‘We’re tired of the harassment’: Rolling Thunder rolls through DC one last time

The decadeslong tradition of a Memorial Day weekend demonstration of motorcycles roaring through D.C. will end with this year’s Rolling Thunder.

“A lot of people are fed up with D.C.; it’s not only me,” said the executive director of Rolling Thunder Inc. and former army Sgt. Artie Muller. “We’re tired of the harassment.”

Muller, 73, expressed his frustration at what he characterized as continued mismanagement of the annual “Ride for Freedom” by Pentagon officials.

He said that despite multiple planning meetings and agreements in 2018, participants, sponsors and vendors were denied access to parking lots that the group paid “exorbitant permit fees” to secure for the Pentagon staging area. Staging the event in D.C. cost organizers more than $200,000 last year, Muller said.

“We’re tired of the aggravation there,” he said. “For 2020, our chapters are going to do demonstrations throughout the country, nationwide in their states.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gough released this statement to WTOP:

“During a review after last year’s event, we were 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.”

“Effective preparation for an event the size and scale of a Rolling Thunder ride is a complicated and lengthy process. PFPA and partner organizations are constantly analyzing law enforcement intelligence, threat information, and security, as well logistical considerations specific to an event’s physical location, anticipated size, and duration. As in previous years, the Pentagon has worked closely with Rolling Thunder representatives to achieve a safe and successful event.”

“All outside events pay fees to use the Pentagon Reservation. The fee includes costs for overtime for security and reimbursement for clean up after an event. Rolling Thunder, Inc. pays only a portion of the total costs incurred by the Pentagon to support the event.”

“We are proud of our history of providing a safe operating area for events on the Pentagon Reservation, to include Rolling Thunder every year. The Pentagon civilian workforce, including PFPA, have a large veteran presence, and we especially appreciate the opportunity to support events that honor those who’ve served and sacrificed.”

Muller said that a number of factors contributed to the group’s decision to bid farewell to the D.C. area. Many of the founding participants are getting older and can’t ride far distances, some can’t get time off work or can’t afford long-distance trips.

Member chapters across the country may pool their demonstrations into regional events, and Muller believes that will work out for the best. A decentralized approach, he said, may allow the group’s 90-member chapters to raise more money for charitable causes and result in broader coverage and attention being paid to the reason for the Freedom Ride: the POW/MIA issue and Veterans rights.

“We’re not going away. We have a lot to still do. Our military and our veterans need our support, and we’re moving on,” Muller said. “We want a full accounting of our prisoners of war and missing in action from all past wars. That’s our goal.”

A weekend of Rolling Thunder events begins Friday at 5 p.m. with a “Blessing of the Bikes” at the Washington National Cathedral. At 9 p.m. there will be a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

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