The nation's capital has relatively relaxed rules concerning the exercise of First Amendment rights. Because of this, the "2 million bikers" en route to commemorate the victims of 9/11 won't be bothered while snarling city traffic Wednesday.
"It is not a crime to parade" through the city without a permit, Ted Gest, a spokesman for the D.C. attorney general's office, told U.S. News. That office prosecutes violations of D.C. law.
But, Gest cautioned, "I don't think we can speculate on what penalties the motorcycle riders might be subjected to for traffic or other offenses because we don't know what they're going to do."
The "2 Million Bikers to D.C." demonstration was announced in August and its last-minute request for a National Park Service event permit was denied.
Organizers had sought the temporary closure of some city roads and intersections to allow an efficient inflow and outflow of riders from the National Mall area, but park service spokesperson Carol Johnson told The Blaze "it would cause a severe service disruption of traffic... We couldn't provide adequate park police services and park police escorts and it would require a lot of road closures so it was denied."
In a Friday post on Facebook, the organizers apologized to city residents for what will likely be gridlock as the patriotic bikers rev their engines in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and the U.S. soldiers who shipped off to fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan 12 years ago.
"What could have been a one or two hour ride through will now likely be an all day event," the organizers said. The plan is to meet up outside D.C. and cross into the city sometime after 11 a.m. The exact route isn't being made public, they said, because of "security purposes."
— Dale (@Dbargen) September 10, 2013
Although bikers are being instructed to obey all relevant traffic laws – such as yielding to pedestrians and stopping at red lights – a spokesman for Washington's Metropolitan Police Department told U.S. News on Monday that police will move in "if there is a crime committed." Possible crimes, the spokesman said, include doing anything that requires a permit.
That's where D.C.'s demonstration-friendly free speech policies come in. Unlike in other American cities, where an impromptu parade – or one conducted after a permit is denied - can land participants zip-tied around the wrists in the back of a paddy wagon, D.C. allows them.
Gest pointed to the relevant city code, which says, "It shall not be an offense to assemble or parade on a District street, sidewalk, or other public way, or in a District park, without having provided notice or obtained an approved assembly plan."
However, the code also insists that organizers "shall give notice and apply for approval of an assembly plan" from the city, except for planned demonstrations with under 50 people, demonstrations that only use sidewalks and crosswalks or ones that are spontaneous reactions to major events.
The biker parade will likely be attended by hundreds or thousands of people and it meets none of the three exceptions. However, as Gest's confirmation and the city code itself make clear, proceeding without a permit is not a punishable violation of the law.
Bikers from across the country are making their way to D.C. Twitter and local press reports document groups travelling through Arizona, Florida, Maine, Tennessee, Texas and other states. Massive gatherings are documented in tweeted photos by enthusiastic bikers.
Although there will likely be fewer than 2 million participants, the event's name is a reflection of its impetus: wall-to-wall news coverage of another D.C. event on the 9/11 anniversary, the now-renamed "Million Muslim March." Amid the buzzing of bikes, participants of that demonstration, retitled "the Million American March Against Fear" in February, will rally on the National Mall – where they were granted a NPS permit – against government surveillance and alleged post-9/11 authoritarianism.