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

Tens of thousands of motorcycles roar across the Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Monument in the background, as a part of the annual "Rolling Thunder" motorcycle ride, Sunday May 28, 2006, in Washington. The ride, which honors the nation's veterans, circles through downtown Washington and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Bikers will hold their last Rolling Thunder ride in D.C. in 2019. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Tens of thousands of motorcycles roar across the Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Monument in the background, as a part of the annual “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle ride, Sunday May 28, 2006, in Washington. The ride, which honors the nation’s veterans, circles through downtown Washington and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/LAWRENCE JACKSON)
Matt Wall, with Rolling Thunder, places a wreath on a headstone during the annual Wreaths Across America event at Wilmington National Cemetery in Wilmington, N.C. Saturday, Dec.16, 2017. More than 5,000 wreaths were placed on headstones across the cemetery. The program is carried out nationally every December at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as over 1,200 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad.   (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP)
Matt Wall, with Rolling Thunder, places a wreath on a headstone during the annual Wreaths Across America event at Wilmington National Cemetery in Wilmington, N.C. Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. More than 5,000 wreaths were placed on headstones across the cemetery. The program is carried out nationally every December at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as over 1,200 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP) (AP/Matt Born)
Bikers arriving at the Pentagon's parking lot ahead of Rolling Thunder. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Bikers arriving at the Pentagon’s parking lot ahead of Rolling Thunder. (WTOP/Melissa Howell) (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
One veteran said the ride is make D.C. aware there are still more prisoners or war and they all need to be brought home. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
During the 2018 event, one veteran said the Rolling Thunder ride is to raise awareness that there are still more prisoners of war, and they all need to be brought home. (WTOP/Melissa Howell) (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally waves to the crowds as they ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally waves to the crowds as they ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Motorcyclists cross the Memorial Bridge during the 30th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder 'Ride for Freedom' demonstration in Washington, Sunday, May 28, 2017. Rolling Thunder seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Motorcyclists cross the Memorial Bridge during the 30th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder ‘Ride for Freedom’ demonstration in Washington, Sunday, May 28, 2017. Rolling Thunder seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
A military helicopter flies over a police escort on the Memorial Bridge, for motorcyclists riding in the 30th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder 'Ride for Freedom' demonstration in Washington, Sunday, May 28, 2017. Rolling Thunder seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
A military helicopter flies over a police escort on the Memorial Bridge, for motorcyclists riding in the 30th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder ‘Ride for Freedom’ demonstration in Washington, Sunday, May 28, 2017. Rolling Thunder seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) (AP/Cliff Owen)
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Tens of thousands of motorcycles roar across the Memorial Bridge with the Lincoln Monument in the background, as a part of the annual "Rolling Thunder" motorcycle ride, Sunday May 28, 2006, in Washington. The ride, which honors the nation's veterans, circles through downtown Washington and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Bikers will hold their last Rolling Thunder ride in D.C. in 2019. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Matt Wall, with Rolling Thunder, places a wreath on a headstone during the annual Wreaths Across America event at Wilmington National Cemetery in Wilmington, N.C. Saturday, Dec.16, 2017. More than 5,000 wreaths were placed on headstones across the cemetery. The program is carried out nationally every December at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as over 1,200 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad.   (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP)
Bikers arriving at the Pentagon's parking lot ahead of Rolling Thunder. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
One veteran said the ride is make D.C. aware there are still more prisoners or war and they all need to be brought home. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally waves to the crowds as they ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Motorcyclists cross the Memorial Bridge during the 30th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder 'Ride for Freedom' demonstration in Washington, Sunday, May 28, 2017. Rolling Thunder seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
A military helicopter flies over a police escort on the Memorial Bridge, for motorcyclists riding in the 30th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder 'Ride for Freedom' demonstration in Washington, Sunday, May 28, 2017. Rolling Thunder seeks to bring full accountability for all U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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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