President Donald Trump used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to spread a baseless conspiracy theory that injured protester Martin Gugino was trying to "scan" and "black out" police equipment prior to him being pushed to the ground by two Buffalo police officers.
Gugino, 75, remains in serious condition in hospital after hitting his head on the ground in an incident that sparked national outrage. Two Buffalo Police Department officers have been charged with second-degree assault, a felony.
Trump's Tuesday morning tweet and Facebook post were inspired by an "absolutely insane" segment from little-watched cable channel One America News Network, which has aired false information in the past. The OAN report baselessly claims Gugino's injury was the result of a "false flag provocation by far-left group antifa," and said he appeared "to use a police tracker" on his phone. There is zero evidence linking Gugino to an antifa organization, and the claim that he tracked or scanned police is based only on the fact that Gugino was holding a mobile phone.
Trump even suggested — again with no evidence — that Gugino's fall was intentional. "I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?" the president said, amplifying false claims to millions of people.
Kelly V. Zarcone, Gugino's attorney, told a Buffalo TV reporter the claims were false.
"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," she said.
Gugino is described by friends as a longtime peace activist and a frequent presence at protests in Buffalo. Gugino's activist past and online presence have been scrutinized since the incident, including the fact that a Blogger profile allegedly belonging to him cites times in the past when he was arrested for peaceful protest and never convicted of a crime.
This helped fuel conspiracies and false claims about him. A YouTube video with more than 150,000 views appears to be the source of the claim that Gugino was using his phone to "hack" or otherwise interfere with police equipment. It offers no evidence, and only shows a slowed-down video of Gugino holding his phone.
Gugino was also falsely branded an "Antifa provocateur" by a fringe right-wing site that OAN later cited as one of its sources.
OAN is a San Diego–based cable outlet that has aggressively courted the president's attention and affections. It has a history of spreading false information from dubious sources. Last week BuzzFeed News revealed that OAN's White House correspondent used information from a pseudonymous Twitter account that claims to have sources inside the FBI, Trump Tower, and intelligence community. In fact, the man behind the account is an Italian sound engineer with a pattern of making unverified claims about his business relationships and expertise.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown labeled a different protester, Myles Carter, a “major instigator” and an “agitator." This story incorrectly said he was referring to Martin Gugino.