The “trucker convoy” protests—like all right-wing protests—have never been about their advertised grievance: that is, COVID-related vaccine and mask mandates and restrictions. Whether in Canada or the United States, it’s always been right-wing street theater designed to undermine democratic institutions and discourse by creating social and political chaos, while widely sowing disinformation along the way.
That’s become eminently manifest with their much-advertised American versions—which, unlike the protest that besieged Ottawa for three weeks, have splintered into about three different versions and even a localized variation with different timelines, and a couple have ended up calling it quits. Most of all, they are trundling on toward Washington, D.C., defiantly in the face of government “tyranny” that in fact is currently rolling back all such restrictions, as it said from the start it eventually would.
There appear to be at least three main convoys that organized to head toward Washington: a “People’s Convoy,” an “American Freedom Convoy,” and a “Freedom Convoy USA,” all taking different routes—though they also appear to use their names interchangeably, and may be just different wings of the same set of far-right organizers. “People’s Convoy” is the largest of them and appears to have deployed different routes, all arriving in the D.C. area this weekend, though apparently with no intention of blocking traffic or wreaking havoc there.
There’s also a Pacific Northwest regional “convoy” scheduled to descend on Olympia, Washington, on Saturday with the intention of shutting down the town. Called the “GRIT Freedom Festival” and organized by a coalition of far-right groups called March for Our Rights, it’s purportedly also a protest against Washington state’s pandemic restrictions.
Among the scheduled speakers Saturday is Loren Culp, the ex-cop and longtime “Patriot” movement figure who not only badly lost in 2020 as the Republican gubernatorial candidate, but refused, Trump-like, to ever concede his election loss. Culp is currently running in the GOP primary against eastern Washington incumbent Congressman Dan Newhouse, a conservative Republican who made the mistake of voting to impeach Donald Trump in February 2021; Culp has Trump’s endorsement.
As the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat notes, those measures are being rolled back at the very moment they’re arriving to protest the “tyranny”: “It’s as if the disease and the public health measures that went along with it were simply fresh targets for the same crowd that’s always down in Olympia calling the government tyrannical for one reason or another.”
The truckers, like everyone else, are tired of pandemic restrictions. It seems lost on them, or some of them, that those restrictions are being rapidly rolled back as covid-19, which has caused nearly 1 million U.S. deaths, is receding in most parts of the country.
Some of them say they want President Biden to repeal the national emergency declared by President Donald Trump in March 2020, as the pandemic hit. It was due to end Tuesday, but Mr. Biden extended it, mainly as a means to free up federal funds. As mask mandates recede and federal vaccine mandates have been circumscribed by the courts, the emergency—whose terms most Americans would be hard-pressed to define—seems one of the few remaining targets for the truckers’ ire, albeit a largely abstract one. On Wednesday, the White House unveiled a new road map to move the country off a crisis footing.
Nonetheless, downtown Washington is gearing up for the possible chaos the convoys might bring by deploying 700 unarmed National Guard members and preparing tow-away operations for vehicles deliberately obstructing traffic. The troops’ main purpose would involve assisting with traffic control.
All of the convoy organizers have right-wing backgrounds, including the organizers of the infamous Jan. 6, 2021 “Stop the Steal” rally, Amy Kremer and her Women for America First outfit, and Kimberley Fletcher and her Moms for America. Others similarly specialize in conspiracist fearmongering, including QAnon followers, vaccine opponents, and various “Patriots” ostensibly fighting “tyranny.”
“We do have people that are in power in this country that don’t care about we the people, they care about their own self and their own monetary value, that are getting rich off this ‘pandemic,’” U.S. convoy organizer Mike Landis—using air quotes with “pandemic”—told would-be donors in a fundraising video. He compared the Biden administration to a “dictatorship [and] communism-style regime.”
The largest and most organized is the “People’s Convoy,” which appears to have organized several cross-country routes beginning in southern California and working their way across the country. They all kicked off from Adelanto, California, on Feb. 23. The main group, according to their own itinerary, went through Kingman, Arizona, then through New Mexico and Texas before working their way to Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, and finally arriving in Hagerstown, Maryland, on Saturday.
The People’s Convoy originally recruited participants by saying its intended target was the the D.C. Beltway area on Saturday. However, convoy organizer Brian Brase announced on Friday that those plans had changed, telling supporters in Lore City, Ohio, that it now intended to stay in Hagerstown for both Friday and Saturday. A Saturday night rally is planned “only two miles from the Beltway.”
Organizers claim there are thousands of participants, but an Indiana State Police spokesman told the Post that there were fewer than 300 vehicles in the convoy when it arrived in Indiana. A majority of those, he said, were not large trucks but passenger vehicles. In reality, this “convoy” more closely resembles the “Trump Trains” that plagued the 2020 campaign landscape than the protest that shut down Ottawa.
Then there’s the “Freedom Convoy,” which originally was the brainchild of a Pennsylvania trucker named Bob Bolus, who organized his own “convoy” from Scranton. It turned into a procession of one truck (with a number of flag-waving pickups and SUVs supporting him from behind) which broke down en route after Bolus’ truck got two flat tires.
Bolus had attracted heavy press attention for plan when he told a Fox 5 D.C. reporter that he intended to “shut down” the Beltway, comparing his convoy to a deadly boa constrictor, which “squeezes you, chokes you, and it swallows you—and that’s what we’re going to do to D.C.”
But in case anyone thought this protest really was about vaccine mandates, Bolus also told reporters he planned to protest the death of Jan. 6 Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt, the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools, and rising fuel costs.
Bolus’ concept, however, was shared widely, and a number of other Freedom Convoys set out for D.C. One of these, like the People’s Convoy, started out in southern California, with scheduled stops in Salt Lake City, Denver and other major cities. However, it couldn’t keep its participants together for long, with some bugging out to join the People’s Convoy. Organizers told The New York Times they were calling it all off for lack of participants.
One “Freedom Convoy” route included stops in central Washington and Boise, Idaho, apparently taking a more northern route that wrapped up in Lebanon, Tennessee, before joining the others this weekend. One of them found himself without a vehicle mid-route when Penske—the rental company whose truck he had festooned with banners and driven halfway across the country—shut his truck down remotely.
“Penske does not support the people’s convoy movement,” the driver said on a Facebook stream. “So, I’m in a situation where I’m not going to be able to continue on.”
Some of the Freedom Convoy truckers were scheduled to arrive in D.C. on March 1, in time for that evening’s State of the Union speech before Congress. They planned a big rally in Washington, promised attendance of 3,000, and set up a stage with speakers. Only about 20 people showed up.
“We stood our ground,” Bolus said Thursday. “But many of the truckers did not show up because they were fearful of losing their trucks. If they all followed us, they would have helped to make our point as we drove around the beltway. The fact is, many were afraid to go.”
“I think we intimidated them,” Bolus said. “We’ve been recognized world-wide.”
Published with permission from Daily Kos.