"People are pouring into Washington in record numbers. Bikers for Trump are on their way," President-elect Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday, taking a break from posts blasting John Lewis and his horrible Atlanta district, the biased and dishonest media and outgoing President Barack Obama's signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, which Trump calls the "Unaffordable Care Act."
At the helm of the bikers brigade but poles apart from Trump's bombastic style is Chris Cox. The charismatic and exceedingly polite leader of Bikers for Trump is a chainsaw artist who lives in Mount Pleasant, S.C., right outside of Charleston. He sold sculptures of dolphins and pelicans in gas station parking lots to finance his travel to the cross-country series of biker rallies that eventually led to this week's strong showing of supporters roaring into Washington on two wheels.
"Chris has always been a really great guy and I’m not blowing smoke," said his lifelong friend Randy McCray of Atlanta, who grew up with him in Alexandria, Va. "He’s like that commercial - the most interesting guy in the world."
The two played football together at West Potomac High School then parted ways - McCray to the University of South Carolina and Cox to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. McCray and his brother own metro area restaurants including The Mill Kitchen & Bar in Roswell and McCray's Taverns in Smyrna and Lawrenceville. Cox pursued art.
The guys keep in regular touch; Cox presented a wooden sculpture of a bear to McCray's daughter. But the metro Atlanta restauratuer wasn't aware his old pal had become a national figure of sorts until he saw him on television.
"He’s not afraid to take a chance," McCray said. "To do this: did it surprise me? Not really.
The bikers are using the term "wall of meat" for the human protection ring they indeed to form around Trump supporters and possible detractors, but it'll be a peaceful stand, Cox says.
"We don’t want any of our members out there in shouting matches," he said during a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We don’t want the destruction of private property."
Cox was born in Raleigh and grew up in the Washington suburbs. His father, Earl Cox, was a journeyman political operative, working for the departments of Agriculture and Labor and on George H.W. Bush's campaign in North Carolina. Chris Cox caught the political bug early and worked with Bush's vice president, Dan Quayle, during campaign events.
"That’s where I learned how to throw political rallies," he said.
He studied political science and communications at UNCW, but dropped out before graduating. The 48-year-old hasn't been married, doesn't have kids and lives with his mom and stepfather in a stately brick home in a well-heeled subdivision - all freedoms he readily notes make his road warrior lifestyle a possibility.
And here's the other thing about the head of Bikers for Trump: he's not really much of a biker.
Cox rides a Harley Davidson CVO Street Glide Screamin Eagle but didn't necessarily drive it to every Bikers for Trump rally. Sometimes he'd tow it to events on his flatbed truck, where his dog, Trigger, often joins him in the cab. Other times he'd get to a town and rent a bike there to motor to the rally.
"I’ve had bikes on and off my whole life, but I’ve never considered myself that quintessential biker," he said. I don’t wear chaps, I don’t go to meetings. I’m a lone wolf guy."
So how in the world did he come to lead Bikers for Trump? Almost by accident.
"The way it started was kind of bizarre," he said.
In 2013 he became interested in HR 1836 - the Monuments Protection Act - spurred by the site of World War II veterans locked out of the National World War II Memorial amid a government shut down. The National Park Service at the time said it had no choice, but the site of elderly veterans unable to pay tribute to their fallen brethren quickly became a political flashpoint.
Among other things, HR 1836 stipulates that the federal government would agree to keep facilities open even times of government shut down. (Read the entire bill here; it was referred to the subcommittee on federal lands in 2015).
His interest led to action and during the government shutdown, intriguing headlines started cropping up.
“Mystery man mowing Lincoln Memorial lawn told to move on by park police,” the Kansas City Star reported.
“Mystery Man Spotted Mowing Lincoln Memorial Lawn Despite Shutdown,” the Huffington Post noted.
Guess who the mystery man turned out to be?
"Lincoln Memorial lawn mowing hero Chris Cox gets a chainsaw for his shutdown efforts," the Washington Post reported in a follow-up piece.
His interest in Trump as a candidate stemmed from Trump's vocal support for veterans, among other topics that interested him, and he figured becoming part of a successful presidential campaign would eventually lead to support for the monuments bill.
"Even though I’m not a veteran I work on behalf of veterans," he said. "I was trying to serve my country with my bill."
His first rally attracted about 50 people in Virginia Beach, Va.
"We got some media. I was testing the waters," he said. "People were saying, 'You can’t harness bikers. They’re not political. They’re not going to show up. If they do it’s going to be to drink some beer.'"
Subsequent rallies in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and throughout Florida started growing. In August 2016 the group had a presence at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, a huge annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. Miranda Lambert was the headliner. Bikers for Trump later flocked to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.
Life on the road was interesting, but hardly glamourous. Cox often slept in a camper and would stop every few weeks to knock out a few wood sculptures he could sell for a few hundred bucks to finance travel to the next town.
"My air conditioning was a fan," he said. "My bathroom was a milk jug. There’s nothing romantic about it."
His campaign tactics honed with the Quayle camp served him time and again. He'd roll into a new town, hook up with a bar popular with bikers and spread word via social media.
"I go into an area and I don’t know anybody and within four or five days I’m showing up with a couple hundred guys," he said.
Cox, now a familiar face on Fox News, where he's been giving updates leading up to the inauguration, was assiduous in pointing to news coverage to document his recollections from the road. There's no official headcount but Politico estimates the group numbers around 30,000. More than 200,000 Facebook users follow the official page.
"You can check sources and research the facts and figures," Cox said. "I know that’s important to journalists."
Courtly comments like that, and his cotillion-class table manners (during a casual lunch at a chain restaurant he nibbled at a piece of bread with a knife and fork, thanked each server for his or her contribution to the meal and then mopped a tiny drop of sweet tea with his napkin, lest he cause any mess), may seem a bit of a departure from the guy he's been rallying for.
But Trump's ballast and Cox' unique tactics seemed to fit.
"Since it wasn’t a mainstream candidate I couldn’t build this coalition in a mainstream manner," he said.
He's now been in Washington for weeks, getting ready to lead an Inauguration Day rally in John Marshall Park, not far from where official swearing-in events will take place.
"Believe it or not President Elect Donald Trump just called me to thank all the Bikers For Trump for all their hard work," he said in a recent social media post. "He's instructing his staff to give us the resources to put on the best rally possible. So hats off to all the bikers. I'll see you in Washington DC for the inauguration."
And after this?
"I won't miss it," he insists of all the travel, rallies and media attention. He said he plans to head back home and concentrate on his art.
"You don’t have a lot of opportunities to serve your country," he said. "It was exciting but I’m enjoying sleeping in my own bed."
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