Capistrano Has its Swallows; We Have Rolling Thunder

For a 23rd straight year, thousands of two-wheelers will descend upon Washington, D.C., further snarling its roads and violating noise abatement.

From 2,500 bikes in 1987 to the more than 250,000 chrome-encrusted hulks that will ride during the Memorial Day Weekend, according to organizers, Rolling Thunder remains an enigma.

As the ride’s website attests, it is a motorcycle rally—(get this) “a first amendment demonstration run.” Has this group moved on from the exploited POW-MIA faux cause to shaking down the Constitution? (Is a there a village in search of an idiot?)

The First Amendment rallying point seems a stretch, but who can say “No” to the crown jewel of the Bill of Rights. It’s brilliant, especially if the “right to ride” is linked to the freedoms of speech, assembly and association. Yet there are those who still cling to the well-worn POW-MIA red herring organizers have hawked for so many years.

According to the Rolling Thunder’s national organization headquarters “The major function of Rolling Thunder®, Inc. is to publicize POW-MIA issues: To educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war-missing in action.”

The event can leave the average onlooker perplexed. Are there prisoners of war and Americans missing in action en masse today? The facts matter little. Those “missing” from previous engagements have been categorized internally as Remains not Recovered.

The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) remains a neglected topic. While the organization retains the POW-MIA moniker, it has done more to resolve these open cases dating to World War II than the thousands of massive bikes and their often burly riders.

There are costs to this First Amendment display. (Our rights trump yours!) Parts of Northern-most Virginia endure noise and closures. Much of the Pentagon’s two vast parking lots are reserved for the riders. Washington Headquarters Services has been clear to Pentagon employees: Park there and you will be towed. Roads and ramps will be roped off. In towns like nearby Alexandria, Va., riders will fill hotels, wander the town in biker garb, but bring little business to a city reeling from tough economic times. But this is Rolling Thunder. All others be damned.

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