The event was originally scheduled for the Hilton Doubletree Guest Suites at Fort Shelby downtown. Doubletree asked AVFM to provide security due to an influx threats, and AVFM garnered more than $30,000 to pay for several off-duty Detroit Police officers. After a protest petition to cancel the conference on change.org currently boasting about 6,000 signatures, Doubletree and AVFM mutually agreed to part ways, organizers said.
The Detroit Police Department had previously said that the Doubletree filed a police report — but a police spokesperson was not specific about the level of threat. Opposition to the event suspects that there may have been another reason the hotel and men’s rights activists parted ways, especially after a protest in Grand Circus Park.
The protest drew around 150-200 supporters, says Amanda Levitt, a blogger and activist, though protesters said they were filmed and even followed to their vehicles. Levitt added that groups like AVFM have a history of violence, and that she was worried about them aggregating in a city as populous as Detroit. Levitt adds she’s happy the conference has been moved to a more suburban location, but still wishes it weren’t happening at all.
However, conference organizer Dean Esmay tells the Metro Times that the conference required a larger facility, and that about 300 people had signed up so far, while Doubletree would only allow 275 attendees. He adds that some of the $32,000 raised will still be used for security, but the rest will be used to help pay for next year's conference. Donors who want their money back can contact AVFM, according to Esmay.
The conference is scheduled to run the same schedule, and there will be a press conference at the VFW outpost June 26. Esmay says the likes of The Washington Post and Time are expected to be present.
AVFM is also prompting conference attendees to stay in local hotels in the nearby Roseville area and offering a shuttle to and from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, but has asked attendees not to disclose their exact location for fear of drawing more media attention. Esmay says he is expecting subsequent protests at the new venue, and that he would be “surprised if there was nothing.” Esmay refuses to comment on the purported threats.
Levitt says that despite what Esmay has said previously, there are no planned protests for the press conference. She added that she is working with a representative with HAVEN in Oakland County, a nonprofit that provides shelter for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The representative is a veteran, and organizers are working on a letter-writing campaign calling on veterans to write to the VFW on why they should not hold the conference there.
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