Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke at a Rolling Thunder gathering before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The Memorial Day weekend event has been a fixture for bikers celebrating veterans and U.S. prisoners-of-war.
On May 29, Trump arrived at the nation’s capitol to speak before a crowd of roughly 5,000 bikers celebrating veterans -- particularly POWs and those listed as missing in action.
“I am doing it in honor of the great bikers who have been totally supportive of my campaign and now I want to be supportive of them,” Trump told Bloomberg Politics. “I look forward to it!”
Bikers have been a visible constituency for the business mogul, frequently appearing at his rallies and serving as unofficial security. The Rolling Thunder organizers asserted their support for Trump in a December 2015 letter.
“We are fighting wars and seeking freedom for countries whose people hate us and want to destroy our way of [life],” the letter stated. “Remember the history of WW2, the last war we fought to really win!”
Trump spoke before the Lincoln Memorial, praising both his biker fans and pledging to reform how veterans are treated.
“Look at all these bikers,” Trump said. “Do we love the bikers? Yes. We love the bikers.”
The business mogul thanked the crowd for being a constant presence at his rallies and stated that he was surprised by his fandom among bikers.
“I said, ‘What are they all doing here?’ and my people would say, ‘They’re here to protect you, Mr. Trump,’” the GOP nominee said, according to The New York Times. “It’s an amazing thing. And I want to tell you, some of these people are tough.”
Several of the bikers in attendance cited Trump’s lack of political correctness as the main reason he held such great appeal for them.
“He speaks what’s on his mind and means what he says,” said 43-year-old Tom Christian of Tennessee. “And that’s what a biker does. That’s the way we are: We say what we think. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t go the other way.”
Trump vowed to build up the U.S. military and reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He also asserted that undocumented immigrants are given better medical treatment than U.S. veterans without citing any hard evidence, NBC News reports.
“Thousands of people are dying waiting in line to see a doctor,” Trump said. “That is not going to happen anymore.”
The GOP nominee expressed disappointment at the size of the crowd, asserting that there were actually 600,000 attendees who had been denied access to the event by organizers.
“I thought this would be like Dr. Martin Luther King, where the people would be lined up from here all the way to the Washington monument, right?” Trump said. “Unfortunately, they don’t allow ‘em to come in.”
Trump was drafted into military service Dec. 1, 1968, but avoided combat in Vietnam through a number of deferments. In 1997, he told radio show host Howard Stern that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases during that time was like combat, The Daily Beast reports.
“It is my personal Vietnam,” Trump said. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
In July 2015, Trump also dismissed the heroism of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who had been a POW in North Vietnam from 1967 to 1973.
“He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said. “I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.”
In January 2016, Trump stated that he had raised $6 million for veterans’ charities during a fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa. By May 20, the business mogul’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that they had not raised that amount and that they had not yet dispersed the funds to veterans’ charities.