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Trump Used Stand-In for Kenosha Business Owner Who Refused Photo Op With Him

Tom Gram, the real business owner, said he refused to take part because everything Trump does “turns into a circus.”

President Trump speaks alongside John Rode III, who carries a Rode's Camera Shop sign, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 1, 2020.

A business in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which had fire damage after uprisings in the city following the police-perpetrated shooting of Jacob Blake in August, was featured by President Trump to the media as he toured damage in the city on Tuesday.

Trump stood alongside John Rode III, whom he introduced as the “owner” of Rode’s Camera Shop, one of the businesses in the building that was affected by fire. Yet, Rode is not the current owner of that business — Tom Gram is.

Gram, who was originally asked by Trump’s people to stand alongside the president during the photo op, had refused to do so. “I think everything he does turns into a circus, and I just didn’t want to be involved in it,” Gram said, explaining why he didn’t want to take part.

It appears that, in the absence of Gram, Trump’s media team decided to have the business’s former owner stand-in for the occasion, falsely describing him as the current head of the company to the reporters present.

“I just appreciate President Trump coming today, everybody here does. We’re so thankful we got the federal troops here,” Rode said after Trump introduced him as the business owner.

Gram was surprised to see Rode appear beside the president, and to be described as the owner of the camera store. Although Rode still owns the building where the business resides, Gram purchased Rode’s Camera Shop eight years ago.

Gram, speaking to a local NBC affiliate station about the matter, was critical of Trump for dividing the community and refusing to speak out against law enforcement in the wake of Blake’s shooting.

“I think he needs to bring this country together rather than divide it,” Gram said. “I think there’s a lot of good people in this community and to say that only law enforcement is correct is not the message we need to hear right now.”

A number of elected leaders had asked Trump not to come to Kenosha this week, as the city was dealing with the Blake shooting as well as the killings of two protesters by a far right 17-year-old vigilante during protests last week.

“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said to Trump in a letter prior to his travels to the state. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian had echoed Evers’s sentiment. “Realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time,” Antaramian said.