Thousands of motorcyclists gathered in Washington, D.C., this weekend amid confusion over whether it would be the final ride for Rolling Thunder, the annual Memorial Day weekend demonstration described by organizers as "an emotional display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country."
Organizers cited changing times, the growing size of the event, a lack of cooperation from federal officials and a price tag estimated at $200,000. Starting in 2020, smaller Memorial Day weekend programs will be held in individual states, the group announced in December.
President Donald Trump, however, has other ideas for the future of the annual Ride for Freedom.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that he "can't believe that Rolling Thunder would be given a hard time with permits in Washington, D.C." He called the bikers patriots and promised to help if he could.
On Sunday, it sounded as if the deal was done.
"The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come," Trump tweeted. "It is where they want to be, & where they should be. Have a wonderful time today. Thank you to our great men & women of the Pentagon for working it out!"
Not so fast, Rolling Thunder spokeswoman Nancy Regg said Monday. She told USA TODAY the group appreciates Trump's concern but has no plans to return to Washington. And it's not just about the money – she said businesses and individuals have come forward offering plenty of cash.
"As of right now, this was our final ride. We are done in D.C." Regg said. "We will keep going regionally."
Events are held over the entire weekend, but the Ride for Freedom takes place on Sunday. Founders Artie Muller and Ray Manzo planned for a gathering in Washington, D.C., during the 1988 Memorial Day weekend to draw attention to POW and MIA Vietnam War veterans.
The roar of the motorcycles would simulate the 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam dubbed Operation Rolling Thunder.
About 2,500 motorcyclists took part in the first ride. The number has ballooned since, and so have the costs and complications, the group said in its December statement.
"Reasons which determined our decision were the Pentagon Security Police/Washington Police officials continued lack of cooperation, increased harassment to our supporters and sponsors," the statement said. "Financial factors are draining the organization funds if we continued this major, costly annual event in Washington."
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Monday.
"Our mission is still our POWs and MIAs and making sure that veterans get the services they need," Regg said. "But we've been at this for 32 years, and our founder is 73 years old. It's time for a change."
Regg said plans call for state and local chapters to hold their own rides on Memorial Day weekend. That will provide opportunities for older vets who can't make it to Washington.
It also will allow young veterans with families to show their children what the ride is all about, she said. Still, she would not slam the door on a return to Washington in the future.
"A year is a long time, and I am not Artie," she said. "We're not going backward here."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rolling Thunder's last roar? Trump says ride will be back; organizer says not so fast