At New Hampshire’s Laconia Motorcycle Week, the language is foul, the wardrobe is leather, and it is among these holdout rebels that Trump has found support
There he is, the president of the United States, sitting astride a motorcycle in a leather jacket in front of the Capitol, a rifle in hand. There he is again, once more leather-clad, both of his middle fingers extended as he stands on the southern border.
The words written on the T-shirts and denim vests alongside the imaginary biker version of Donald Trumpexude similar vibes. “Finally someone with balls.” “Talk shit, spit blood.” “Trump 2020 the wall is coming.”
At Laconia, New Hampshire’s annual motorcycle week – the oldest such rally in the nation – apparel supporting Trump is on sale everywhere you look.
Liam Andrews, an 18-year-old who was working at a vendor tent that had perhaps the most formidable showcase of Trump shirts, doesn’t care much for politics. But he does know one thing: the Trump shirts sell more than anything else. By the time Laconia’s bike week came to an end on Sunday, his store had sold out of its most popular shirt, which read: “Trump 2020 – because f*ck your feelings.”
“Most of the bikers here hate liberals,” he said.
At its core, American biker subculture is rooted in the idea of rebellion – against society’s norms and against authority. It is about brash individualism, of saying and doing what you want, despite what others may think. In Trump, many bikers have found an unlikely idol: a non-biker real estate billionaire who nonetheless paints himself as a rebel, outsider and disruptor.
I think they like his crudeness, his rudeness,” said Bill Thompson, a lifelong biker who is and professor of sociology at Texas A&M University Commerce, where he studies motorcycle culture.
At rallies like Laconia, where tens of thousands gather along the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee every June, support for Trump is easy to find.
For most of the summer, Laconia’s Weirs Beach is a family friendly destination, a time capsule of nostalgia replete with arcades, a lakeside boardwalk and one of the nation’s few remaining drive-in movie theatres.
But for a week every June, Weirs beach is transformed as bikers descend here for the largest motorcycle rally in the north-east.
The language is foul. The wardrobe is leather. Engines are loud, as is the music. Booze flows freely. Tents sell chaps and vests with gun pockets. You can smoke where you like for the most part. There are daily wet T-shirt contests. In the most raucous bar, men pay women in lingerie to spank their bare bottoms with a paddle. And for a state so far north that it borders Canada, there are a surprising number of Confederate flags on clothing.
By and large, bikers are an ageing demographic and at times, it can feel like spring break for baby boomers, a time and place where the generally accepted rules of society do not apply.
It is among these holdout rebels that Trump has found a wellspring of support.
”Personally, I think it’s because he’s for the commoner, he wants to make sure everybody gets a fair shake,” says Vince Kenyon, 53, who was wearing a leather Bikers for Trump vest while smoking a cigar. “When they see somebody doing good, bikers will come together and support that person.”
Others echoed that sentiment.
“I don’t think he’s one of the bikers,” said Gail, a 59-year-old Harley rider from Massachusetts who was browsing Trump apparel and asked that her surname not be used for fear of losing business in her blue home state. “He’s just in touch with the blue-collar people.”
While Thompson sees reasons as to why bikers are attracted to Trump, he says the overall support still seems somewhat baffling.
“I would almost guarantee you [Trump] has never even sat on a motorcycle in his life,” he said. “Yet you go to a rally and these badass bikers are wearing T-shirts, they’ve got stickers, caps and decals. He’s their man.”
Back when he was still the host of The Apprentice, Donald Trump actually did sit on a bike when the bike makers from the Discovery channel show American Chopper made him a custom motorcycle (predictably, it was gold and had his name on it). However, Trump is admittedly not a biker and in 2017 recounted how he turned down an offer to ride Harley-Davidson bikes brought to the White House by the manufacturer.
Other politicians have more actively engaged the biker lifestyle. Trump’s former rival, the late Arizona senator John McCain, addressed bikers at the Sturgis rally during his 2008 presidential run. Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, has frequently taken part in motorcycle rides and even named his dog Harley.
But none saw the worship from bikers that Trump does.
“It’s all about attitude,” said Randy McBee, an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University and the author of Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist. “He’s got this sort of ‘no shit-taking’ kind of attitude that fits in with the image of the outlaw biker.”
Rightwing ideas, he added, have been popular in biker circles for a long time. But in Trump, they found somebody to personify those ideas.
Bill Hayes, a California biker who has written a number of books on motorcycle culture and outlaw motorcycle clubs, says conservative candidates have always been attractive to bikers, but that Trump’s flamboyance has resulted in an equally flamboyant embrace.
“A lower-key politician that embraces the ideals, would we like him or her? Yeah,” he said. “But in this case it’s all so over the top that the support is over the top.”
The biker love has not gone unreturned: Trump has repeatedly hailed the Bikers for Trump group, which is now a political action committee, and painted them as key allies.
“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump,” he told the conservative website Breitbart in March. “I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they get to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
Trump’s statement was read by many as a threat of potential violence against opponents if his administration were cornered.
He has also weighed in on biker issues, calling for a boycott of Harley-Davidson last year after the company announced it was shifting some production overseas to avoid tariffs. This spring, Trump reversed course on the company, calling EU taxes on the bike manufacturer “unfair” and vowing retaliation.
But at Laconia’s rally, a world away from trade disputes, Trump remains popular despite his seesawing on the country’s most beloved bike brand.
“The Trump shirts sell everywhere we go,” said Rita Farhat, who immigrated to the US from Lebanon nearly 20 years ago and sells biker apparel across the country.
Outside her tent on the sidewalk, two topless women – their breasts only slightly obscured with paint and pasties – were offering to pose for photos with passersby for tips. A stall next door was selling bongs. Engines revved and tattoo guns whined.
The Trump T-shirts continued to sell.