The 75-year-old peace activist who Buffalo police shoved to the ground, causing him to bleed from his ear, wasn’t just a “provocateur” — he was also a sophisticated hacker who attempted to “black out” police communications!
At least, that’s the word from the President of the United States on Tuesday. Donald Trump boosted yet another insane conspiracy theory from the depths of the anonymous right-wing internet.
In a tweet, Trump claimed activist Martin Gugino was “aiming” a “scanner” at police at the time he was pushed on Saturday (Gugino appeared to be holding a cell phone) and that the elderly man “fell harder than was pushed.”
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. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2020
Gugino was still hospitalized as of Tuesday afternoon but has been transferred out of the ICU, his attorney Kelly Zarcone told TPM. Two officers have been charged with felony assault over the incident (they’ve pleaded not guilty) and dozens of officers left a crowd control unit within the Buffalo Police Department in protest.
“He didn’t have any equipment to disrupt police communications or anything of the sort,” Zarcone said of her client.
NBC News’ Ben Collins referred to the conspiracy theory’s path as a “Bad Information Centipede” — regurgitated through a series of ridiculous sources, pure speculation became presidential proclamation.
Trump said he’d seen the conspiracy on One America News, the far-right outlet that’s sought to out-fox Fox News. In a clip that appeared to be the one Trump watched, a reporter for OAN said the “tensions” in Buffalo “could be a result of a false-flag by far-left group antifa.”
Citing an outlet less credible than even his own, OAN reporter Kristian Rouz claimed that “newly released videos appear to show Gugino using a police tracker on his phone, trying to scan police communications during the protest.”
Here's the first half of the batshit OANN segment Trump just tweeted. It alleges the 75 year old man assaulted by Buffalo police officers was an antifa operative, based on a report from Conservative Treehouse. pic.twitter.com/CeMVyJcoh8
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) June 9, 2020
Rouz “reported” that Gugino was “skimming” police communications — an old anti-fascist trick, Rouz asserted, “to locate police officers and plan violent activities.” The elderly man also supposedly used the trick to “black out police communications.”
Except: There’s no proof, at all, that Gugino did any of that. All video of the incident shows is that Gugino was holding his phone and waving his hands around at the moment he was pushed.
Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz noted some obvious problems with Trump’s sourcing: Rouz, the OAN reporter, recently reported on “mounting evidence” that COVID-19 was a “population control” effort fueled by, of course, George Soros.
But Rouz’s reporting for the Buffalo story isn’t any better.
OAN cited a “report” from the blog The Conservative Treehouse — also known as The Last Refuge — containing the claims that later made it to Trump’s Twitter feed. The article alleged that Gugino attempted “to capture the radio communications signature of Buffalo police officers,” and use “his phone as a capture scanner.”
Like OAN, Conservative Treehouse’s post cited no evidence for its claim other than the video of police shoving Gugino.
It’s not clear where Conservative Treehouse got its hunch about Gugino’s hacktivism. The article cited a Twitter thread from an account that appeared to be affiliated with the blog — they share a name, description, and the account lists the blog URL in its biographical details.
The Twitter account, “TheLastRefuge,” sports thousands of followers including bigwig names like the former acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell.
But the account’s previous work does not inspire confidence: Early Tuesday, for example, it boosted the claim that a man had falsely claimed to be the twin brother of George Floyd, whose killing by Minneapolis police has inspired nationwide demonstrations.
However, some simple research would have solved the riddle: The man was retired NBA star Stephen Jackson who was speaking figuratively about his “twin,” George Floyd, with whom he was close friends in life.
An email address listed for Conservative Treehouse did not return TPM’s request for comment.
This post has been updated.