A massive annual motorcycle rally staged in Washington will end next year, with organizers citing a lack of law enforcement cooperation and “increased harassment to supporters” as reasons for stopping the 31-year-old tradition.
Rolling Thunder began in Washington in 1987 after Artie Muller, who served in the Vietnam War as an infantry sergeant, sought to call attention to veterans in need and prisoners of war.
In a statement Thursday, Muller said Rolling Thunder XXXII, scheduled for 2019’s Memorial Day weekend, would be “the final Thunder Run in D.C.”
“As a result of changing times the organization and Mission needed to be reorganized and reevaluated,” the statement said. “Reasons which determined our decision were the Pentagon Security Police/Washington Police officials continued lack of cooperation, increased harassment to our supporters and sponsors.”
Pete Zaleski, national vice president of Rolling Thunder Inc., the nonprofit group that organizes the ride, said staging the event costs about $200,000. The group lost about $20,000 last year, he said, on a ride that drew hundreds of thousands of participants.
The ride begins at a Pentagon parking lot and passes across Memorial Bridge, down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol and back to West Potomac Park, along Independence Avenue.
Zaleski said the group would have continued operating in the red because the Pentagon sought additional security, prohibited the sale of merchandise and limited the involvement of sponsors. He also said some riders were directed “away from parking or participating” last year at the Pentagon.
“It seems to me it’s either a lack of communication or a lack of cooperation, and I can’t really say for sure,” he said. “It could be a combination of both.”
Defense Department spokeswoman Sue Gaugh said that “the Pentagon is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride as we have for the last 31 years.” She declined to address Rolling Thunder’s criticism of the Pentagon’s handling of the event.
D.C. police said in a statement that the department “welcomes those who come here to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe and peaceful manner. The Pentagon Force Protection/Department of Defense was involved in the planning of this event and [D.C. police] did not have any influence as to the decisions surrounding it.”
In the future, Zaleski said, Rolling Thunder rides will continue outside Washington in regional events organized by state chapters.
“Rolling Thunder is not going away,” he said.