President Donald Trump, a man who loves him some patriotic bikers, has offered to help the Rolling Thunder advocacy group obtain the permits needed so that it may keep hosting its annual “Ride for Freedom” in Washington, D.C., on behalf of veterans and prisoners of war.
“Can’t believe that Rolling Thunder would be given a hard time with permits in Washington, D.C.,” he tweeted early Saturday morning. “They are great Patriots who I have gotten to know and see in action. They love our Country and love our Flag. If I can help, I will!”
Can’t believe that Rolling Thunder would be given a hard time with permits in Washington, D.C. They are great Patriots who I have gotten to know and see in action. They love our Country and love our Flag. If I can help, I will!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2019
The tweet was posted a couple days after former Army Sgt. Artie Muller, a Vietnam War veteran who co-founded Rolling Thunder in 1987, revealed to Military.com that this year’s ride will be the group’s last. Why? Because of rising costs and decreased sponsor contributions.
“It’s just a lot of money,” he pithily said.
“He said the costs include installations for porta-potties and the $30,000 fee charged by the Defense Department for parking at the Pentagon before the annual Sunday ride from there across the Memorial Bridge, four-abreast, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall,” Military.com reported.
Muller also claimed that participants often face harassment from local authorities and Pentagon security. While it’s unclear what the authorities harass Rolling Thunder members about, it’s presumed from the president’s tweet that the harassment concerns permits.
Speaking with D.C. station WTOP on Friday, Muller added that last year’s ride cost more than $200,000 because of parking permit hassles. Despite paying “exorbitant permit fees” for access to parking lots around the Pentagon staging area, the group was reportedly denied access.
Hundreds of Thousands Rolled Thunder Through DC to Honor Fallen Veterans
Remember those who fought for America’s freedoms https://t.co/ytXDQVvXwM
— NNC & IRRI (@Sthlmekot) May 29, 2018
“A lot of people are fed up with D.C.; it’s not only me,” he said. “We’re tired of the harassment. We’re tired of the aggravation there. For 2020, our chapters are going to do demonstrations throughout the country, nationwide in their states.”
Another issue is a decline in sponsor contributions, as well as complaints from local chapters.
“They were ready to drop it. Let’s face it: Everybody loves the military when there’s a war going on,” he said, describing what happened during consultations in December with the group’s local chapters.
And so unless something changes, this year’s ride — which has already begun, with bikers streaming into Washington, D.C, and participating in pre-ride festivities (some of which can be seen in the photos and videos below) — will be the last:
#RollingThunder begins with the blessing of the bikes at Washington National Cathedral. Many of the riders going to the Vietnam Memorial for a candle light vigil for those who died in service. Why this will be the last year for the national ride in DC. #News4 @nbcwashington pic.twitter.com/XNeGh4wDm5
— Chris Gordon (@ChrisGordonNews) May 24, 2019
30 bikes American and Canadian #RollingThunder from #WaterfordCT to #DC in honor of all fallen or missing in action soldiers that did not get the opportunity to be #Veterans details @FOX61News https://t.co/Q2g9DuSdtG #Share61 pic.twitter.com/6c0nvtOEuh
— Alex Baldwin (@Abaldwin64) May 23, 2019
“Blessing of the Bikes” happening at @WNCathedral for D.C.’s last #RollingThunder. Police tell us there are about 100 more bikes here as compared to last year’s prayer. @ABC7News pic.twitter.com/RLCNvGtYHx
— Carl Willis (@CarlWillisTV) May 24, 2019
— Roll Call Multimedia (@CapitolLens) May 25, 2019
31 years of #RollingThunder who honors #veterans, brings attention to #POWs & those #missinginaction. Take their #FinalRide this #MemorialDay #weekend due to increased coordination costs from #Pentagon & #PoliceHarrassment 🇺🇸🏍️❤️#BeInformed #BlackPress #NNPA pic.twitter.com/OG7kD9gizB
— Washington Informer (@WashInformer) May 25, 2019
— Roll Call Multimedia (@CapitolLens) May 25, 2019
The Pentagon has for its part denied any wrongdoing.
“The department supports the peaceful, lawful exercise of American citizens’ First Amendment rights, and remains focused on ensuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the Pentagon Reservation,” spokesperson Sue Gough told ABC News. “The department is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the last 31 years.”
In a statement to WTOP, she added that her team has been “unable to identify any instances when groups were denied access to the Pentagon Reservation. There is always the potential to experience a delay or detour transiting the Pentagon Reservation, especially during large events such as Rolling Thunder, either to assist with general traffic flow or for other reasons. As federal police officers, Pentagon Force Protection Agency personnel consider all relevant safety and security-related information while facilitating access to the Pentagon Reservation for participants at large events on restricted roadways.”
It’s not clear how the president feels about this …. excuse.
First held in 1989, Rolling Thunder’s annual ride is designed to “bring awareness and accountability for POWs and MIAs left behind,” according to the group’s official website.
Months prior to the 2016 presidential election three years ago, then-GOP presidential candidate Trump attended that year’s Rolling Thunder’s pre-festivities and delivered a speech.
The following year, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took part in the ride itself:
SOS Tillerson at Rolling Thunder 2017 pic.twitter.com/yrjiUNg2Yy
— mαrínα 🇺🇸 (@coast4life) May 28, 2017
— Dr. David J. Shulkin (@SecShulkin) May 28, 2017
TIllerson looks good in that vest 😃
Another photo 📸 pic.twitter.com/ZlY4RD2XPf
— 𝓝𝓪𝓿𝔂👠𝓑𝓻𝓪𝓽 🕊️ (@RavenHUWolf) May 28, 2017
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