Chris Cox surveyed a small park near the U.S. Capitol, his German shepherd by his side. Wearing a Harley-Davidson jacket and a crocodile-skin cowboy hat adorned with the animal’s teeth atop his moppy, curly hair, Cox made for a particularly discordant sight in the heart of federal Washington on a misty weekend morning.
But Cox had logistics to sort out, an Inauguration Day demonstration with motorcycle die-hards from across the nation to plan.
The 48-year-old chain-saw artist from South Carolina was an early and enthusiastic supporter of President-elect Donald Trump. Now that his guy has won, Cox wants to ensure that the group he founded, Bikers for Trump, strengthens its political muscle during Trump’s presidency and beyond.
The group obtained a permit for what is expected to be the largest pro-Trump rally held by a private group in the nation’s capital timed to the inauguration. Cox calls the planned event at John Marshall Park a “halftime rally” and said there will be speakers, musical performances and upward of 5,000 bikers in attendance.
As he walked through the park with his dog, Trigger — the massive “Bikers for Trump” patch on the back of his jacket visible from every vantage — Cox began planning where to put the stage, the speakers and the portable toilets.
“Bikers are strongly organized locally,” Cox said. “They just haven’t been organized nationally before.”
Cox launched the organization in October 2015, back when Trump was still running what was considered a quixotic campaign. Since then, he has hosted rallies throughout the country, with his biker group growing to tens of thousands of mostly white men, many of whom are veterans.
During Trump’s own rallies, and at the Republican National Convention, the group has served as a vigilante security force, providing human barricades between supporters and protesters.
When Cox got Trigger a few months ago from the Czech Republic through trades he made with a guy he met at a Trump rally in South Dakota, he joked about naming the new pet Keith Schiller, after the head of security for the Trump Organization.
Ultimately, Cox said, he wants to transform bikers into a distinct voting bloc, akin to the Christian Coalition or Teamsters. His group is composed of members of established groups such as Bikers for Christ and Veteran Bikers MC, and Cox says there are many more unaffiliated “lone wolf” bikers to still bring into the political fray. But the plausibility of creating a unified voting bloc remains to be seen, particularly considering there are at least two other Trump motorcycle events happening in the District around inauguration.
Still, Cox has proved that while Trump, a rich Manhattanite, and bikers make for an unlikely alliance, there’s also some logic there: They can both be outspoken, revel in a tough-guy mentality and espouse hands-off government values.
“I’m not going to spend much time critiquing the vessel of the message,” Cox said. “It’s the message I’m interested in.”
Before Cox was Trump’s loyal biker guy, he was the nation’s heroic Lawn Mower Guy. He achieved national fame during the 2013 shutdown, when he showed up near the Lincoln Memorial and started mowing the lawn, a move that elevated him to a somewhat folksy legend during a time of ultimate Washington dysfunction.
This led him to lobby Congress to introduce a bill that would allow the monuments and parks to remain open during a government shutdown. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced it, but the bill has mostly been stalled since then.
Cox said the experience gave him a window into the ineffectiveness of government. He decided that if he were ever to get his bill through, he would need outside politicians to help deliver it. And that’s how he landed on Trump as a candidate.
Bikers for Trump promotes its values of supporting veterans and bolstering the status of the country’s dwindling blue-collar workers, but it’s also a savvy way for Cox to gain political bona fides and ultimately push his bill. Cox is neither a veteran nor a blue-collar worker, and landed on the idea of harnessing that group after visiting biker bars and noticing that they overwhelmingly supported Trump.
“My goal is for the bill not only to pass, but for it to pass with the most co-sponsors in the history of the House of Representatives,” he said. “I’m optimistic that when Donald Trump sees it, he’ll be for it.”
Bikers for Trump’s main political goals are more controversial than Cox’s own personal ones. They want extremely tough vetting for Muslim immigrants, particularly Syrians, and a wall along the Mexico border. Trump’s ability to deliver these campaign promises remains uncertain, but Cox doesn’t really care.
“The wall that is built, it remains to be seen if it will be a concrete wall, a metal wall, trenches or just more border control,” Cox said.
Cox insists that his group is inclusive and disavows all parts of white nationalism. Cox repeatedly says that his group is pushing “racial reconciliation.”
Dwight Pape, a pro-Trump black bishop in Baton Rouge, plans to speak on this topic at Cox’s inauguration rally.
Pape’s church was destroyed during the August 2016 floods, and he met Cox when bikers delivered food and supplies to the congregants.
“At a time when we needed help and hope and racial healing, the bikers showed up,” Pape, 62, said.
Cox grew up learning a little about how Washington politics works. His father, Earl Cox, worked in various federal agencies, including the Labor and Agriculture departments, and Cox spent much of his childhood in Northern Virginia. He left college in North Carolina to work in Republican politics, including campaigns for Dan Quayle and Elizabeth Dole.
That all makes him far from the typical biker. And Cox acknowledges that in many ways he is the stereotype of a liberal: He is a struggling artist with no health insurance who has been traversing the country this past year in a 1995 truck with a 1968 camper trailer attached. When he is out of money, he sells his chain-saw sculptures on the side of the road.
But he still possesses some undeniably Trumpian qualities. As Trigger obediently sat beside him, Cox ticked off some advanced commands. He said that Trigger learned the tricks in Czech and that he wants to ensure that the dog continues to respond to commands in the language.
“I don’t want anyone else to tell my dog what to do,” he said.
Michael Shelby, who is known as “New York Myke” in the biker community, met Cox in May in the District at Rolling Thunder — a massive biker demonstration holding the government accountable for all prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Shelby said he was initially a bit skeptical of Cox because he wasn’t a veteran, but Cox sold him with his sincere passion for Trump.
Shelby, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran who owns a HarleyDavidson dealership in San Diego, said he has been involved in Republican veterans’ groups with a large biker contingency but never before in a group where being a biker was the main political identity.
“I can’t remember anyone ever saying Bikers for Dole, or Bikers for Bush before. No one has ever done that before,” said Shelby, who is attending the rally.
Cox has met Trump a few times at rallies and said the president-elect personally called to thank him for his work and tell him about American jobs he’s already saved. But Cox hasn’t yet brought up the bill to him.
“I didn’t want to bog him down with anything unrelated,” Cox said. “It was a matter-of-fact conversation that I would have with my friends. We laughed a bunch.”