Palin, McCain, and Rolling Thunder

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Have you read enough about Sarah Palin and her less-than-magical mystery bus tour?

There was one intriguing connection that wasn’t made in many of the media accounts of her participation in the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle extravaganza in Washington, DC, this past weekend: Palin was hanging out at an event that used to be enemy territory for John McCain.

Rolling Thunder was started in late 1980s to raise awareness about Vietnam POWs missing in action. At that time, many of its organizers and activists accepted the notion (or conspiracy theory) that the US government had knowingly left behind US GIs in Vietnam, and was covering up this dastardly deed. (See Rambo: First Blood Part II). And for many who believed this, McCain, a former POW, was an enemy, for he would not join their cause and—worse—he co-chaired with Sen. John Kerry a Senate investigation that essentially found that Rambo was wrong. Their probe, completed in 1993, concluded:

While the Committee has some evidence suggesting the possibility a POW may have survived to the present, and while some information remains yet to be investigated, there is, at this time, no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.

This finding enraged the Ramboists within the POW/MIA community. In fact, John Holland, one of the founders of Rolling Thunder, fiercely opposed McCain’s presidential bid in 2008. (Holland also denounced McCain for having collaborated with the enemy when McCain was a POW.)

With the passing years, the Rolling Thunder rally has become less about (nonexistent) POWs and more about itself and motorcycles. And there was Palin, turning the event into a platform for herself. She was mostly well received, it seemed, at this photo-op. But if she had brought her once-partner McCain along for the ride, the picture could have been rather different.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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