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Economic Club: Trump hecklers invited by fraudster

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

More than a dozen hecklers who interrupted Donald Trump’s economic address Monday at the Cobo Center were invited by a man who “fraudulently” obtained a new membership to the Detroit Economic Club, President and CEO Beth Chappell said Tuesday.

In a message to members, Chappell said the DEC has apologized to the Trump campaign for a protest facilitated by a 23-year-old man who applied for a new membership under the name of a “very reputable company” from which he was fired two years ago.

Only club members, their guests and journalists were allowed into the private event, where Trump worked to refocus his campaign with a policy speech calling for tax breaks and reduced government regulations.

Chappell said membership applications were reviewed in “the hectic few days” leading up to Trump’s address. The man’s 20 guests would have raised a red flag if it weren’t for the company he claimed to work for, she said.

More than a dozen protesters – one man and the rest women, including former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit – ended up interrupting Trump throughout his speech.

A group called the Michigan People’s Campaign later explained the disruptions were an organized and intentional attempt to challenge Trump on his claims about manufacturing jobs and past comments about women.

“We respect the right of free speech and the right to protest, but in an appropriate way and not inside a DEC meeting,” Chappell wrote. “Detroit was in the international spotlight yesterday and a knucklehead disrupts an historic speech? This is not reflective of our Club or our City.”

Known for his off-the-cuff remarks, Trump said little about the protesters Monday, aside from a quip about his past run-ins with supporters of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic primaries to nominee Hillary Clinton.

Tlaib, who was among those forcibly removed from the luncheon by security, said on Facebook that she was proud to be part of a group that risked arrest to voice concerns over Trump.

“I asked Trump to please stop because our children deserve better. I asked him to be a better example for our children,” the Detroit Democrat wrote.

Detroit Economic Club spokesman Matt Friedman said it took about 24 hours to “piece together” everything that happened. He declined to name the man who invited the protesters or the name of the company for which he had claimed to work.

“We’ve decided to leave the companies out of this, and we don’t want to make him famous by giving out his name,” Friedman said.

Chappell told members the club is taking steps to ensure the same sort of “unacceptable interruptions” don’t happen again.

The economic club regularly invites presidential candidates from both major political parties to speak at its meetings. Trump was the first nominee to to address members since Democrat John Kerry in 2004. Prior candidates such as Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and Democratic hopeful Barack Obama in 2007 addressed the club before Michigan’s primaries.

“Among the other luminaries at the DEC podium, we hope Secretary Clinton will accept our open invitation before the November election,” Chappell wrote.

joosting@detroitnews.com