The American Legion Riders are an offshoot of the American Legion veterans' organization, conceived in Michigan in 1993 by a pair of longtime riders who wanted to form a motorcycle enthusiasts association within the organization:
American Legion Riders chapters are well known for their charitable work, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local children's hospitals, schools, veterans homes, severely wounded servicemembers and scholarships. Since 2006, Riders nationwide have participated in the Legion Legacy Run, to annually raise money for the Legacy Scholarship Fund, established to provide scholarships to children of U.S. military personnel killed since Sept. 11, 2001.
Currently, 106,000 American Legion Riders meet in over a thousand chapters in every domestic department and in at least three foreign countries. Riders in Iowa have formed an honor guard called The Five Star Freedom Riders, and Riders in Mulvane, Kan., founded the Patriot Guard to protect the sanctity of military funerals from protesters. Riders in all states have escorted military units returning home from combat tours overseas, conducted massive cross-country fundraising events for wounded warriors from all services, and have raised millions of dollars for countless local, state and national charities.
In February 2017, some American Legion Riders who stopped by an outlet of the Dave & Buster's restaurant chain in Kentwood, Michigan, encountered some difficulties with the management over their attire, specifically their jackets:
In the four years Victor Murdock has had his American Legion Riders motorcycle jacket, he cannot recall ever being accused of being in a gang.
But that's just what happened when he and three friends met up at Kentwood's Dave & Buster's on Feb. 25.
Murdock describes a confrontation with Dave & Busters General Manager Josh Leibowitz shortly after he arrived to meet the other members of his party.
Murdock said another employee first asked him to take off his beanie cap, which he agreed to do.
"Then I turned to my right, and the manager was standing right there," he said. "He placed his hand on my chest and said, 'You're not coming in here.' He basically explained to me their company policy and said I can thank Chicago for this — whatever that means — that anything gang-related you can't wear there."
The issue, apparently, was that Dave & Buster's has a dress code for customers that precludes the wearing of "evidence of gang affiliation," a policy that extends to "motorcycle jackets displaying patches" without regard to whether those jackets or patches reflect membership in a benign organization and don't actually express any form of gang affiliation:
The [American Legion Riders] vests have patches of the American flag, the Prisoner of War flag and a bald eagle.
Founded in 1993, the American Legion Riders are a well-known veterans' biker group, complete with by-laws and membership rules. This is not a group affiliated with criminal activity or other nefarious acts. According to the Legion website, there are at least 106,000 American Legion Riders in over a thousand chapters.
In a prepared statement, April Spearman, vice president of marketing for Dave & Buster's, explained the company-wide dress code policy, and why the group was asked to remove their jackets or turn them inside-out.
"Our dress code, which prohibits evidence of gang affiliation, is in place to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy themselves in a fun and safe environment," she wrote in the statement. "Though we understand that the American Legion promotes a positive mission, for consistency reasons we cannot allow motorcycle jackets displaying patches or rockers."
"We are extremely grateful to all of our active military members and veterans and are honored to have them as valued guests in any of our locations," she wrote. "Our policies are in no way meant to be disrespectful and we apologize for any frustration this may have caused."
Attempts [by the group] to explain their affiliation with American Legion Post 179 in Grandville were met with a reiteration of the policy, Murdock said.
"I get it," he said. "Everyone has to have a policy to keep the unwanted element out. But an American flag and a bald eagle does not represent a gang element."
After the incident garnered negative publicity (including the usual social media calls for a boycott), Dave & Buster's announced their intent to "review [their] dress code policy and seek input from veterans groups" about it:
The company is now expressing a desire to review the dress code policy and seek input from veterans groups, according to a revised statement from Vice President of Marketing April Spearman.
"We recognize the need to educate our team members about the American Legion, and have reached out to the local American Legion Post 179, and the national organization for guidance," Spearman wrote in the statement. "In addition, we will review our approach to our dress code."
Murdock said he has spoken with a Dave & Buster's executive, who plans to travel to Michigan to meet with members of the local American Legion groups.
"We're going to sit down and try to hash out some of the concerns about the policy," he said. "Just so stuff like this doesn't happen in the future."