US President Donald Trump has made a remarkable suggestion about a viral video of a 75-year-old protester being pushed to the ground by police during US riots.
Trump is facing a swath of criticism after alleging Martin Gugino, 75, who was filmed being pushed over by Buffalo police in a video that shocked the world, was a "set up".
The video, taken by a reporter from the local public radio station WBFO, showed Gugino approaching a line of officers in riot gear amid the George Floyd protests over the weekend.
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One officer pushes him with a baton and a second one with his hand. The sound of a crack is heard as Gugino falls to ground and then blood trickles from his head.
President Trump ignored the fallout and furore over the video, which saw two cops from Buffalo in New York State charged with assault and the entire Buffalo police Emergency Response Team resigning in solidarity with the two officers.
A total of 57 officers resigned from the emergency team, the entirety of it, who refused to admit that their colleagues had done anything wrong.
The incident drew widespread condemnation on social media as protesters returned to the streets of several US cities to demonstrate against police brutality.
Gugino was later revealed to be a peace activist and volunteer at a Catholic organisation.
After the incident he was taken to intensive care and remains in a serious condition in hospital.
But in a dramatic turn of events, President Trump tweeted Tuesday claiming Gugino "could be an Antifa provocateur" and suggested he "fell harder than he was pushed" and that the video was a fake.
He indicated he had been watching news surrounding Gugino's incident on One America News Network, a right-wing network known for being pro-Trump.
Trump also alleged Gugino was pushed by police "after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment".
An Antifa, or anti-fascist, is a term used to describe people or groups with far-left tendencies and who are opposed to the far right.
OFFICERS PLEAD NOT GUILTY
The officers involved, Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, surrendered themselves after the footage was released and pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault. They were released without bail.
The officers had been suspended without pay 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.
The reaction to Trump's tweet has been fast and swift, with one parent of Jaime Guttenberg, who was murdered in the 2018 Parkland shootings when a gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, describing Trump as "psychotic".
Ari Fleischer, press secretary under George W Bush, was among those to react, writing: "The president's penchant for trafficking in conspiracy theories is, politically speaking, going to ruin him. This is reckless. He doesn't know when to stop."
McCabe, 32, and Torgalski, 39, "crossed a line" when they shoved the man down hard enough for him to fall backward and hit his head on the sidewalk, Erie County District lawyer John Flynn said at a news conference on Saturday, calling the victim "a harmless 75-year-old man".
McCabe's lawyer, Tom Burton, said the prosecutors didn't have any grounds to bring felony charges. He said his client is a decorated military veteran with a clean record as a police officer.
"Nobody started out their day intending to hurt this fellow," Burton said.
He added that if the victim had followed commands to back off, "none of this would have happened."
A friend of Gugino has described him as a "gentle person" who would never clash with authorities.
"He would never resist physically any kind of orders ... he's a bit frail, not because of his age. He has some health problems," Terrence Bisson told the newspaper.
"He is very focused. I'm sure he will get through this. It's kind of tragic. He's the last person you would want to push down. He's the kind of person who you would want to speak up," he added.
Gugino, is known as a longtime peace activist who has protested for causes including nuclear disarmament and action on climate change, according to Buffalo News.
"I was deeply disturbed by the video," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement. "After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leadership and members of the community, tonight's event is disheartening."
– with AP