The Department of Defense isn't ready to endorse the use of its property for large national events.
Republican lawmakers are angrily denouncing a decision by the Department of Defense to reject a permit for a massive motorcycle rally later this month. But another rally last August suggests the Pentagon's concern about coronavirus spread could be well founded.
"The Biden Administration is making a terrible mistake by blocking a veterans charity from the use of Pentagon parking for the Rolling to Remember POW/MIA remembrance motorcycle ride," Rep. Darrell Issa of California tweeted Monday. "Sadly, the decision seems to be more about politics than safety."
"Last I checked veterans parades on motorcycles are OUTDOORS! Come to #Florida @RollToRemember since the Biden admin won’t follow it’s [sic] own CDC," urged Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida.
Texas Rep. August Pfluger wrote that "Denying veterans from gathering in their nation's capital to commemorate the service of our lost heroes and bring awareness to veterans' mental health is completely un-American," and demanded the administration "immediately reverse this decision."
"I'm disappointed by the Pentagon's denial of @AMVETSHQ permit for the @RollToRemember event," tweeted California Rep. Ken Calvert. "At a time when President Biden can find a way to hold outdoor political events, it's shocking his administration can’t find a way to help our veterans do the same."
The event in question, the annual Rolling to Remember motorcycle demonstration in Washington, D.C., is organized by a group called AMVETS to raise awareness for veteran suicide and for unaccounted for prisoners of war and service members still missing in action. A successor to the annual Rolling Thunder rallies, it is typically held over Memorial Day weekend — using the Pentagon's massive parking lot as a staging area.
This year, the Defense Department rejected the request for a permit for that parking lot, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic:
The department took into careful consideration all aspects of AMVETS request, to include the current Health Protection Condition status on the Pentagon Reservation; substantial community transmission of COVID-19 in Arlington County, Virginia; number of Americans fully vaccinated across the nation; nature of this event with its decreased ability to maintain physical distance; and large crowds in one location for an extended period of time. This event draws national attention and participation; therefore the risk of exposure from participants from other communities extends well beyond the National Capital Region.
Last year, South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem urged hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists to come to her state for the annual Sturgis event — which calls itself the "largest motorcycle rally in the world" — in the middle of pandemic.
People came from across the country, the virus spread, and then the attendees returned home to their communities — some bringing the coronavirus with them. The Sturgis rally fueled what Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers called "widespread transmission" of the virus. With hundreds of cases traced to the gathering, the researchers said last month it had "many characteristics of a superspreading event."
Another study, published in September by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany, estimated that the additional cases caused by the Sturgis event likely caused more than $12 billion in public health costs. "This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend," the authors noted.
The Defense Department statement, released Friday, noted that "If COVID-19 conditions permit, the department would gladly consider supporting a future event request from AMVETS, potentially as soon as this Labor Day weekend."
A spokesperson for the group vowed on Wednesday that the event will be still be held on May 30 in Washington, D.C.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.