Trump criticises protesters on day of Floyd funeral

Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his attacks on antiracism protesters, suggesting that a 75-year-old man assaulted by police in Buffalo, New York, was a “provocateur” working for a radical anti-fascist group.

The president’s tweet storm came as mourners gathered in Houston for the funeral of George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis on May 25 led to widespread protests against racism and police brutality in the US.

Mr Trump’s online activity included retweeting a comment from a prominent conservative calling for a boycott of American football — the country’s most popular sport — after the commissioner of the National Football League expressed support for non-violent demonstrators.

The president also took aim at Martin Gugino, 75, who was knocked down by police officers during protests in Buffalo, in an incident that was seen on video by millions of people online. Mr Gugino, who landed on his head and could be seen bleeding, has been hospitalised. Two officers have been charged with assault in the case.

Mr Trump said Mr Gugino “could be an ANTIFA provocateur”. The president has repeatedly accused the amorphous anti-fascist movement that advocates violence against white supremacists of fanning the protests despite a lack of evidence to support that claim. Conspiracy theories about the case have been spread by OANN, a pro-Trump network.

“75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment,” the president wrote. “I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”

Several Republicans and former military officers have condemned Mr Trump’s response to the protests, and the president came under fresh criticism for seeming to endorse a baseless accusation.

Ari Fleischer, a Republican who served as White House press secretary for George W Bush, said on Twitter: “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.”

In the wake of the protests, Mr Trump has resurrected the “law and order” playbook that helped him win in 2016. His support for using military force against the protesters and his largely baseless claims about anarchists comes as his poll numbers have sunk five months from the election.

Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, leads Mr Trump by an average of eight points in national polls. He also leads in many of the swing states, including Florida and Wisconsin, and has a big advantage in Michigan, a battleground that was key to Mr Trump beating Hillary Clinton.

In a video link at the George Floyd funeral, Mr Biden said Americans should ask: “Why . . . do too many black Americans wake up knowing they could lose their life in the course of living their life?”

“We cannot turn away. We must not turn away,” the former vice-president added. “We cannot leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away from racism that stings at our very soul and from systemic abuse that still plagues American life.”

One CNN poll showing Mr Biden with a 14-point national edge rattled Mr Trump so much that he has commissioned another pollster to find flaws in the survey. Mr Biden is also within striking distance in Texas, which has not voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Mr Trump suggested that he would start holding campaign rallies again next week, after a conservative commentator tweeted that it was “reasonable” to allow big events given that Americans have felt free to protest Floyd’s death in huge marches across the country.

The president also retweeted a comment from Matt Schlapp, a prominent conservative, who said he would not buy another American football game ticket “until they go back to playing football and stop dividing America”.

Roger Goodell, the National Football League commissioner, last week reversed course in expressing support for players who want to protest, including by kneeling when the national anthem is played at games.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

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