Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by a Buffalo policeman during a George Floyd protest earlier this month, has denied links to Antifa after President Trump suggested Tuesday that he could be a “provocateur” member of the left-wing organisation.
Kelly Zarcone, Gugino's attorney, told TMZ that President Trump is wrong to draw connections between her client and the group, which Donald Trump said he would designate as a terrorist organisation over its "role" in the ongoing protests. She stressed that Gugino had sustained severe injuries.
“Martin is out of ICU but still hospitalised and truly needs to rest. Martin has always been a peaceful protester because he cares about today's society”, Zarcone explained.
She went on to explain that he “is a typical Western New Yorker who loves his family”, adding that 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, for his part, texted USA Today after being asked about Trump's tweet: “No comment other than Black lives matter. Just out of the ICU. Should recover eventually. Thx”, he wrote.
On Tuesday, Trump commented on a graphic video from 4 June showing the elderly man approach policemen in riot gear waving his mobile phone near Buffalo City Hall, before two officers push him to the ground and walk by, heading to Niagara Square.
The video then shows blood appearing behind Gugino's head as he continues to lie on the ground.
“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”, Trump tweeted, referencing a report by the right-wing media outlet One America News Network, which said the incident “could be the result of a false flag provocation by far left group Antifa”.
The latter cited information that was published on the Conservative Treehouse blog, which identifies Gugino as a “well-known activist”.
While Trump’s tweet ended up in the crosshairs of Democrats, including his likely 2020 rival Joe Biden, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown weighed in, noting that Gugino was an “agitator and major instigator”, as he is known to have petitioned for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and in the latest incident had been asked to leave the area “numerous” times.
The report Trump referenced says that the slowed-down video “appears to show Gugino using a police tracker on his phone trying to scan police communications during the protest”. It describes it as an “old trick used by Antifa” to detect police officers as well as to plan violent activities and was “supposedly using the communication to black out police technologies”.
While numerous voices have branded it a “conspiracy theory”, blasting Trump for elevating it, Charles Herring, OANN’s president, defended the reporting.
“From numerous sources, OAN’s investigative team is aware of Mr. Gugino’s anti-Police sentiment and statements", he said in a statement to the Washington Examiner, further detailing:
"As you may know, his social media accounts have been deleted, covering-up his anti-authority affirmations. Mr. Gugino refused to comply with the repeated requests of police officers".
The two officers involved in pushing Gugino, Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, have since been charged with second-degree assault and been suspended from service without pay. As Gugino is older than 65 and the two officers are more than 10 years younger, the crime is a felony, in line with New York's penal code.
The incident happened as thousands have been marching daily in the US and beyond over the death of 46-year-old truck driver and bouncer George Floyd in police custody as well as over law enforcement officers' brutality at large. In many places, the protests have grown into violent riots against social and racial injustice, spilling out into arsons and other acts of vandalism. States have increasingly deployed National Guard regiments and imposed curfews to suppress the unrest.