WASHINGTON – Thousands of motorcyclists are expected to ride in the D.C. area Wednesday as part of a trek to honor those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But the blogosphere has been abuzz with outraged talk that D.C. denied the riders a permit. The WTOP Answer Desk set out to learn what happened.
The group called 2 Million Bikers to D.C. requested police escorts and no-stop permits. They wanted to be able to go without stopping through red lights and intersections on D.C. streets, near the monuments and on Capitol Hill.
But the bikers have been denied those permits by both the National Park Service and the Metropolitan Police Department.
The ride would have been hugely disruptive to traffic on a regular workday, says National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson.
Granting the organizers a permit would have meant road closures in the middle of the day, including on Memorial Bridge and Constitution Avenue. Past motorcycle rallies have been held on weekends, Johnson says.
In a statement released to WTOP, D.C. police say that ride organizers were encouraged to move their event to a weekend. MPD also says that the city’s denial will not prevent the group’s members from riding on city streets — they just won’t have a police escort.
U.S. Capitol Police also denied a similar request, according to both D.C police and the park service.
“Solely to facilitate the speed and timeliness of the participants in itself does not fall within the definition of a First Amendment assembly,” D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump says in an email statement. “The activity was viewed as expressive.”
Despite the lack of permits, bikers from across the country are still expected to be in the area Wednesday. Their numbers are expected to be 2,000 or more and their ride will begin at 11 a.m. from the Fort Washington Harley Davidson dealership in Prince George’s County, Md.
Eric Zern, a ride organizer from Hagerstown, Md., tells WTOP bikers plan to ride one time on the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway from Prince George’s County to Montgomery County and then into Virginia, before arriving back where they started.
They reportedly will not go into D.C. as a large group.
“There are so many motorcycles that trying to go through Washington, D.C., would not have worked,” Zern says.
It will be up to individual riders whether they choose to enter the city after the Beltway ride.
“That way we’re going to have much smaller groups of motorcycles coming through the city and they won’t lock things down so bad,” Zern says.
Nicholas Montefusco from Huntersville, Pa., is among the bikers participating in the ride. He says Americans should never forget the significance of Sept. 11.
“It’s very important and it’s from all ethnical backgrounds, all religions — it’s just, we’re all Americans and we need to support our country the best we can,” Montefusco says.
The bikers’ permit rejection brought an invitation from several other groups planning a “Justice for Benghazi” rally on the West Capitol Lawn.
Patriots4America and Special Operations Speaks have already obtained permits to hold their rally behind the U.S. Capitol, the groups said in a news release inviting the bikers to join them.
It was unclear if the bikers will accept the invitation.
According to the National Park Service, several other groups are scheduled to use space on and near the National Mall Wednesday.
The American Muslim Political Action Committee is holding a “Million American March Against Fear” Wednesday on the Mall. And the Answer Coalition will hold a rally on Freedom Plaza, according to the National Park Service.