Donald Trump has fuelled a conspiracy theory about a 75-year-old protester in New York state who was pushed over by police, tweeting the confrontation may have been a “set-up”.
The president attempted to cast doubt on video showing police in Buffalo shoving the man, who fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement.
He is seen bleeding from his head as officers walk away.
Two Buffalo police officers have been charged with second-degree assault for the incident and could face prison sentences of up to seven years if convicted. They have pleaded not guilty.
“Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur,” Mr Trump wrote.
“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?”
Mr Trump’s remarks follow a report on One America News Network, a far-right news channel that he often praises.
The president has tried to label violent protesters as “radical-left, bad people” engaging in domestic terrorism and has repeatedly invoked the label “antifa” – an umbrella term for leftist militants bound more by belief than organisational structure.
Despite some violence, federal law enforcement officials have offered little evidence that antifa-aligned protesters could be behind a movement that has appeared nearly simultaneously in hundreds of cities and towns in all 50 states since the death of George Floyd.
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
Mr Gugino, who is out of intensive care but remains in hospital, has been described by friends as a veteran peace activist driven by his faith and a desire for social justice.
He is involved with the Western New York Peace Centre and Latin American Solidarity Committee, said Vicki Ross, the centre’s executive director.
Mr Gugino’s lawyer, Kelly Zarcone, said: “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 about him.”
The number two Republican in the Senate, John Thune, also criticised Mr Trump’s tweet.
“It’s a serious accusation, which should only be made with facts and evidence. And I haven’t seen any yet,” he said.
Asked if the president should not be making such an accusation, Mr Thune said: “Well, I think that’s a given.”
New York lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, called Mr Trump’s tweet “sick”.
“The president continues to use his platform to peddle conspiracy theories, this time about a peaceful protestor and fellow New Yorker. Not sure how this is supposed to bring our country together,” she tweeted.
New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo called on Mr Trump to apologise for a “wholly unacceptable” tweet.
He said: “How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude. I mean if there was ever a reprehensible, dumb comment, and from the president of the United States.
“At this moment of anguish and anger, what does he do? Pour gasoline on the fire. Show some decency. Show some humanity. Show some fairness. You’re the president of the United States.”
The video is one of several that have emerged in recent weeks showing police using seemingly excessive force against protesters demanding justice and racial equality following the killing of Mr Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.
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