President Trump on Tuesday questioned the motives of the elderly protester who was shoved by Buffalo police officers last week and hospitalized after he hit his head in the resulting fall -- drawing severe backlash from both sides of the aisle.
Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault after they were caught on camera shoving Martin Gugino, who is 75, to the ground during protests in the city over the death of George Floyd. The officers have been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation was launched into the men. District Attorney John Flynn said the officers "crossed a line."
"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," Trump tweeted Tuesday, citing the conservative TV channel OANN. "I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?"
Gugino appeared to be attempting to speak with officers as they were advancing en masse down a street. Gugino, according to the Western New York Peace Center (WNYPC), worked on the group's Latin American Solidarity Committee.
The backlash to Trump's tweet was swift, including from Gugino's lawyer, Kelly Zarcone, who slammed the president in a statement to Fox News.
"Martin is out of ICU but still hospitalized and truly needs to rest," she said. "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."
Media personalities on the left and right also ripped Trump's post.
"My God this is a bad tweet," Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller posted. "There’s no evidence to support this and the guy looked like he fell as hard as he was pushed."
Conservative radio host Erick Erickson simply tweeted "[p]lease stop." Kassy Dillon, a former personality at the right-leaning Daily Wire and founder of Lone Conservative, a group for conservative college students, said, "I'm just going to go back to bed."
CNN White House correspondent John Harwood chimed in, saying that Trump is "repeating OANN kookery presented by a person who has also worked for Kremlin propaganda outlet, is disconnected from reality, humanity and common sense."
The OANN report Trump apparently was citing was based on a post from the site Conservative Treehouse saying that Gugino was an activist, which is true. But the report does not actually provide evidence that Gugino is associated with Antifa. Further, it claims, without evidence, that Gugino was attempting to use a "police tracker" on his phone to scan police communications and apparently black them out.
Zarcone said Tuesday that Gugino had his cell phone in his hand in the video, and that "[t]here was no black out equipment or attempt or anything like that."
Aaron Rupar of the liberal publication Vox said "[t]his is one of Trump's most reprehensible tweets. Monstrous."
Siraj Hashmi of The Washington Examiner, who keeps a running list of people who he says need their phones taken away due to bad tweets, replied to the post indicating that Trump would be included in his list.
He added in a separate post: "Trump was so mad about being knocked off from being #1 on the List for the fourth straight week that he tweeted this."
The WNYPC said Gugino "has advocated for peace for decades, and is passionate about issues of injustice, including torture, militarization of the police, and climate change. He is deeply concerned about weaponized drones and nuclear weapons, and a stalwart friend of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, themselves facing 20 years when they are sentenced this month."
The New York Post reported that Gugino previously tweeted from his account, which now appears to have been taken down, in support of the anti-racism and police brutality protests around the country.
"Protests are exempt from curfews because Congress (and mayors) may make no laws that abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble and complain to the government,” Gugino wrote, according to the paper. “The government should receive the complaint with thanks, not arrest the people or beat them.”
Other Buffalo police officers, however, appear to be supportive of Officers McCabe and Torgalski. All 57 officers of the Buffalo Police Emergency Response team resigned last week, and fellow officers also cheered McCabe and Torgalski as they left the courthouse Saturday after being released without bail.
Curtis Houck, the managing editor of Newsbusters, a site that keeps track of liberal media bias, summed up the overwhelming thrust of the reaction to the Trump tweet.
"As many people have correctly noted, this is deranged, unhinged, and wrong. An all-timer for sure in a bad way," he said.
Fox News' Chris Irvine, Barnini Chakraborty and Brian Flood contributed to this report.