Chris Matthews Calls Rolling Thunder A “Right Wing Easy Rider”

For some bizarre reason, Chris Matthews decided yesterday to bash the decades old Memorial Day tradition of Rolling Thunder during another one of his slaps at Sarah Palin:

Perhaps Matthews doesn’t care, perhaps he’s just ignorant, but a few minutes on Google would have told him what Rolling Thunder is about:

To appreciate how far Rolling Thunder has come, you must go back to where and how and why the Rally got started.

It was a silent collective cry of American Prisoners of War (POWs) left behind that prompted Ray Manzo, Corporal USMC, to try in some small way to make things right. As the summer of 1987 approached, Manzo observed some veterans by the Reflecting Pool near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. and asked them for help. His idea: Host a motorcycle run in the nation’s capital to show the country and the world that abandoned American soldiers in Vietnam still mattered to their fellow servicemen and the country for which they sacrificed their freedom.

From that day on, things began to happen. Fellow veterans embraced his idea and began to help. There was retired Army Sergeant Major John Holland, head of the American Foundation for Accountability of POW/MIAs, Ted Sampley with Homecoming II Project at the Last Firebase vigil, retired Marine 1st Sergeant Walt Sides, president of the non-profit Warriors Inc, and Bob Schmitt who had a POW family member.

Walt Sides recalled how his first meeting with Manzo left a lasting impression. “I remember it was a pretty, sunny, warm day not long after Memorial Day in 1987. I can still see him walking up the steps towards us (Holland, Sampley, and Schmitt). He looked just like a Marine climbing those steps,” Sides claims, “kinda’ dumb looking, with a look that said: ‘Boys, I need some help.’ ” It’s an old truth that a Marine can always spot a fellow Marine, no matter how out of uniform or far away.

Manzo explained his idea and asked, “Could we do a run of motorcycles for the cause?” According to Sides, “John Holland and I looked at each other and said: Let’s do it!” And it was then the name “Rolling Thunder” was adopted for the Rally. Schmitt was staring in the direction of the Memorial Bridge while listening intensely to Manzo’s idea and simply blurted out, “It will be the sound of rolling thunder coming across that bridge.” The name stuck.

Anyone who’s been in D.C. on a Memorial Day since then will tell you there’s nothing quite like it, and if you’re anywhere on the East Coast you’ll see motorcycles on the highways heading towards D.C. today. It’s too bad Matthews was too wrapped up in scoring political points to bother to find out who he was smearing.

Also, someone please tell Matthews that some of those “outlaw” bikers he’s talking about are doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    Chris Matthews continues to be an idiot. News at 11.

  2. ClericalGal says:

    The Rolling Thunder guys are incredible people. About 3 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, my mom and I visited my dad’s grave at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, CA. He was a WWII vet. Rolling Thunder had arrived at the cemetery and some of its members were visiting nearby grave sites. My mom had been kneeling at my dad’s grave but she couldn’t get up and I couldn’t pull her up. I went to one of the Rolling Thunder guys to help, and he was happy to oblige. Really nice guy. Matthews is a tool, but that’s hardly a surprise to anyone.

  3. john personna says:

    Did you listen? He meant “easy rider” in a positive way, meaning that Rolling Thunder had an iconic 70’s origin, in his view a flip of the hippies.

    You shouldn’t try to interpret folks like Matthews to produce the meaning that most agitates you. I know that is human nature, but you really need to suspend belief with anyone for a moment, and try to see where they are coming from.

  4. mike acquisto says:

    CHRIS MATHEWS is a total meathead pain in the butt! If you really listen to him, he says stupid stuff like this on a daily basis. To my friend above, we know where he’s coming from. . . he’s a pampered child of the 60’s

  5. sam says:

    What JP said. Matthews was positive about them. He said the group was forged in the same 70s crucible as the anti-war left, but because of their experiences, as veterans, they came out at at a different point. Really, Doug…

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Chris Matthews is still on the airwaves??

  7. DC Loser says:

    I’m going to be an outlier here. I live in DC and see these guys descend on DC every Memorial Day. Other than this one weekend of the year, how many of these people do anything or give another thought to veterans and those still fighting? To me, it’s just an excuse to ride and party for the most part.

  8. @Sam @JohnP

    Sorry, calling them “outlaws” and saying that it’s all about the sound of the motorcycles completely misses the point. I know a few guys who do this, as well as others who have taken on themselves to show up at funerals for fallen soldiers and stand as a barrier to the Westboro Baptist Church imbeciles. This is a big deal for them and Matthews demeaned it.

    He should be ashamed but then Tweety has no shame

  9. Wiley Stoner says:

    Take note of this folks. It will probably never happen again. I agree with Mantis. I am going in to catatonic shock.

  10. Southern Hooser says:

    mantis says: Friday, May 27, 2011 at 14:26

    Chris Matthews continues to be an idiot. News at 11.

    I agree, but he is a left wing nut.

  11. john personna says:

    Come on Doug, are you going to pretend for the sake of argument that Harley buyers, with their chrome and leather, aren’t enjoying the symbolism?

    This isn’t a Prius club we are talking about.

    (lolz, let’s all hold hands and pretend something silly for the sake of an internets thread.)

  12. john personna says:

    lolz2, maybe you should buy a Vespa Doug, and ride that in the next Rolling Thunder.

  13. anjin-san says:

    I saw a profile of these guys on a news show once, seems like a good group. Certainly their stand against the Westboro Baptist Church weighs heavily in their favor.

  14. I am a member of Rolling Thunder, Tennessee Chapter 4. I’m not some outlaw guy on a Harley; I’m a girl on a Kawasaki who is a mother, a professional, and the child of a United States Marine who served this great nation in Vietnam. I am a member of Rolling Thunder in his honor and in honor of all out military men and women who currently serve, but most importantly, I am a member in memory of those our country has left behind and decided to let remain forgotten. I post here today as an individual and I’m not speaking for the Rolling Thunder organization. We are made up of INDIVIDUALS who come from all walks of life, who have had different experiences, and disparate political beliefs. We are not a political organization. We support those in office where possible with the express intent to find ways to bring to light the issues of POW/MIAs. We raise money and provide our time and expertise for toward thes endeavors. We are NOT a motorcycle club. We use motorcycles to highlight our cause. I realize the knee jerk emotion “Prius drivers” experience when they see us en mass is one of fear and/or dismay, bit that’s the problem with this country isn’t it? The men and women we ride for every year have given you the right to feel and say as you wish; to jump on the latest bandwagon (green, political correctness, etc.) and what you forget is that we represent the fallen and forgotten who have given you this right. It’s my hope that when you see the men and women who ride with Rolling Thunder that you will stop and ask them why they ride. Please forgive typos…it’s difficult to edit on the small screen of a smart-phone. In any case…I hope you understand the intent behind my words.

  15. frankie andrews says:

    Way to go Sue! Ride to the Wall to make noise & party? DC Loser has the right name!! Rolling Thunder only started the Ride to get our GOVERNMENT to go back and find those who were left behind in ALL previous wars, and we will not stop until the job is DONE!
    Chris Matthews, Maybe its time to retire! Did u ever serve? Obviously not, because I dont hear u talking about Homeless Vets, lack of proper treatment, long delays & lost paperwork. You talk as if Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard Riders, Citizens Soldiers Inc. , and MANY other organizations just want to make NOISE!!!. If Veterans and their families needs were left up to J#@@A^*es like u, no one would volunteer to serve. This IS NOT about Sarah Palin, or anyone else, JUST THE POW-MIA issue, and veterans rights! Don’t go away Mad, Chris Matthews, but PLEASE DO GO AWAY…

  16. Joe Miller says:

    What you said, Andrews (both of you). I am also a member of Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 4. Our ONLY mission is to ensure that the Government lives up to their responsibility and bring either the remains, or the actual soldier home from all wars, not just the Vietnam war. If the embeciles above think we are just a bunch of loud party people on Harleys, then they should come to our monthly meetings. You will find doctors, lawyers, congressmen and many other people from all walks of life with only one purpose…to promote the POW-MIA issue. The above mentioned folks need to understand what they are talking about (including Chris Mathews) before they come off as talking out of their butts.

  17. john molloy says:

    I would be remiss and negligent if I did not provide a statement in support of my brothers and sisters in ROLLING THUNDER, Inc and Governor Palin. The primary objective of ROLLING THUNDER has always been the resolution of the POW issue and they have always been faithful to the cause of our unreturned servicemen which is more than I can say about Chris
    Matthews who never served in our nation’s military. (The Peace Corps for him may have been
    his way of avoiding military service and staying out of combat). ROLLING THUNDER has
    devoted itself to the POW issue and other veterans issues for over 24 years and have been
    much for which they should be proud. They, unlike Chris Matthews, if called upon would defend
    America with their dying breath. Governor Palin attended ROLLING THUNDER this past
    weekend and was very gracious and unassuming, not like the loudmouth, Chris Matthews, whom I feel is a disgrace and should be treated accordingly.

    In my jungle Mr. Matthews is worse than just another asshole.
    John Molloy
    National Vietnam & Gulf War Veterans Coalition