old in January 2021.

Black’s stepfather, Scott Dickhart, told authorities that he kept the gun in a locked safe in his home until the evening of Aug. 24, 2020, according to police records reviewed by the Kenosha News. After the Aug. 23 shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer caused unrest in the city, Dickhart said he took the rifle out of the safe, which was in his garage, and put the gun in his basement.

Rittenhouse, who testified that he spent the night at Dickhart’s house the night of Aug. 24, said he retrieved the gun from the basement while at the home on Aug. 25. Afterward, Rittenhouse and Black, who also had a rifle, headed to downtown Kenosha to help guard the used car dealership.

Police in Illinois recovered the rifles from the trunk of Black’s car more than an hour after the shootings. Black had driven Rittenhouse back to Antioch, where Rittenhouse turned himself in.

Claim: “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).”

Facts: Rittenhouse also had been charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, a misdemeanor. But the charge, which carried a maximum nine-month prison sentence, was dismissed on Nov. 15 by Judge Bruce Schroeder, who oversaw the trial.

Defense attorneys for Rittenhouse argued that an exception in Wisconsin law allows minors to possess shotguns and rifles as long as they are not short-barreled.

The statute in question says, “Any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.” However, it also says the subsection “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 … .” Section 941.28, which covers possession of short-barreled shotguns and rifles, defines a short-barreled rifle as one “having one or more barrels having a length of less than 16 inches measured from closed breech or bolt face to muzzle or a rifle having an overall length of less than 26 inches.”

When the prosecution conceded that the rifle Rittenhouse used had a barrel that was longer than 16 inches, the judge threw out the possession charge.

Clam: “I didn’t know Gaige Grosskreutz, aimed his gun at Kyle first, as he admitted on the stand.”

Facts: Grosskreutz, who was at the protest as a volunteer paramedic when Rittenhouse shot him in the right arm during a confrontation, testified in court that Rittenhouse’s rifle was pointed at him while Grosskreutz initially had his hands in the air.

But Grosskreutz, who had a gun in his right hand at the time, admitted that it was not until he lowered his hands and was moving toward Rittenhouse with his pistol pointed at him that Rittenhouse fired a shot.

Here’s that part of the exchange with one of the defense attorneys, Corey Chirafisi.

Chirafisi, Nov. 8: So, when you were standing three to five feet from him with your arms up in the air, he never fired, right?

Grosskreutz: Correct.

Chirafisi: It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him, advanced on him … that he fired, right?

Grosskreutz: Correct.

Grosskreutz testified that while he had his hands in the air, he saw Rittenhouse “re-rack” his rifle to load a new round into the chamber of the gun. He said he interpreted that as Rittenhouse “wasn’t accepting my surrender” and then decided he needed to act to protect himself — but never intended to kill Rittenhouse.

“In that moment, I felt that I had to do something to try and prevent myself from being shot or killed,” he told the court. “And so I decided the best course of action would be to close the distance between the defendant and I, and then … from there, I don’t know. … I do know, though, that I was never trying to kill the defendant.”

Claim: “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.”

Facts: All of the men who Rittenhouse shot had criminal records, but the post gets some of the facts wrong.

Rosenbaum pleaded guilty in 2002, when he was 19, to two amended counts of felony sexual conduct with a minor, according to Arizona court records published online by Heavy.com. A grand jury had originally charged him with nearly a dozen different counts of illegal sexual activity with children, including oral and anal sex. The alleged victims were five young boys between the ages of 9 and 11, which may be why the author of the post inaccurately claimed he was “a 5 time convicted child rapist.” For his crimes, Rosenbaum was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison, according to Arizona corrections records.

Huber also faced several criminal charges and was convicted more than once, Wisconsin Circuit Court Access records show. However, we did not find that he “was a 2 time convicted woman beater.” In 2012, Huber was found guilty of felony strangulation and suffocation stemming from an incident in which he choked his brother during an altercation. Then, in 2018, he was found guilty of disorderly conduct after kicking his sister during an argument.

Wisconsin Circuit Court Access records also show Grosskreutz has been charged with committing several noncriminal offenses, such as speeding and operating a vehicle on a suspended license and without insurance. The one criminal conviction listed, a misdemeanor, was for being armed with a weapon while intoxicated in 2016.

As for burglary, Grosskreutz was previously arrested and charged for his alleged role in a 2012 home invasion in which several gaming devices were stolen. That’s according to New Berlin Police records obtained by the Kenosha County Eye, a website run by Kevin Mathewson, a private investigator and former Kenosha alderman who founded the Kenosha Guard, an armed citizen militia group. But, according to Wisconsin Department of Justice records, the felony burglary charge was later dismissed.

Also, the “assault on his record” may be a reference to a 2010 incident in which Grosskreutz, then 17, slapped his grandmother across the face during a heated argument, according to West Allis Police records the Kenosha County Eye also obtained. The incident report indicates that Grosskreutz also threw a table lamp, putting a hole in a wall in her home. The same report says he was later arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal damage. However, his grandmother, who told law enforcement she struck Grosskreutz in the face first, later asked that he not be charged and the assistant district attorney assigned to the case complied with her request, the report says.

Claim: “IF THE MEDIA DID THEIR JOB… we would ALL have known this and tax payers dollars would not be wasted and more division created!”

Facts: The claim that Rittenhouse’s grandparents owned the gas station he was defending wasn’t covered by the media because it wasn’t true. Other statements in the post were inaccurate, such as the descriptions of the criminal records of the shooting victims, or unsupported, such as the claim that Rittenhouse put out a dumpster fire and prevented a gas station from blowing up.

And, if wasted “tax payers dollars” is a reference to the cost of the trial itself, that’s likely to have happened anyway. Rittenhouse was criminally charged, so unless he took a plea deal, the trial would have happened regardless of how much press coverage there had been.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

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Kenosha County Property Information. 5821 Sheridan Rd. Accessed 24 Nov 2021.

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Kenosha County Property Information. 6007 Sheridan Rd. Accessed 24 Nov 2021.

Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Leen Property LLC. Registered 8 Jul 2011.

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