Is Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old activist who suffered a head injury after cops in Buffalo, New York, pushed him down, an "antifa provocateur" intent on setting up the cops? President Donald Trump raised this possibility in a tweet Tuesday morning, citing a report by the unfailingly pro-Trump One America News Network (OANN).
He really shouldn't have. Regardless of what Gugino intended, there's no excuse for how the police officers handled him. It was wrong of them to shove an elderly man who posed no threat to them.
In any case, there's no reason to think Gugino was "an antifa provocateur," and it was deeply irresponsible of Trump to raise this unlikely possibility.
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?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2020
The OANN report was based on an anonymously written blog post at a website called The Conservative Treehouse and occasionally The Last Refuge. It claims that Gugino is a "professional agitator and Antifa provocateur" and theorizes that he may have used his phone to scan the officers' communications just before they pushed him. There are kernels of semi-truth here: Gugino may have been scanning police communications, and a couple of pieces of information on social media suggest he is something of a professional protester. Gugino was affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement—a nonviolent activist group—and several other organizations, according to interviews with his friends:
A handful of social media posts claim Gugino, a known activist, was taunting the police. Friend and fellow activist, Palina Prasasouk, says he wasn't trying to be hostile with law enforcement.
"When he was trying to approach the cops there, I saw him as being, 'Hey I want a conversation.' That's Martin. He likes to talk to people on the streets," said Prasasouk.
Gugino has participated in many protests—and not just in Buffalo. He met both Colville and Prasasouk while protesting against the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He was also seen demanding murder charges against the Cleveland police officer who killed Tamir Rice.
"I think it would break his heart, not being able to go back out on the streets, if he has long-term effects from this," added Prasasouk.
Gugino is also a member of PUSH Buffalo and Western New York Peace Center, among others. Colville believes Gugino wants more people to go out into the street, taking his place.
PUSH is an activist group founded by Jesse Jackson, and the Western New York Peace Center is an anti-violence organization.
These are left-wing groups, but they aren't violent left-wing groups—they are explicitly dedicated to peace and nonviolence. That puts them in a very different camp from antifa, which explicitly condones violence (and often practices it) as a tactic of resistance against the far right. So the additional information about Gugino really makes it less likely that he would identify himself as part of antifa.
Nor does the video footage of the encounter between Gugino and the police really evince antifa-like behavior, even if he was scanning police communications. Antifa activists tend to disguise their identities by wearing masks and dark colors. They move in crowds and fade into the background after committing a criminal act. They don't walk up to the authorities hoping to get hit—they are the ones doing the hitting. The OANN report betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of antifa, which the president evidently shares.
It's worth remembering that we have scant evidence of widespread antifa involvement in the recent protests. Most of the rioting and looting is not connected to a specific left-wing political agenda: It's random troublemakers causing mayhem and stealing things at opportunistic moments.