Was Pushed Buffalo Protester an ‘Antifa’ Agitator?

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Early on the morning of June 9, 2020, US President Donald Trump chimed in on the conspiracy theory-promoting One America News Network (OANN). The President’s message apparently took from that early morning TV session was that the 75-year-old man who was forced to the ground by Buffalo emergency responders during a protest in Niagara Square was actually an “ANTIFA provocateur” who police justifiably shoved because he ” appears to be scanning police communications to black out the equipment.

Rumors of “antifa” inciting violence during these protests, a claim originating from fake tweet from the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, continue to suffocate in right-wing circles, despite the expressed lack of evidence for the story.

In their segment on Martin Gugino, OANN used as a source an article from the website Conservative Treehouse (CTH) by someone who goes by the name “sundance”. Che article made two major claims that OANN later broadcast to the president:

“Martin Gugino is a 75-year-old professional Antifa agitator and provocateur… On Friday, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown acknowledged that Gugino was a professional ‘aggiator’ who tried to get the crowd moving and was asked to leave the area ‘numerous’ times . “

“During his efforts, Gugino was attempting to pick up the radio communication signature of Buffalo police officers.”

The claim that Gugino was labeled an “agitator” by Buffalo’s mayor — despite being repeated ad nauseam in news reports and fact-checkers — is demonstrably false. The vague claim that this man’s waving cell phone was “capturing[d] the signature of Buffalo police officers’ radio communications” contradicts the evidence cited by CTH themselves in support of this idea.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown Didn’t ‘Admit’ Gugino Was an ‘Agitator’

The only alleged factual evidence upon which this conspiracy is based is that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown “admitted” that Gugino was an “agitator” and “instigator.” Major media, incl The Daily Beast, New York Daily News, New York Post, TMZand The Hill, as well as the fact-checking website TruthorFictioneveryone reports as fact that Brown made that comment about Gugino.

All these reports are based on incorrect local news account of a press conference held on June 5. As is clear from transcript at the press conference, that report mistakenly conflated the mayor’s comments about two separate incidents of police force. The words “agitator” and “instigator” were used in reference to Miles Carter, who protested earlier in the week elsewhere on Bailey Avenue and was caught from behind by the New York State Police. The mayor’s use of these words clearly refers to the Carter incident, not to Gugino (emphasis ours):

Reporter: This [the Martin Gugino incident] wasn’t the only incident that happened this week. On the same subject : New/Updated Benchmarks For June From GravityMark To L4D2 Vulkan, Updated Neural Networks. On Monday night, Miles Carter was on Bailey Avenue protesting. He was 15, 20 yards from the police line with his back and hands to the police, as if out of nowhere they rushed him, arrested him and charged him with two felonies. … Why not the response Monday night, looking at the employees, suspending them and conducting an internal investigation there? I mean the tape was pretty clear. He was doing nothing.

mayor: These were state police. These weren’t Buffalo cops. So apparently the city of Buffalo has no recourse against state police officers. But what we were informed that this person was an agitator. He was trying to challenge the crowd of people, again, this was a curfew violation. […] And according to what I was told, this individual was a key and primary instigator of people engaging in these types of activities.

Some commercial establishments, such as The Daily Beast and The hill, have issued corrections. “This article previously claimed that Mayor Brown referred to 75-year-old activist Martin Gugino as the ‘primary instigator,’ but after reviewing the audio of the press conference, it is clear that he was referring to a separate incident,” The Daily Beast wrote. Unfortunately, these corrections did little to stem the flow of misinformation surrounding the incident.

Gugino does have a history of activism—he was described by the Buffalo News as a “longtime peace activist.” None of the organizations he has worked with can be credibly considered part of the alleged “antifa” movement, which is not a single organization, but instead is decentralized movement opposition to fascism that endorsed violence as a political tactic. Gugino has been an activist for decades through his work with People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo and the Western New York Peace Center. There is no evidence that these organizations are secretly part of “antifa”, whatever that means in practice.

According to of the Buffalo News, “Guggino has been involved in a wide range of issues, ranging from nuclear disarmament to climate change and Guantanamo Bay.” Gugino’s attorney, Kelly Zarcone, told the Associated Press that Gugino “has always been a peaceful protester because he concern for today’s society’.

“No one in law enforcement has even suggested otherwise, so we are at a loss to understand why the President of the United States would make such dark, dangerous and false allegations against him.” We can confirm that these allegations are completely baseless and ridiculous,” Zarcone said.

The only evidence that Gugino’s presence at the June 5 Niagara Square rally was anything but peaceful comes from the false attribution of Brown’s comments about Miles Carter to Gugino. Stripped of that lie, the only remaining truth is that a 75-year-old lifelong peace activist approached police officers brandishing his phone before being knocked headfirst onto the pavement, where he lay unconscious with blood pouring from his ear .

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“Scanning police communications for obfuscation equipment” makes no sense

The claim breathlessly promoted by OANN, and later by Trump himself — that Gugino’s intent in contacting the officers who pushed him was to tamper with, steal or otherwise disable police communications — comes from the fringe right-wing website “Conservative Treehouse” (CTH) . OANN cited that website in the report, which Trump apparently viewed. This article states, without evidence or exposition, that “during his efforts, Gugino attempted to pick up the radio communication signature of Buffalo police officers.” The website has released a “new video” that they say confirms their suspicions. It wasn’t a new video, just a slower version of the original video that sparked international outrage.

CTH’s analysis of this “new” time-lapse video is extremely vague, to say the least. So vague, in fact, that it fails to present a single coherent hypothesis or claim. Among the possibilities suggested was the claim Trump went with in his tweet — that Gugino was trying to “blackout” the network. But other claims offered by CTH also include attempts to track officers with their cell phones, unlock encrypted networks and mess with officers’ potentially enabled Bluetooth devices — each a completely different hypothesis. The video can’t distinguish between these different hypotheses in part because the video can’t really tell us anything about what he was doing with his phone.

One thing the video can tell us, though, is what he didn’t do. What he wasn’t doing was trying to pick up radio signals from the police communications system. In fact, the evidence that CTH themselves used to suggest that he was doing any such thing completely undermines their argument. Two “sources” were cited to support the idea that radio frequency harvesting was what was going on: a thread apparently authored by the same person who wrote the CTH article, and article from the Electronics4u website, which describes how to receive radio signals on a cell phone:

Capture of communication signals [explained in detail here] is a method of police tracking used by Antifa to monitor the location of police. In some cases the higher the technology The interception software can even decipher communication encryption, allowing professional agitators to block (obfuscate), jam or interfere with police communications. In addition, many police body cameras are Bluetooth enabled, allowing for synchronization.

The link, which claims to explain the “higher-tech” way to decipher signals and how to “block, jam or jam” police communications hyperlinks to the Electronis4u story, titled “Software Defined Radio with Android Smartphones.” Not only does this article not mention any blocking, jamming, or jamming, it specifically points out the need for additional receiver hardware if one wants to use a phone to do anything involving tuning radio frequencies. (This seems to be the case with the iPhone as well). Here is the setup highlighted in this article that shows the need for both an antenna and a dongle adapter to scan for frequencies:

In other words, based solely on the evidence provided by the Conservative Treehouse, performing any task requiring knowledge of specific radio frequencies (including cloning or jamming) would require phone-related hardware. On the same subject : Are Radar Detectors Legal In Illinois – q985online.com. The video, thanks to CTH’s latest slow-motion analysis, makes it clear that he had no such key or antenna attached to the phone:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CubkyIzygQ

We reached out to the Buffalo Police Department for clarification on their communications system and whether they are aware of any potential vulnerabilities that could arise from a cell phone being waved near officers. At the time of this reporting, we have not received a response.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Matt Blaise, a professor of computer science and law at Georgetown University, said the president’s tweet about the “blackout” of communications was “so technically incomprehensible, I’m not even sure where to start.” As the Post reports, “It’s possible to disrupt a police radio — an illegal act often called ‘jamming’ — but hackers can only do that by attacking receiving stations, not with hand-held devices that target an individual officer’s radio,” Blaze said .”

After all, the claim that the 75-year-old activist was actually a well-trained antifa member capable of breaking into an encrypted police communications network by waving his cell phone around is belied by the fact that his phone did not appear to have the necessary equipment to carry out some of the acts he is accused of. It is also belied by the lack of any other corroborating evidence, as well as the inability of its proponents to articulate a concrete claim. The only additional evidence relied upon by these claims is the false claim that the Mayor of Buffalo stated that Guguinio was an “agitator” or “instigator.”

Unfortunately for CTH’s embarrassingly under-theorized claim, Buffalo’s mayor never described Gugino that way.

Notes

Transcript: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown press conference, June 5, 2020

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