Trump Falsely Targets Buffalo Protester, 75, as ‘Antifa Provocateur’

Trump Falsely Targets Buffalo Protester, 75, as ‘Antifa
Provocateur’ 1

It is true, his friends admitted, Martin Gugino was an activist, a seasoned peacenik who in a lifetime of protest had taken part in demonstrations against military drones, climate change, nuclear weapons and police brutality.

But Mr. Gugino was also a football fan, they said, a mild-mannered bachelor and a Buffalo native who returned to his hometown some years ago to care for his ailing mother.

The one thing he was not, however, those who knew him said, was what President Trump claimed he was on Twitter Tuesday morning: a wily Antifa provocateur.

Mr. Trump’s viral tweet — none of it backed by fact — raced across the internet all day even as Mr. Gugino, 75, still lay in the hospital, recovering from the head wound he sustained on Thursday night when two Buffalo police officers shoved him to the ground at a demonstration marking the police killing of George Floyd.

A cellphone video of the encounter has now been seen by millions of people and led to charges being filed against the officers on Saturday.

The tweet on Tuesday, which appeared to accuse Mr. Gugino of having instigated or even faked the encounter, was not the first time Mr. Trump has sought to blame Antifa — a word that describes a loose collective of anti-fascist activists — for encouraging what has now been nearly two weeks of nationwide demonstrations.

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Credit…Mike Desmond/WBFO NBP, via Agence France-Presse– Getty Images

The president and his allies have often tried to place anti-fascists and other “outside agitators” at the center of the protests as a way to delegitimize them and to deflect from the fact that the vast majority of the demonstrations have been peaceful.

But even by his own standards, Mr. Trump appeared to test the boundaries of credulity by trying to brand a retired septuagenarian computer programmer as a follower of Antifa, whose adherents are, for one thing, generally much younger.

Some Antifa activists, practicing a tactic called Black Bloc, have been known to dress like ninjas and wear masks or balaclavas during protests while shattering windows and scuffling with the police.

Near Buffalo, however, the idea that Mr. Gugino was one of them struck many as absurd.

“Antifa? Oh, heavens no,” said Judy Metzger, 85, who lives near Mr. Gugino in Amherst, a suburb of the city. “Martin is a very gentle, a very pleasant person.”

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Gugino spent most of his working life in Cleveland, where he specialized in creating computer databases, his friends and colleagues said.

He went back to his hometown to care for his mother, and after she died, he lived alone in her home finding fellowship at the Western New York Peace Center and at other parts of the city’s close-knit left-wing activist community.

John Washington, 35, first met Mr. Gugino at an Occupy Buffalo event in 2011 when both men took to the streets of Niagara Square, the same place where Mr. Gugino was shoved by the police last week.

Mr. Washington was immediately struck by the older man’s vitality and youthful demeanor, and by his command of issues that ranged from energy efficiency to the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

“He has this kind of thirst for justice,” Mr. Washington said. “He gets very latched onto powerful ideas and tries to really experience them, not just learn them.”

Nate Buckley, a co-owner of the Burning Books bookstore on Connecticut Street in Buffalo, said that Mr. Gugino was a regular customer who often came to hear the speakers that he brought into his shop — everyone from figures in the Catholic Worker Movement to Princeton professors lecturing on race.

“Martin is interested in everything — he’s a very inquisitive person,” Mr. Buckley said. “He’s also a very social person with an active mind who’s always asking questions.”

Mr. Buckley said he was disturbed that Mr. Gugino — “a 75-year-old elder,” as he put it — had effectively been tarred as a thug by Mr. Trump and his supporters.

“He’s one of the most gentle people I know,” Mr. Buckley said. “He’s not aggressive at all. But people make up the most insane stories so they don’t have to deal with reality.”

Mr. Trump’s tweet seems to have been based on a report by One America News Network, a right-wing cable television channel, which claimed that Mr. Gugino had been trying to knock out the police officers’ radios with his cellphone — an idea that several of Mr. Gugino’s friends dismissed as ludicrous.

Other conspiracy theories have surrounded Mr. Gugino in recent days on social media, among them that the blood seen leaking from his ear on the video was fake.

Hours after the tweet was posted, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lashed out at Mr. Trump, saying that he should “apologize” and “show some humanity.” Mr. Cuomo said the tweet was “all made up,” adding that he was shocked the president would accuse Mr. Gugino of being an anti-fascist plant without any evidence.


Credit…Bill Jacobson

“You think the blood coming out of his head was staged?” Mr. Cuomo asked, sounding incredulous. “How reckless, how irresponsible.”

Even some congressional Republicans questioned the post.

Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters on Tuesday he thought the tweet was “shocking.” Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said, “It’s a serious accusation which should only be made with facts and evidence and I haven’t seen any yet.”

Terrence Bisson, a mathematics professor who has known Mr. Gugino for a decade, mostly through the Western New York Peace Center, said his friend would remain in the hospital for at least the next five weeks. Mr. Gugino was still in a delicate condition, disturbed by bright lights and unable to move his head without tremendous pain, he said.

Sage Green, a former program manager at PUSH Buffalo, a local activist group, said the last time she saw Mr. Gugino was early in the spring when he was asked to critique the presentations of some students in an environmental studies class at the University at Buffalo.

“He was there giving feedback almost in a grandfatherly way,” Ms. Green recalled. “He was telling them they were all doing great work.”

In Ms. Green’s mind, Mr. Gugino was never without a smile on his face or an offer of help on his lips. He could also be astonishingly nerdy, she said, obsessed with wonky subjects like household utility budgets.

But now Mr. Gugino had become something he rarely wanted to be: the center of attention.

“Martin is a piece of the larger story,” Ms. Green said. “All he was doing was going out there to fight for black lives. And that’s something he should be able to do with being targeted as a provocateur.”

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