KENOSHA, Wis. -- The owner of a camera shop that was destroyed during unrest in Kenosha and featured during President Donald Trump’s visit says the president used his store for political gain by appearing with a former owner of the business while touring the epicenter of the latest eruption over racial injustice.
Tom Gram said he bought Rode's Camera Shop from the Rode family eight years ago, though John Rode still owns the property. Gram's four decades of work at the store came to an end Aug. 24, when the building was destroyed by fire during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Gram said Trump’s references to Rode as the owner of the business were deceptive. The White House, however, noted Tuesday that Rode and his family founded and built Rode’s Camera Shop before World War II and still own the building that houses the shop.
Gram said he got a call Monday from the White House asking if he would join the president on a tour that would showcase the destruction to the business, but Gram rejected the offer.
“I think everything he does turns into a circus and I just didn’t want to be involved in it,” Gram told Milwaukee station WTMJ-TV.
Kenosha has seen protests since Aug. 23, when police shot Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back. On Monday, Trump defended a 17-year-old supporter accused of fatally shooting two demonstrators in Kenosha on Aug. 25. On Tuesday, Trump visited Kenosha over the objections of state and local leaders.
Gram said he was surprised to see the store's former owner on TV with Trump on Tuesday with the president introducing him as “John Rode III, owner of Rode’s Camera Shop." While Rode may own the physical property, he doesn't own the business, Gram said.
Rode commended President Trump’s response to the Kenosha unrest.
“I just appreciate President Trump coming today, everybody here does,” Rode said. “We’re so thankful we got the federal troops here. Once they got here things did calm down quite a bit.”
“A day earlier would have saved his store,” Trump responded.
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers deployed the National Guard to quell demonstrations following the shooting. But Trump is taking credit for the deployment, even though his demand that Guard troops be used came a day after Evers had activated them.