A convoy of truckers near Washington, DC is a low-key protest


HAGERSTOWN, Md. — When a convoy of trucks pulled out of Southern California last month, rolling toward the U.S. capital just days after police in Canada cracked down on a legion of truckers occupying Ottawa, Washington swamped. is prepared for their arrival. The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning and members of the National Guard were deployed, along with hundreds of city police.

But this week, when the caravan of tractor-trailers, pickup trucks and RVs that had gathered to protest vaccination mandates and other coronavirus restrictions reached the capital region, downtown of Washington was operating as usual.

Convoy organizers say it’s early, their restraint has been strategic and the protesters are here for the long haul. They managed to secure audiences with various Republican politicians, including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who nodded in approval. And although mask mandates and local vaccine requirements have been rescinded across the country, including in Washington, convoy leaders insist they won’t leave until all vaccine mandates are cleared. will not be lifted.

“We’re going to keep increasing that pressure,” said Brian Brase, a northwest Ohio trucker and one of the convoy organizers. “They understand we’re in their backyard.”

The pressure, so far, has been relatively low.

Although there may have been several thousand people cheering from the roadsides or donating supplies along the convoy’s background route, there now appears to be a few hundred comings and goings to camp. base of the event, the Hagerstown Speedway, an 80-mile motor racing track. northwest of the city – truckers, but also pastors, shop owners and various right-wing activists.

Demonstrations start most mornings – but not on Wednesdays, when things have been postponed due to possible rain and snow – with hundreds of vehicles leaving the fast lane amid a rousing chorus of horns. They cruise down Interstate 70 and take a midday lap or two around the 64-mile Capital Beltway at the legal speed limit, much of it noticeable by the pro-Trump and anti-Biden buntings beating behind them.

In the evening, the convoy returns to the speedway, which has become a combination tent revival and tailgate party, complete with a communal food station, barbershop, vendors selling pro-Trump merchandise, huge piles of boxes containing Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’ anti-vaccine books, people in costume and live streamers everywhere you look.

It’s a far cry from the downtown Ottawa camp, where 18-wheelers blocked city streets, annoying local residents and annoying police. As the days passed, however, more than one member of the convoy began to wonder if the daily circuits around the ring road were sufficient.

“The rides are okay for a lot of people,” said Todd Church, 45, who joined the convoy in Indiana. “It’s not my choice. But I don’t want strong protests.

There is no shortage of mistrust on the highway, where people complain about how pandemic restrictions have upended their lives and how they have grown estranged from their families due to their distrust of vaccines. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, should be jailed, a sign reads. The graffiti on a truck states that “mandates = slavery”. But the specter of the last major right-wing protest in Washington, which led to the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol in 2021, looms over the protest like diesel fumes.

“I would love to see us in DC,” said William Kyle Glenn, 36, wearing a combat helmet with a face mask painted red, white and blue. But he added, mentioning Jan. 6, “I feel like it’s a trap.”

Many in the truck convoy seem to fear that if they went to Washington the government would incite them to a confrontation, insisting, without any basis, that this is what happened on January 6.

Several of the original convoy organizers had direct ties to the actual events of January 6 and the chaotic post-election period that preceded them.

One of the convoy’s early planners, Leigh Dundas, was an attorney for an anti-vaccine group whose leader was accused of entering the Capitol that day. Ms Dundas herself was filmed the day before the riot broke out, urging a pro-Trump crowd to call for the killing of any “suspected Americans” who may have helped undermine the 2020 election.

The America Project, a group that has supported Convoy since its inception, is led by Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. Mr. Byrne, together with Michael T. Flynn, who was a national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump, participated in a plot to persuade Mr. Trump to use the military to seize the voting machines in order to remain in office.

Organizers defended the presence of some far-right figures, saying they had been unfairly slandered by the left, but they also said they were monitoring their ranks for extremists.

At the speedway on Monday, a woman dressed in red, white and blue spandex, who goes by the name Q Patriot, stood on the flatbed truck that serves as the main stage for the convoy. “Jan. 6 was the most patriotic day of my life,” she began, but as she launched into a poem reading, which included the line “We know who was really behind September 11,” the sound suddenly cut off.

We don’t know what happened there. But Mr. Brase generally insisted that the convoy should stay on message.

“There are a lot of bad actors who want to get involved to try to find a way to bring us down,” he said.

Beyond convoy tactics, there is the question of objectives. As the Omicron variant quickly receded, the politics of Covid-19 and the debate surrounding them also faded, and attention turned to the war in Ukraine, inflation and soaring gas prices. .

Still, Mr. Brase insists that there are still many mandates to fight, especially the requirement to vaccinate federal employees, an order currently stalled in court. He also demanded that President Biden end the Covid-related national emergency declaration, which first came into effect under Mr Trump in March 2020 and which convoy leaders say has led to a series of constitutional abuses.

But while some in Washington remain puzzled as to the purpose of the convoy, Mr Brase insists it is not. He repeatedly stresses that he did not break any laws, or even particularly inconvenience anyone. And while the convoy may look like a parade of Trump boats on wheels, leaders are adamant that his cause is non-partisan and have even warned local organizers along the route not to make one. Trump rally.

Still, the question of whether the convoy achieved its stated goals should not be confused with whether it was effective, said Lara Putnam, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh who researched and participated in the wave of political activism resulting from the 2017 Women’s March. She compared the burst of activity on local Facebook pages planning the convoy of truckers to the flurry of postcard writing and organizing by grassroots anti-Trump groups that sprung up in 2017. “People were spending time and energy making peanut butter sandwiches, getting their kids involved,” Professor Putnam said Convoy or not, “it’s a social movement.”

Emily Cochrane contributed report.

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