June 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Men's rights conference in Detroit raises security concerns

Detroit— A controversial men’s rights group is holding its first conference in Detroit, and its host hotel wants organizers to hire police officers as security because of death threats.

The Houston-based group A Voice for Men is hosting its International Conference on Men’s Issues June 27 and 28 at the Hilton Doubletree Guest Suites Fort Shelby on W. Lafayette. Speakers will address what they say is prejudice against men, “antifeminism” and corruption of family courts.

More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition seeking to cancel the conference, and the hotel last week informed the group it needed to hire extra security.

“We have received numerous calls and threats and are concerned for the safety and well-being of our employees, our guests and your attendees,” hotel officials wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Paul Elam, A Voice for Men’s founder and publisher.

“The threats have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and and other guests as well as damage to the property.”

Elam provided a copy of the letter to The Detroit News. He said the group is in the process of spending $25,000 to hire seven off-duty Detroit police officers to work the event.

“We’re not surprised there’s resistance,” Elam said. “We understand that a lot of our ideas are very new and take some time for people to comprehend. We expect backlash and resistance.

“What we didn’t expect is the lives of innocent people who work at the hotel and guests who are unrelated to our activities would be threatened. ... It’s a new low and it’s very disappointing.”

In 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center called men’s rights groups like A Voice for Men “women haters whose fury goes well beyond criticism of the family court system, domestic violence laws, and false rape accusations.”

Elam defended his group and blog in an article, claiming the law center has drifted toward “the persecution of individuals and groups from opposing mainstream political camps.”

He said academics, attorneys, authors and human rights advocates are expected for the conference, A Voice for Men’s first official event. Capacity is 300 and organizers plan to add a spill-over room to accommodate an additional 100 people, he said.

Fort Shelby owner Emmett Moten said he wasn’t aware of the conference or threats, but said it’s not unusual for hotels to require additional security.

Officer Adam Madera, a Detroit police spokesman, confirmed hotel officials recently contacted the department about hiring off-duty officers who work in the Secondary Employment program. The program was established by the city in 2011 and allows uniformed off-duty officers to moonlight as security guards.

“We provided them with information about the program, but other than that, we haven’t received any word about threats,” he said.

Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.