Donald Trump has endorsed a bizarre conspiracy theory about a non-violent elderly protester who was seriously injured after being shoved by police.
The US president posted a tweet on Tuesday (Washington DC time) saying the serious fall of 75-year-old Martin Gugino could have been “set up”.
Footage of the incident showed longtime activist Mr Gugino approaching a line of helmeted officers holding batons in Buffalo, New York, as they cleared demonstrators around the time of an 8pm curfew.
Two officers pushed Mr Gugino backward, causing him to fall and hit his head on the pavement.
Blood was then seen spilling onto the ground from his head as officers walked past. One officer leaned down to check on the injured man before another officer urged his colleague to keep walking.
The video of the encounter sparked outrage online as demonstrators took to cities across the country to protest racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.
Trump said it was possible Mr Gugino was a “ANTIFA provocateur” - a name given to left wing anti-fascist political activists in the US.
“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,” Trump’s tweet read.
He said after watching OANN (One America News Network) he believed Mr Gugino “fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”.
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 network has a reputation for spreading outlandish conspiracy theories and being pro-Trump.
Tweet slammed as ‘dumb comment’
Trump's tweet drew immediate condemnation, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calling it a “reprehensible, dumb comment”.
“How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude,” Cuomo told a press conference, adding that Trump was pouring “gasoline on the fire” at a “moment of anguish and anger”.
“If he ever feels a moment of decency, he should apologise for that tweet, because it was wholly unacceptable,” he said.
Jesuit priest James Martin said Mr Gugino was a peace activist and volunteer with the Catholic Worker movement.
“In case you've forgotten what's in the Bible you were carrying, Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers', not the rumourmongers,” he tweeted.
The two police officers, Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, have pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault and were released without bail.
The officers had been suspended without pay Friday (local time) after a TV crew captured the confrontation the night before. If convicted of the felony assault charge, they face up to seven years in prison.
Fifty seven Buffalo police officers angered over their fellow officers' suspensions stepped down from the department's crowd control unit Friday. The resigning officers did not leave their jobs permanently.
A crowd of off-duty officers, firefighters and others gathered on Saturday outside the courthouse in a show of support for the accused officers and cheered when they were released.
with Associated Press and DPA
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.