It’s the first time in more than 30 years the permit was denied. AMVETS, a congressionally-chartered veterans service organization representing the interests of 20 million veterans, organizes the event. It invites veterans and bikers to ride together throughout Washington to honor other veterans missing in action and kept as prisoners of war.
The group, in association with Rolling Thunder, has traditionally used the Pentagon’s parking lots as a staging and gathering area, drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees. Without this year’s permit, there is no safe alternative for the veterans to gather.
The Pentagon’s decision this year was abrupt and unexpected. Top military brass refused to speak with the event’s organizers or members of Congress leading up to their permit denial. They used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse — however, it’s a weak one. AMVETS permit requests were approved by the Department of Transportation, the Department of Interior, and multiple other state and local authorities for this year’s ride without issue. Moreover, it’s an outside event where COVID-19 transmission is virtually nonexistent and President Biden just held an outside drive-in rally last week in Georgia.
One can only gather it was a political decision — and a terrible precedent set by the Biden administration.
It’s no secret the rally’s organizers and the Pentagon have long had a beef. In 2019, Rolling Thunder’s founder and executive director Artie Muller complained of the high cost of the event and how difficult it was to work with the Pentagon. That year, the Pentagon demanded additional security and restricted vendors, leading to a loss for the group.
“I’ve run Rolling Thunder for 32 years,” Mr. Muller told The Washington Post last year. “I was tired of the [problems] from the Pentagon police. We were paying a fortune and all they do is hassle us.”
He said 2019 would be the last year of Rolling Thunder — until former President Donald Trump stepped in and tweeted the event would return to Washington in 2020.
“The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come,” Mr. Trump tweeted the day of the 2019 event amid speculation that it was the final year. “It is where they want to be, & where they should be. Have a wonderful time today. Thank you to our great men & women of the Pentagon for working it out!”
Last year, the ride had new organizers, a new sponsor and a new name, but the feel was much like past years. AMVETS stepped in to secure the permit, and attendees were invited to the White House where Mr. Trump spoke to them from the Truman Balcony.
The execution was flawless, the motorcycle parade didn’t turn into a super-spreader event, and thousands of patriots were able to honor the fallen.
But not this year.
It’s hard to imagine the Pentagon isn’t a welcomed home to our nation’s veterans. It’s hard to imagine the Biden administration couldn’t accommodate these patriots safely, like they do at their own political outdoor events. It’s hard to imagine any administration trying to stomp out the first amendment rights of veterans to peacefully assemble.
And yet, here we are. It’s a dangerous precedent to set, and one the Biden administration should look to reverse. The Pentagon needs to retract its permit denial and allow our nation’s veterans the ability to honor their own on Memorial Day.
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