Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author who criticized the president’s photo opportunity with the Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church last week, immediately condemned Trump’s tweet.
Martin and others who know Gugino called him a longtime volunteer and peace activist.
Gugino’s lawyer, Kelly V. Zarcone, said Trump’s tweet have served to only mischaracterize her client. She also pointed out that law enforcement have not indicated that Gugino did anything wrong or criminal. Also no charges or complaints have been filed against the man.
“Martin has always been a PEACEFUL protester because he cares about society,” she said in a statement. “No one from law enforcement has suggested otherwise so we’re at a loss to understand why the president of the United States would make such a dark, dangerous and untrue accusation against him.”
The controversy comes amid a national debate over police brutality and growing national calls to “defund the police” as justice for George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis officer held him down with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protests have erupted worldwide in the days since.
Reaction on Capitol Hill
The president’s tweet caused ripples around Washington Tuesday.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, pointed out that the OANN network reporter who produced the piece that Trump endorsed is also employed by the Russian news agency Sputnik.
“The story Trump is referencing was written by a Russian working for the Kremlin’s propaganda agency,” Murphy stated on Twitter. “Get ready — this is the next 5 months. Russia and the Trump campaign openly collaborating to spread lies and manipulate the election,” he said.
In his own tweet Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wished Gugino a speedy recovery and then admonished Trump, saying he should “go back to hiding in the bunker instead of tweeting baseless conspiracies about peaceful protesters and further dividing America.”
Most Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, either sidestepped questions or didn't fully address the matter Tuesday.
GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told reporters “Most of us up here we’d rather not be political commentators on the president's tweets,” although he did acknowledge that Trump made “a serious accusation” and that such statements "should only be made with facts and evidence, and I haven’t seen any yet.”
The Saturday incident in Buffalo involving Gugino was captured on video that later went viral on social media.
The footage shows a large group of police in riot gear coming down a sidewalk to enforce the city’s curfew.
Gugino is next seen walking calmly up to the helmeted officers.
After exchanging a few words, the officers advance abruptly and push the man, sending him stumbling backward to the ground. He hit his head on the concrete and lay motionless as blood poured from his ears and officers kept moving.
The department initially claimed Gugino “tripped and fell” but were later forced to reverse that statement as video of the incident went viral online.
Two of the officers — Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe — have since been suspended from the force and charged with felony assault.
All 57 officers who served alongside the men resigned from the tactical unit to protest their suspensions and stood outside the Buffalo courthouse cheering after both pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.
Gugino has been moved from intensive care but remains hospitalized with a serious head injury.
Trump and other administration officials have continued to blame the loosely organized leftist radical movement for mayhem across the nation without citing evidence, threatening to name it a terrorist organization, although the Constitution provides no clear authority for him to do so.
Evidence of white extremism
The FBI Washington field office recently released a memo warning that a far-right social media group had “called for far-right-leaning provocateurs to attack federal agents, and use automatic weapons against protesters.”
There have also been widespread reports of people posing as protesters while stoking anarchy and leaving the blame on leftist activists.
Adding to the confusion, false rumors have been spreading that Antifa transported people to wreak havoc on small cities across America, unsubstantiated claims that have become red meat for conservative news media and on pro-Trump social media accounts.
Twitter and Facebook busted some of the instigators behind the unsubstantiated social media chatter. Twitter determined last week that a tweet promising Antifa would “move into residential areas” and “white” neighborhoods was sent by the white supremacy group Identity Evropa.
The tweet was shared hundreds of times and cited in online news articles before Twitter removed it more than a week ago.
The ‘Boogaloo’ movement
Last week, three men with ties to the U.S. military and alleged to be members of an extreme white supremacist group were arrested and charged with multiple terrorism conspiracy for allegedly planning to wreak havoc at protests in Las Vegas over Floyd’s death.
Federal prosecutors say the men belong to the extreme far-right “Boogaloo” movement, whose aim is to stoke a second Civil War.
Reports say members of the group have been infiltrating peaceful protests around the nation, trying to incite violence that will stir up racial tensions.
The president has never publicly mentioned “Boogaloo” and has only used euphemisms such as “others” or “other groups” when describing other militants that may be involved, while mentioning Antifa specifically by name. “I don’t see any indication that there were any white supremest groups mixing in,” Trump tweeted last week about violence that erupted nationwide. “This is an ANTIFA Organization.”