SAN PEDRO (CNS) - Republican presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump is scheduled to share his views about national security Tuesday aboard the USS Iowa in San Pedro.
Trump's appearance, organized by Veterans for a Strong America, is expected to draw more than 1,000 attendees to the top deck of the battleship, which has been docked in Los Angeles as a nonprofit tourist attraction, community gathering space and educational museum since 2012.
But some critics contend Trump's visit -- on the eve of the CNN Republican candidate debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library -- is not an appropriate use of the battleship. An online petition, "Tell the USS Iowa: We Don't Want Trump in San Pedro,'' had garnered more than 3,500 signatures as of late last week from area residents calling for the event to be canceled.
"This battleship is part of American history and should not allow a man who has injured and insulted a significant portion of the Los Angeles community,'' wrote Gabriela Lopez of San Pedro, who started the petition on Change.org. "We are for freedom of speech, however this ship represents freedom, equality and justice; terms that do not align with Mr. Trump's political views.''
Lopez went on to say that those who signed the petition share a belief in zero-tolerance for hateful remarks and discrimination. Others who made comments online shared similar sentiments.
"I'm signing (the petition) because Trump's message should not be heard in a community that is largely made up of hard-working immigrants and people of color,'' Flor Barajas Tena of Santa Ana wrote.
Another commenter, Ana Alvarez of Harbor City, simply wrote, "I don't like Donald Trump.''
Whether residents love him or hate him, Trump's appearance is expected to go on as scheduled at 5:30 p.m., with ticket prices ranging from $1,000 to $100, according to Veterans for a Strong America Chairman Joel Arends.
Proceeds from the night will benefit the conservative grassroots organization, which was founded in 2010 and openly supports having a strong American military, Arends told City News Service. He said none of the money raised would go to political campaigns or candidates, and Veterans for a Strong America doesn't typically endorse candidates before the primaries.
"We could have done this event at a convention center or a hotel, but we wanted to support the nonprofit USS Iowa, which really exemplifies who our members are because of the men who served on it and what it stands for,'' Arends said.
Arends, who is a veteran, said he is disappointed to hear that some people don't want Trump to speak.
"The First Amendment is something that our veterans fight to protect, and it's highly disturbing that they (the petitioners) are attacking veterans who protect their right to speak,'' Arends said. "We're against censorship. We're against telling people how they can speak or what they can say.''
USS Iowa President and CEO Jonathan Williams told CNS the battleship was rented at market rate to South Dakota-based Veterans for a Strong America.
Money raised by renting the ship for special events helps support ship maintenance and educational programs -- the vessel works with an annual budget of about $4 million.
"We are not taking sides -- this is neutral ground,'' Williams said. "Our number one goal is to be a community platform, and freedom of speech is a great thing, whether that's from Trump or from protestors. We are happy people are talking.''
This is the first time Veterans for a Strong America has used the battleship, which rents out and hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from free community movie nights and a veterans' job fair to corporate events that can be much larger in scale than Trump's appearance, Williams said.
Registration and advance payment is required for those interested in attending the event. For details, visit www.veteransforamerica.org.