The President of the United States tweeted Tuesday morning, without providing evidence, that Buffalo activist Martin Gugino "could be an ANTIFA provocateur." Donald Trump also raised questions about Gugino's fall during last Thursday's protest in Niagara Square, and whether he was trying to disrupt police equipment.
Trump also suggests in his tweet that Gugino "fell harder than he was pushed." He also tags One America News Network, a cable television news outlet reputed as right-leaning.
As of 9:10 a.m. Tuesday morning, the tweet already generated more than 22,000 responses, a number that was quickly rising, and more than 29,300 "likes." A significant number of the responses were critical of the president's 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?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2020
The president has not offered any evidence supporting an alleged connection between Gugino and Antifa.
Kelly Zarcone, Gugino's attorney, issued the following statement in response: "Martin is out of ICU but still hospitalized and truly needs to rest. 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."
Two Buffalo police officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, have been suspended without pay and are charged with Second Degree Assault. Every member of the Buffalo Police Department's Emergency Response Team unit resigned in protest following their colleagues' suspensions.
Some media outlets, from websites to radio talk show hosts, have suggested Gugino embellished when pushed and was looking for a confrontation during last Thursday's protest in Niagara Square. One theory floated after the incident accused Gugino of rigging fake blood under his mask to flow upon his fall.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn dismissed such theories during a news conference shortly after Torgalski and McCabe were arraigned.
"He was hurt. He's still in the hospital," Flynn said during a news conference following the officers' arraignments. "He's in serious condition in the hospital. Is he in ECMC going together with a JFK conspiracy? No."
Mayor Byron Brown, in response to the president's tweet, issued the following statement: “The City of Buffalo is focused on healing after several days and nights of calm and constructive meetings and protests about how we take action to achieve racial equity and a good future for our residents and community. We will not be distracted from this urgent work. Our focus on positive change is stronger than ever. My administration remains hopeful that Mr. Gugino will experience a full recovery. And that the officers involved in this incident receive due process under law.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo, during his Tuesday media briefing, aknowledged the tweet and offered an angry reply to the president's insinuations of Gugino's alleged connections and motives.
"How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude. I mean, if there was ever a reprehensible dumb comment from the President of the United States," Cuomo said. "At this moment of anguish and anger, what does he do? He pours gasoline on the fire.
"If there was ever, if he ever feels a moment of decency, he should apologize for that tweet, because it is wholly unacceptable. Not a piece of proof. Totally personally disparaging. And in a moment when a man is still in the hospital. Show some decency. Show some humanity. Show some fairness, President of the United States."
Congressman Tom Reed, during his weekly conference call, told reporters he has seen no evidence of any affiliation with Antifa by Gugino. He also said he would tell President Trump that "these times call for empathy" while adding that the officers in Niagara Square last Thursday were put in a difficult situation, in which they needed to prevent a protest from getting out of control.
"My hope is that the rhetoric that we could be engaging in today is about recognizing that people are protesting, that there's dangers associated with the situation that escalate out of control, and then you see people hijack those protests for rioting, looting, violence, what have you," he said. "And what I would hope is that we would send a message that I would encourage, not only the president but others, that we need to stay in the room, and we need to debate these issues as Americans, respecting each other, listening to each other. And let's not escalate this situation. Let's try to bring calm and unity to the situation."
Other elected officials took to their respective Twitter accounts to criticize the president directly.
— Brian Higgins (@RepBrianHiggins) June 9, 2020
This is sick. The President continues to use his platform to peddle conspiracy theories, this time about a peaceful protestor and fellow New Yorker. Not sure how this is supposed to bring our country together... https://t.co/NVyjkS8rn9
— Kathy Hochul (@LtGovHochulNY) June 9, 2020
A president who cared about the nation would come out of his bunker, take down the unnecessary fence around the White House, and try to bring our country together rather than further fan the flames of dissension. Unfortunately this president doesn't care about anyone but himself. https://t.co/n7h7ZraRco
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) June 9, 2020
To Mr. Gugino, we’re praying for a speedy recovery for you and your family.
Pres. Trump should go back to hiding in the bunker instead of tweeting baseless conspiracies about peaceful protestors and further dividing America.
What are Senate Republicans going to do about this? https://t.co/fjUNpGrEol
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 9, 2020
By the middle of the afternoon, even former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joseph Biden had offered a comment.
My Dad used to say there's no greater sin than the abuse of power.
Whether it's an officer bloodying a peaceful protester or a President defending him with a conspiracy theory he saw on TV.
I'm a Catholic – just like Martin. Our faith says that we can't accept either.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 9, 2020