President Donald Trump dangerously suggested, with no evidence whatsoever, that a 75-year-old protester shoved by police in Buffalo, New York, last week could be “a set up” by “an ANTIFA provocateur.”
“Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment,” the president tweeted Tuesday morning. “I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
Trump’s tweet appears to reference a report that aired on OANN, a right-wing network that routinely disseminates conspiracy theories.
A widely circulated video from Thursday shows police shoving Gugino, who had been participating in a peaceful protest over the police killing of George Floyd. The video shows Gugino falling backward, hitting his head and bleeding from the ear. He was hospitalized in serious but stable condition.
Two officers were later suspended without pay and charged with second-degree assault.
The police department initially claimed Gugino “tripped and fell.” After the video surfaced showing what happened, the mayor and the governor criticised the police actions.
Gugino’s attorney, Kelly Zarcone, said her client “has been a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate and overall fan of the U.S. Constitution for many years” and “requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful.”
Gugino is reportedly a devout Catholic whose faith inspired him to get involved in the Catholic Worker movement, a non-violent lay movement known for extending hospitality to the poor and disenfranchised. Friends of the activist told Religion News Service that Gugino has participated in protests seeking justice for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Black child who was killed in 2014 by an Ohio police officer. Gugino has also been active in pushing for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the notorious US detention camp in Cuba.
Responding to Trump’s tweet, Zarcone said she and Gugino “are at a loss to understand” the president’s allegation.
“Martin is out of ICU but still hospitalized and truly needs to rest,” Zarcone said Tuesday in a statement. “Martin has always been a PEACEFUL protestor because he cares about today’s society. He is also a typical Western New Yorker who loves his family. No one from law enforcement has even suggested anything otherwise so we are at a loss to understand why the President of the United States would make such dark, dangerous, and untrue accusations against him.” Gugino sent a text message to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that said: “Black lives matter. Just out of the ICU. Should recover eventually. Thx.” He declined to comment further.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also responded to Trump on Twitter.
“Mr. President, the City of Buffalo is laser focused on healing, taking action against racial injustice and building a good future for our residents,” Brown said. “We pray for a full recovery for Mr. Gugino and as I have repeatedly said, the two officers deserve due process.”
As protests against racism spread across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death, numerous examples of police responding with violence have been captured on video.
Trump repeatedly called for military action against the protesters. Last week, federal authorities tear-gassed peaceful protesters near the White House, clearing the way for Trump to stage a photo-op at a nearby church.
Carol Kuruvilla contributed to this report.