The footage is striking.
An elderly man approaches a police line in Buffalo, New York. He is pushed backward by police, stumbles and falls, hitting his head on the pavement. Blood immediately begins to pour from his ear. None of the officers stop to help him.
In a country on high alert for incidents of unnecessary use of force by police against those protesting in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the video sparked outrage. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the episode “wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful.” The two officers involved in the incident were suspended.
But on Tuesday morning, the President of the United States suggested – without offering a shred of evidence – that the entire episode was the result of a broad scam involving Antifa, a protest organization “whose political beliefs lean toward the left – often the far left – but do not conform with the Democratic Party platform.”
Here’s the tweet from Donald Trump:
“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 appears to have developed this, uh, theory from watching a clip on the One America News Network, the Fox News of Fox News.
In the segment, footage is shown that suggests the man, Martin Gugino, 75, “was appearing to use common Antifa tactics” when he approached the officers.” That tactic? Using his phone to “scan” police communication. The OAN reporter claims that Gugino was using police tracking software on his phone. But there’s absolutely no way of telling that from the clip; what’s on the screen of Gugino’s phone is not visible. And he could just be gesturing with the phone. Again, there’s simply no way of knowing.
What we do know is that Gugino was shoved, fell backward, hit his head and began bleeding. And that the officers did not stop to help him. And that he is currently hospitalized.
What we also know is that Gugino is a longtime activist and peaceful protester. There is no evidence that he is part of Antifa.
Given all of these facts, the level of irresponsibility here on display by Trump is off the charts – even for him. While Gugino remains hospitalized, Trump is suggesting that this is all some sort of orchestrated fake. That the man “fell harder than was pushed.” That he was “aiming a scanner.” That it “could be a setup.”
Trump is basing all of this conjecture off of a segment from a television report on a “news” network that is openly pro-Trump and whose journalists don’t exactly live up to credo of being neutral and independent.
The person who did this segment on Gugino is named Kristian Brunovich Rouz, a man who, according to the Daily Beast, has worked both for OAN and Sputnik, a Russian government-controlled news wire service. (The intelligence community concluded that Sputnik played a role in the Russian meddling in the 2016 election.)
Chanel Rion, a White House correspondent for OAN, has promoted the debunked Seth Rich conspiracy theory and suggested the coronavirus was developed in a laboratory in North Carolina. She was also banned from attending White House press briefings by the White House Correspondents Association after she repeatedly broke rules regarding how many reporters were allowed in the briefing room. She continued to attend the briefings anyway, insisting she had been personally invited by the White House press secretary to do so.
That Trump not only believes that OAN is a credible network but takes its wild conspiracy theories and broadcasts them to his 80-plus million Twitter followers – all the while denigrating and attacking actual independent journalism – speaks to how far he is willing to go to promote his preferred political agenda.
Trump wants the story to be about Antifa, a group he has sought to designate as a “terrorist organization.” He doesn’t want the story to be about the use of excessive force by the police on protesters driven into the streets by yet another death of a black man at the hands of the police.
And so, Gugino becomes an Antifa plant, according to Trump. And the cops become wrongly maligned martyrs of the wild left.
But that isn’t what the facts say. Not even close. And whether Trump believes it or not, the facts can and do matter.