Protesters or Delegates? Bikers for Trump Unsure of the Real Enemy at the RNC

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Members of the group, Bikers for Trump head to a rally for Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump at Settlers Landing Park on Monday, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland.
Members of the group, Bikers for Trump head to a rally for Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump at Settlers Landing Park on Monday, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland.Credit: John Minchillo, AP

CLEVELAND - Republicans at the GOP convention in Cleveland cheered as the long formation of Bikers for Trump rolled into town. Many expressed hope that the bikers would change the power dynamics on the streets of downtown Cleveland ruled by young and energetic anti-Trump protesters, yet it soon became clear that bikers were not eager to engage with the demonstrators, and even less so to demonstrate for Trump. Speaking to the bikers revealed a disagreement on their mission at the convention: Some were there to aid the Republicans, especially the women, get around town, others to support the police, while the rest were on the lookout for anti-patriotic protesters.

Many bikers said that they had come to aid the police as they feared that there would not be enough security at the convention, though a short stroll downtown revealed that the area around the Quicken Loans Arena is heavily guarded. “I just drove 600 miles on my Harley Davidson from Connecticut, and I'll stay here till the end of the convention," said John Westlake. “I needed to come and show my support to Donald Trump and the cops, who are getting shot and killed! I will not get involved in any altercations, not unless someone strikes me and my boys."

“Just got a phone call that something was going down here, so I came to see what is happening," said Brian Murky, a tall biker from Ohio. “But there is nothing here, just a lot of friendly police officers."

Bikers for Trump has been preparing for months to descend upon the convention in Cleveland, but with time, the reason for their march on the city, and the identity of the enemy that called for their protection, has shifted and became murkier. With all the ups and downs of the primary season, not many remember that initially, the bikers announced that they are coming to town to protect Trump from the GOP delegates that are now welcoming their arrival. At the time, political analysts believed that top GOP leaders were plotting a move at the convention to make sure that Trump wouldn't become the official nominee, and the bikers were having none of it.

“I'm anticipating we'll be doing a victory dance," said Chris Cox, founder of Bikers for Trump, to Reuters in April. “But if the Republican Party tries to pull off any backroom deals and ignores the will of the people, our role will change." But as the convention grew closer, the chances of an upset in Cleveland seemed slimmer, and instead of the republican delegates, the young activists protesting trump across the nation became the enemy trying to disturb the democratic process. 

Since arriving at the city on Monday, the bikers gathered every day at a local park, to decide who went to patrol which part of the city. “I took time off work, without pay, to come here." says Jack Duan, who describes himself jokingly as a “lone wolf," since he drove alone from North Dakota for two days to get to the convention. “I think it a beautiful city, and I see a lot of pretty things here but I also see some things that aren’t so pleasant too. The way people want to express their opinions, it can be unfortunate, but it is America." Duan say that he supports Trump (“he speaks for the working, blue-collar, and middle class Americans that most of us represent”) but his main objective in Cleveland was to “protect the democratic process” from anyone who would seek to disturb the GOP convention. “You have a difference of opinions, vote with you conscious in November, don’t try to stop the process."

However, Duan stresses that he will not engage in any physical altercations. “I’m not here to pick up a fight, I’m here to protect the innocent people from harm, and work with the police. We are mostly veterans and retired law enforcement, and the police know we are here to support them and work with them in any way we can."

Other bikers say that they in fact do not support Trump, and are only here to see that protesters do not engage in anti-patriotic acts. “I don’t like either Hillary or Trump, and I’m not voting," said Murkey while observing the street with his friends. “But no one is going to be burning the American flag."

Despite the fears of some members of Bikers for Trump, the GOP convention In Cleveland ran smoothly, leaving the bikers to attend to other matters, such as helping Republican damsels in distress. In a crowded street corner near the entrance to the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is taking place, two blond middle aged women in elegant suits walk up to a tall biker in full regalia. “Excuse me, we need an escort to the convention”, says one of the women, and nods towards the anti-Trump demonstration shouting slogans behind a thick human shield of policemen. 

Getting to the convention would take the women about 5 minutes and they seemed to imply that the demonstrators pose a threat to Republican delegates, a common sentiment of the Republicans in town for the convention. “It would be my honor to help you, let me get my guys," the biker said, springing into action and signaling a few other bikers nearby to come over. “These ladies need our help getting safely to the convention," he says without a hint of sarcasm, and the group start making their way through the crowd.

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