While the nation watched counter protestors deal a blow to the alt-right movement at Washington, D.C.’s Unite the Right 2 last weekend, President Donald Trump was in New Jersey hanging out with a bunch of pot-bellied baby boomer motorcycle enthusiasts.
They call themselves the Bikers for Trump, and many people around the country who saw the photo of Trump pledging allegiance to the flag with graying men wearing knockoffs motorcycle vests (“cuts”) bearing patches that say things like “I Love Guns and Titties” and “USA Terrorist Hunter Permit” wondered who the hell these people are.
The answer is more complicated than you might expect.
Founded in 2015 by Chris Cox, a South Carolina chainsaw wood carving artist, Bikers for Trump is best described as a Donald Trump fan club, comprised largely of middle-aged and senior citizen motorcycle enthusiasts. Cox has grand ambitions for the group. He loves to go on cable news and sell the organization as a presidential security force, a political fundraising outfit, and a grassroots advocacy group.
These claims don’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny. The closer you look at Bikers for Trump, the more it seems that the thing they are best at is selling T-shirts.
The Bikers for Trump claim that they “face off” with progressive protestors regularly. Cox went on Fox Business after the inauguration to claim that his group “served many knuckle sandwiches” during the protests.
Googling “Bikers for Trump Inauguration Fight” yields only one instance of a scuffle, which lasts about 30 seconds. Prior to the inauguration, several news outlets spent column space on the Bikers’ claim that they were ready to protect first responders with a “wall of meat.”
Bikers for Trump does serve as a volunteer security force at Trump rallies. Though they’ve received plenty of media coverage in exchange for those services, their actual impact is hard to ascertain. A Politico piece describing their role at Trump events said the Bikers are often “following close behind law enforcement officials” rather than performing duties normally reserved for them.
It is also not exactly accurate to call Bikers for Trump as a political advocacy organization, because they don’t really stand for anything except for supporting the president no matter how mercurial his whims may be. Their most prominent political maneuver to date has been to support the Trump tariffs that forced Harley-Davidson to move their manufacturing abroad. Yes, their largest single political statement so far was anti-biker.
Conservative publications have tried to paint the Bikers for Trump as a grassroots political organization, but the details of their events are decidedly light on politics. A Washington Examiner piece touting the group’s potential political power stated, “Bikers for Trump was hosting a rally, ostensibly to promote the gubernatorial bid of local Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis. But DeSantis didn’t appear and his name was barely mentioned.”
The recent New Jersey event that Trump planned with the Bikers for Trump as counterprogramming to the Unite the Right 2 counter protests in D.C. was similarly light on the issues. Reporters covering the gathering described something that was much more like a photo-op than a meaningful political meeting:
“Dozens and dozens of gleaming Harleys, Hondas and other motorcycles descended on the central New Jersey property for what had been billed as an outdoor photo-op with Mr. Trump… Mr. Trump signed autographs and posed for selfies and his guests booed reporters.”
“Later, when the rain had eased, Mr. Trump walked outside the residence, where the bikers had gathered with their motorcycles on the drive. He posed for more pictures, stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and urged the bikers to rev their engines. ‘Let’s hear those engines now,’ he called out, gesturing for them to go louder as the motors roared.”
There is one thing the Bikers are definitely good at: hawking merch.
Though their website store is currently down (presumably to switch 2016 merch to 2020 merch), the Bikers are selling $26 T-shirts, $10 small patches, and a “large patch” will cost you a mere $75 on Facebook.
When the Bikers threw their support behind Trump in his recent conflict with Harley-Davidson around tariffs, it was reported that the Bikers merch is made in Haiti, not America.
“If I get a T-shirt made in the USA, it’s going to cost about $8 more. I looked far and wide to try and get a shirt made in America, it’s just they get you, they gouge you.” Cox told the New York Times. The irony of this statement coming from a group that supports protectionist tariffs has been well-documented.
Quotes like this one point towards the real apparent motive behind Bikers for Trump.
Cox has the colorful profile of the kind of politically adjacent grifter that has become common on both sides of the aisle in the Trump era. Before launching Bikers for Trump in 2015, Cox was pulling publicity stunts like mowing the Lincoln Memorial lawn during a government shutdown. He also has political connections in his past: he was once Dan Quayle’s body man.
While Cox has created a PAC, Bikers for the President, and donations are being made to the president from the PAC, the numbers and business structure seem a bit off. Cox claims his group has 100,000 members but that doesn’t quite match his donation records. The most recent quarterly reports from the Bikers for the President PAC list $18,619 in donations and $12,036 in expenditures.
Additionally, Cox is the owner of Bikers for Trump LLC, a for-profit business, not a 501(c)(3). The group also appears to be running a GoFundMe campaign with a $100,000 goal. There are limited FEC documents available online about the PAC and almost no information about the LLC. The Daily Dot reached out to Bikers for Trump for comment on their finances, with questions about how much money each entity brings in and how much Cox is paid, and we have not received a response.
So, what is Bikers for Trump?
They are bodyguards who don’t bodyguard, a political group that doesn’t push particular politics, and a grassroots fundraising entity that doesn’t seem to generate much in the way of fundraising.
Bikers for Trump appears to be what you thought it was at first glance: cosplay. Aging white men who define themselves by wearing knock-off, one-percenter “cuts” like those worn by motorcycle clubs and The Sons of Anarchy get to add a layer of the political to their costume. The bikers get to feel like they are the president’s political vanguard, absent the muscle and influence actually filling that role would require.
Bikers for Trump provide what the president loves: a sense of macho adoration. They are the perfect support group for the president: they don’t do much and they don’t ask for anything in return, except that Trump play along with their fantasy.
Recently, Biker for Trump Michael Shelby told the Washington Examiner that following Trump is like being in the military, “You fall in line and you follow orders.”
And that’s exactly where Bikers for Trump came from, the desire to play dress up with the president, while the founder makes a few bucks along the way.