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Protester is not 'Antifa,' friends say, but he believes in civil disobedience

Protester is not 'Antifa,' friends say, but he believes in civil disobedience

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Amid the protests at Niagara Square, Martin Gugino talks to WBFO's Mike Desmond, who captured on video the officer's push that seriously injured Gugino. (Aaron Besecker/Buffalo News)

Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old protester pushed to the ground by Buffalo police in a video seen millions of times on Twitter, is passionate about fighting injustice, wherever it may be found, his friends say.

He supports nuclear disarmament. He is against torture in Guantanamo. He has protested to help save the environment and support refugees. He has written letters to The Buffalo News about everything from Cuba to the right to protest.

He has been a passionate supporter of the Black Lives Movement and questioned the 8 p.m. city-ordered curfew last week in Buffalo.

But the people who know him say he is not an "ANTIFA provocateur" as President Trump suggested in a tweet Tuesday morning.

"I would say no," said his friend and fellow activist, Terrence Bisson.

Gugino, a retiree who lives in Amherst, landed in the center of international attention last week when he approached a line of police in riot gear who were clearing the sidewalk and street in front of Buffalo City Hall just after the city's emergency curfew. Video recorded by a WBFO reporter showed Gugino fall back and hit his head on the sidewalk after a police officer pushed him with an outstretched arm.

The video was viewed more than 80 million times and led to charges against two police officers on Saturday. Gugino has remained at Erie County Medical Center since Thursday.

So who is the man at the center of the controversy?

Gugino's friends and supporters say he is a passionate peace activist who is part of the Catholic peace movement and believes in civil disobedience, Bisson said.

"There's many ways to be against injustice. There's Martin Luther King Jr. and there's Malcolm X. He leans toward Martin Luther King," Bisson said.

Clare Grady, another friend who is a member of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a group of Catholic peace activists convicted of breaking into a nuclear submarine base in Georgia two years ago, also said Gugino is not part of Antifa.

"Knowing Martin, I know that's not his agenda. To be involved in anything that Trump just said... what he might have been doing... That's not the Martin that I know," said Grady, who is from Ithaca. "Martin is an activist. He's a tireless servant of the people."

But Grady added: "This is not to disparage Antifa. That's how some people feel they are called to serve."

Antifa is a loosely organized, left-wing, anti-fascism group that conservatives have long associated with violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls antifa a "community-based movement composed of individuals organizing against racial and economic injustice."

Another friend of Gugino, Mark Colville, of New Haven, Conn., said he talked Tuesday morning to Gugino, who remains hospitalized at Erie County Medical Center.

"He's been removed from the ICU [intensive care unit]," said Colville, who is also a member of the Kings Bay Plowshares. "He thinks he's going to be in the hospital at least another week. He's in a lot of pain and having trouble concentrating. He said they're expecting him to make a full recovery in about five weeks."

Colville said Gugino didn't tell him what his diagnosis was.

Gugino grew up in Buffalo and moved to Cleveland, where he worked in computer technology, before returning to Western New York.

He's involved in an array of organizations including the Western New York Peace Center's Latin American Solidarity Committee and the Catholic Worker movement and frequently went to protests. Well over six feet tall, he often stood out at protests as the tallest person in the crowd, his friends say.

He has been vocal on social media and his posts, particularly on Twitter, have drawn intense scrutiny in the last few days. His Twitter account was taken down by Tuesday morning.

On June 3, the day before the City Hall pushing incident, Gugino retweeted Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland school shooting survivor who advocates against gun violence. After she wrote "(expletive) the police," Gugino replied with the same words. The phrase has been repeatedly used during the protests here in Buffalo and across the nation.

Commenters on social media have pointed to that tweet as proof that Gugino hates law enforcement.

Bisson said about the tweet: "He was more likely to echo something someone said. ... It was atypical," Bisson said. "Like an answer to a cry started up in a protest."

Gugino also had a YouTube channel. He had just 35 subscribers on Friday and just a handful of posts. That grew to over 1,000 but the channel was also removed by Tuesday.

Gugino's last video, posted on May 29, was a testimonial to his friend, Colville, who is scheduled to be sentenced in the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 case at the end of June, along with Grady.

On April 4, 2018, Colville, Grady and five other activists broke into a nuclear submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia. According to court records, they broke a padlock and went into a "limited area" of the base. They put up crime scene tape, spray painted "Love one another" and "repent" and put up a sign that read: "The ultimate logic of Trident omnicide."

Gugino had been friends with the activists for about 15 years. He got to know them at a protest against the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, Grady said.

After they were arrested in Georgia, they spent months in jail, and Gugino wrote notes to them on dozens of postcards every week. "Before getting out on bail, he was writing to me and all of us with whatever he could get on those little post cards," she said. The jail would only allow postcards in the mail, she said.

She's appalled by what happened to her friend and bewildered by Trump's comments about him.

"He's a gentle man. He was approaching [the police] with a helmet. He was approaching as a man of peace. For God's sake. He's 75 years old and he's not in very good health."

Colville called Gugino "a longtime activist" and a "political thinker."

"Martin's life," Colville said, "speaks for itself."

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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