Those who know and admire Martin Gugino are coming to the defense of the 75-year-old New York man, currently hospitalized with a head injury after being pushed to the ground by police, saying President Trump's tweet suggesting he may be a "ANTIFA provocateur" is baseless and absurd.
Gugino ended up in intensive care in a Buffalo hospital after attending a George Floyd protest outside city hall last Thursday. That the retiree would publicly condemn racism and police brutality was no surprise to those who knew him, as Gugino is a member of the Western New York Peace Center and the Catholic Worker Movement, which was founded by Dorothy Day and is devoted to protesting "injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms."
"Martin spends all of his time trying to figure out how to use his gifts and his resources to benefit others," Matt Daloisio told People. Daloisio is a New York City public defender who has known Gugino for more than a decade after meeting while working with Witness Against Torture, a group devoted to shutting down the prison in Guantanamo, he told the magazine.
But the circumstances behind Gugino's hospitalization left many shocked. Video shows Gugino approaching a line of police officers in Niagara Square as they cleared protesters not long after curfew started. Gugino could be seen speaking briefly to officers and after gesturing to his phone, police shoved him. Gugino fell back and hit his head on the pavement. Police walked by as Gugino lay motionless on the ground, blood pooling by his ear, video showed.
The two officers involved were suspended and charged with assault. They have both pleaded not guilty. Gugino remains hospitalized and was charged with no crime in connection to the incident.
"His condition continues to improve and we hope he will be released within the next two weeks," his attorney, Kelly Zarcone, told People.
Many who watched the video of Gugino being pushed were outraged, but some, including the president, tried casting doubt on the 75-year-old's motives. Trump took to twitter with his assertions and shared a baseless theory that Gugino was a member of antifa, which is a movement and not an organization.
"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 wrote.
It appeared Trump was referencing information relayed in a segment by the conservative One America News Network by reporter Kristian Rouz, who previously worked for the Russian outlet Sputnik. Rouz did not cite any evidence to back up his claims about Gugino and only referenced a report from "The Conservative Treehouse," a right-wing blog.
The White House on Wednesday stood by Trump's claims. "The president was asking questions about an interaction in a video clip he saw, and the president has the right to ask those questions," the press secretary told reporters.
Those who know Gugino were floored by the president's tweet.
"Martin's one of the sweetest people I've ever met, he is a kind and gentle man," Daloisio told People. "The gap between who Martin is and what the president alleged or hinted at is so wide, it's really indescribable."
Gugino worked with computers before retiring. He cared for his mother before her passing and is devoted to his late sister's children and grandchildren. The causes Gugino supports include advocating for affordable housing, nuclear disarmament and racial justice, those who know him said. And he's always stood in support of nonviolence, they said.
“Martin is interested in everything — he’s a very inquisitive person,” Nate Buckley, a co-owner of the Burning Books bookstore in Buffalo, where Gugino often shops and comes to listen to speakers, told The New York Times. “He’s also a very social person with an active mind who’s always asking questions.
"He’s one of the most gentle people I know,” 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.”