President Donald Trump made an evidence-free suggestion on Tuesday that Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by two Buffalo police officers during an anti-police brutality protest last week, could be part of the anti-fascist movement known as “antifa.”
“Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur,” Trump tweeted.
Tagging One America News (OAN), a notoriously pro-Trump media channel, the President claimed Gugino “fell harder than was pushed.”
However, a viral video of the incident on Thursday clearly shows the two officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, shoving Gugino, causing him to hit his head on the pavement and lay unconscious while bleeding from his ear. He was rushed to the ICU shortly afterward.
— WBFO (@WBFO) June 5, 2020
Kelly Zarcone, Gugino’s lawyer, told TPM on Tuesday that her client is still hospitalized for the injury, though he is no longer in the ICU.
She also slammed Trump’s “ridiculous claims” about Gugino.
“Let me say that Martin is a peaceful protester and is not affiliated with Antifa or similar organization,” Zarcone said. “He didn’t have any equipment to disrupt police communications or anything of the sort.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (D) chided Trump for his deranged conspiracy theory.
“Mr. President @realDonaldTrump, the City of Buffalo is laser focused on healing, taking action against racial injustice and building a good future for our residents,” the mayor tweeted. “We pray for a full recovery for Mr. Gugino and as I have repeatedly said, the two officers deserve due process.”
The Buffalo Police Department initially claimed that Gugino “tripped and fell,” in spite of the video. The department’s evidently false claim triggered further outrage, and Torgalski and McCabe were thus suspended without pay before Erie County District Attorney John Flynn charged them both with assault.
On Tuesday, Media Matters senior fellow Matthew Gertz flagged the OAN segment Trump seemed to be responding to, in which one of outlet’s media personalities baselessly asserts that the incident was a “false flag provocation” by antifa, an oft-cited boogeyman to conservatives. The personality accuses, again without evidence, Gugino of using his phone to track and black out police communications before he was shoved.
Trump often leaps to police officers’ defense amid national unrest over the death of George Floyd, even as they brutally crack down on peaceful protests against racist police brutality with tear gas and rubber bullets.
“99 percent of them are great, great people,” the President claimed during a White House roundtable with law enforcement leaders on Monday.
GOP national spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington boosted Trump’s effort to spread the conspiracy theory by retweeting Trump’s post with a quote from the Buffalo mayor.
“What we were informed of is that that individual was an agitator,” Brown had said during a press briefing on Friday, though he did not offer evidence or explain who exactly had “informed” him.
However, WBEN’s report that Brown had made the comment about Gugino was discovered to be erroneous. Per the Hill, the mayor was actually discussing Myles Carter, who had been tackled by the police during a protest.
Harrington subsequently deleted her post.
“TIL you are not allowed to quote Democrat mayors on this website,” she tweeted.
TPM reporter Matt Shuham contributed to this report.
Correction: This post originally stated Brown had referred to Gugino as the “agitator” based on WBEN’s mistaken report. We corrected the error to clarify that Brown was describing a different protester.