Hundreds of videos show police escalating violence at protests, yet the president is still trying to blame antifa.
Over the past two weeks, Americans have recorded hundreds of videos documenting police brutality and unnecessary violence against protesters.
One of the most-watched was captured in Buffalo, New York, last Thursday and showed two police officers shoving a 75-year-old Catholic peace activist to the ground, causing him to split his head open and bleed out onto the sidewalk.
The man, Martin Gugino, was protesting the police killing of George Floyd and posed no threat to police officers Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, who were surrounded by dozens of other officers. They shoved him anyway. Gugino was hospitalized with a concussion and lacerations and remains in serious condition.
To make the already horrifying incident worse, the Buffalo Police Department initially lied about what happened, claiming Gugino “tripped and fell”—an assertion directly undercut by the video. In the furor that has followed, Torgalski and McCabe were suspended without pay and have been charged with felony assault.
The assault on Gugino is one of more than 400 examples of police brutality captured on video, according to a database compiled by T. Greg Doucette, a North Carolina criminal defense attorney.
The assault on Gugino was roundly criticized by Erie County, New York district attorney, John J. Flynn, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and other lawmakers around the country.
Notably absent from that list, however, is President Donald Trump.
Instead, Trump on Tuesday falsely accused Gugino of being part of the loose-knit, left-wing movement known as antifa, short for “antifascist.”
In attacking Gugino, the president took his cue from a report from a TV segment aired by One America News Network (OANN), a fringe, hard-right news outlet that frequently airs conspiracy theories and spreads misinformation. In its segment, OANN cited a conspiracy theory from the right-wing blog “Conservative Treehouse” and accused Gugino of using “common antifa tactics,” such as using a police tracker on his phone to scan and black out police communications during the protest.
As CNN reporter Jon Passantino noted, the original article that appeared on the “Conservative Treehouse” website was far from reliable.
OANN’s report, penned by a Russian national who also writes for a Kremlin-owned news wire, was similarly baseless and contained zero evidence. Nonetheless, Trump amplified it in a Tuesday morning tweet.
“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?” Trump wrote.
There is no proof Gugino is affiliated with antifa, which is less an organization than a loose, decentralized group of individuals across the country who stand against fascism. Gugino is a member of other organizations, however, including PUSH Buffalo, which focuses on affordable housing, and the Western New York Peace Center, a human rights organization. He is also part of the Catholic Worker Movement.
Trump’s attempted defamation of Gugino represents his latest effort to try to pin blame for police brutality on antifa, even though Trump’s own FBI and various news outlets have found no evidence of antifa stirring up violence at protests. Instead, as countless videos show, police officers most often appear to be the ones escalating violence.
Despite these very public findings, Trump’s conspiracy theories about antifa, which have also been spread by users across social media, have scared many Americans. As NBC reported this week, hundreds of residents of Klamath Falls, Oregon, armed themselves with guns, hammers, axes, and baseball bats after reading rumors on Facebook that so-called antifa members were being bused in from neighboring cities.
Those rumors were untrue, and no one ever showed up. Similar scenes have played out across the country, from Forks, Washington to South Bend, Indiana.
That hasn’t stopped Trump from embracing the conspiracy theory and trying to distract from his own roundly criticized response to the widely popular protests. A massive 61% majority of Americans say they disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests, and 74% say they support the protests, including 53% of Republicans, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll released Tuesday.
Those numbers mirror the findings of a CNN poll released Monday, which found that 65% of Americans believed Trump’s response to the protests was “more harmful.”
On Sunday, CNN reported that the White House was reportedly considering having the president deliver a speech on race relations and national unity. By Tuesday morning, he was lobbying false conspiracy theories and defaming a 75-year-old man who remains in a Buffalo hospital.
Gugino’s lawyer registered disgust at Trump’s comments on Tuesday, criticizing the president for making “a dark, dangerous and untrue accusation” that Gugino was part of a “set up” coordinated by anti-fascist demonstrators.
“Martin has always been a PEACEFUL protester because he cares about today’s society.”
“Martin has always been a PEACEFUL protester because he cares about today’s society,” attorney Kelly V. Zarcone told the Washington Post. “He is also a typical Western New Yorker who loves his family. No one from law enforcement has suggested otherwise so we’re at a loss to understand why the president of the United States would make such a dark, dangerous and untrue accusation against him.”