“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?”

— President Trump, in a tweet, June 9, 2020

The president loves conspiracy theories. He also loves to watch television. This tweet shows it’s a dangerous combination, resulting a tweet that no Pinocchio scale can do justice.

Let’s unpack this.

The Facts

Martin Gugino was critically injured when an advancing line of police officers in Buffalo pushed him and he fell backward, hitting his head. Two officers were fired after video of the encounter was broadcast by a local television station. The president apparently saw this segment on One America News Network (OANN), a television network that leans more to the right than Fox News. It put a different spin on the situation.

Notice the accent of reporter, Kristian Brunovich Rouz? He’s originally from Siberia. The Daily Beast reported in 2019 that while working for OANN, he also has been writing for Sputnik, a Kremlin news service that U.S. intelligence agencies said was implicated in the Russian efforts to intervene in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump.

Rouz cites as his source “The Conservative Treehouse,” in particular a blog post by an unidentified person labeled “Sundance.” The blog post claimed Gugino is a “professional agitator and Antifa provocateur.” (The evidence supposedly is Gugino listing on his personal blog that he has been arrested — but not convicted — four times between 2009 and 2016 for participating in protests, including twice in front of the White House during the Obama administration.)

“Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur.”

Trump has claimed without evidence that “Antifa” — a loose collection of “anti-facist” activists who originally sprung up to challenge white supremacists — is responsible for the violence that sometimes took place during protests against police brutality. But there is no apparent connection to Gugino and Antifa.

Gugino’s attorney Kelly V. Zarcone told WKBW in a statement that her client is a “longtime peaceful protester and human rights advocate.” Gugino, who remains in the hospital, is a member of two nonprofits: PUSH Buffalo, which focuses on affordable housing, and Western New York Peace Center, a human rights organization. He is also part of the Catholic Worker Movement, a nonviolent group.

“He’s a gentle person who really believes that he must stand up for what he thinks is right,” said a friend Terrence Bisson, who has worked with Gugino on Latin American issues through the Western New York Peace Center, in an interview with the Buffalo News.

“That’s why he went to the demonstration. He would never resist physically any kind of orders,” Bisson said. “He’s a bit frail, not because of his age. He has some health problems."

“75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment.”

In the OANN report, Roz claimed: “Newly released videos appear to show Gugino using a police tracker on his phone trying to scan police communications during the protest. The tactic, known as skimming, is an old trick used by antifa to locate police officers and plan violence activities, bypassing the police response.”

This is not new video, just the original video with the speed slowed down so much that waving a phone while talking to police is made to appear like a scanner. There is no evidence he is using the phone as a scanner. The slowed-down video, posted on YouTube on June 6, has already received more than 150,000 views.

Here’s the same video in real time, which shows how ridiculous this allegation is.

Police officers in Buffalo appeared to push a man onto the ground while clearing Niagara Square following a citywide curfew. (WBFO / Spectrum News Buffalo via Storyful)

“I watched, he fell harder than was pushed.”

This is Trump’s opinion, based on nothing.

“Was aiming scanner.”

No, it was a phone.

“Could be a set up?”

Trump poses this as a question, but by posting the tweet, he’s shown what he believes.

The OANN report also includes a clip from this tweet, which shows video of Gugino in animated conversation with other people before the incident with police. It’s unclear what they are arguing about but one person points to Gugino, turns to the camera and says, “I think he’s looking to get punched in the face.” The provenance of this video is unclear. The original source for the Conservative Treehouse is an account with just seven followers, which took the video from a tweet that has since been deleted. But it’s now been viewed more than 50,000 times.

The Pinocchio Test

The president has irresponsibly tweeted a ridiculous conspiracy theory. The slowed-down video does not show Gugino with a scanner; that’s simply his phone. There is no evidence he is using it as a scanner. He was gesturing with his arm when he was stopped by police before he was brutally knocked over. No matter what Gugino hoped to accomplish by participating in protests, it does not excuse the behavior of the police, as captured on videotape.

Once again, the president makes us regret we are limited to Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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