Some thoughts about the plans for Canada-style convoys to converge on Washington DC
First, this article isn’t about Ukraine. I started writing it yesterday and I don’t want to spike it, but Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine makes the subject matter seem small. I can only apologise and say I share the discomfort.
Since Joe Biden became President, online MAGA spaces have been mostly devoted to Covid. Anti-vaccine propaganda, anti-mask activism, fantasies about murdering Dr Anthony Fauci, opposing largely nonexistent lockdowns and freaking out about the Great Reset have replaced most of what passed for political discourse on the populist Right. Even content about Trump, the 2020 election or Critical Race Theory came a very distant second to the constant Covid conspiracy doomposting.
This wasn’t restricted to angry memes. From mid-2020, direct action, violence and threats of violence have characterised the Covid conspiracy movement.
Armed militias menacing state capitols during debates, murders of staff who asked people to wear masks, death threats against public health officials and menacing the Cheesecake Factory, anger at Covid measures and mitigations has been the most consistent driver of political violence for the last 18 months.
These local actions never really crystalized into a unified movement, though, at least in the US.
Abroad, it played out a bit differently. In the UK, Covid protests took on a Sovereign Citizen flavour and targeted vaccination clinics and test centres with fake writs and disruptive sit-ins. And then, more recently, Canadian truck drivers decided to occupy Ottawa, ostensibly as a protest against a vaccination requirement for crossing the US-Canada border.
Perhaps because it’s close, or perhaps because truckers fill some romantic-cultural niche, an Old West fantasy of macho loners travelling quiet roads. MAGA world looked to Canada with excitement and envy. They followed every little move, calling Justin Trudeau a new Hitler, a Communist and the actual literal secret bastard child of Fidel Castro. They insisted the police would never move on the blockades, and then reacted angrily when they did. They insisted that Canada was now a police state, a new Nazi Germany, for reopening Ottawa’s roads. And they started wishing, dreaming and wondering “Why not us too?”
It took a surprisingly long time for plans for US trucker convoys to materialise. There were too many groups, too many agendas, too many egos and maybe too much money to be made. Initial discussions about disrupting the Superbowl went nowhere.
But last week something changed, and different groups began to settle on a date: Sunday March 6. That would be the target date for convoys to convene in the DC area.
So here we are.
Multiple convoys have different timetables and aims
There are loads of groups online — on Facebook, Telegram, Zello and other platforms — all talking about convoys. Small and big, local and national, organised and informal. Some of these groups won’t actually do anything. Some will or already have split as organisers disagree. Some have already set off for DC.
These groups have different aims, different targets and different motivations; so do the different participants within a single group. Some might be surprisingly fluffy, flying American flags and talking vaguely about freedom. Some are especially angry about masks, or vaccines, or the lockdowns of 2020 when Trump was still President. Some are there because they see it as a continuation of their MAGA identity activism. Some are QAnoners, with WWG1WGA emblazoned on their vehicles.
Some are truckers. A lot, probably the majority, are not. The trucks are big and photogenic, but we’ll probably see a lot of private cars too.
Some are only arriving in the DC area on or just before March 6. Some are claiming they’ll be there by tomorrow. Some are aiming for the State of the Union on March 1, leading DC authorities to request help from the National Guard. 400 unarmed DC Guardsman, and another 300 from other states, will be in the District to prepare for any disruption that the convoys might cause.
But even now it’s not clear if we’re talking about dozens of trucks and cars over a few weeks, or thousands all arriving in a short time. It’s not clear because plans are still being made, remade, cancelled and amended by local groups.
For example, a ‘convoy’ set off from Scranton, Pennsylvania on Wednesday consisting of just one big articulated truck.
The organiser hoped more would join him, but all he attracted were a few cars and America’s Flag Truck, a pickup covered in flags (including a QAnon flag) that has its own Facebook group for some reason.
After trying for hours, he want home. But perhaps he’ll be back in March.
Forget the convoys; what happens when they arrive?
They call themselves convoys, but the convoying is certainly the least relevant part of this whole thing. Yeah, they might cause major traffic jams, but traffic jams are common enough. They might bring out some supporters to wave flags at them and receive loud honks in return.
But the big question isn’t the convoys. It’s what happens when they stop being convoys; what happens when they arrive. Will they try to blockade all the roads into DC, as some have threatened? Will they enter the District proper? If so, what will they do there? Barricade the White House? Put hot tubs on the streets of Georgetown? Surround the DC Jail to demand the release of the January 6 prisoners?
These are contentious points in the online groups discussing convoys, and most of the bigger groups aren’t saying what happens once they arrive. That’s probably because they haven’t decided.
The biggest convoy group says it won’t enter DC
The biggest and best organised convoy group will probably be the Peoples’ Convoy. It’s lashed up with antivaxxers like Robert F Kennedy Jr’s group, and its leaders have appeared on Fox News. The People’s Convoy left California on Wednesday consisting of a few hundred vehicles total, of which maybe a couple of dozen are articulated trucks (though there are lots of pickups).
The AZ Right Wing Watch Twitter has been following this convoy, which has the Trumpist OAN and NTD channels participating too.
Many of the trucks appear to be sponsored and decorated by campaign groups or candidates, and others are daubed in QAnon slogans.
The convoy is taking on masses of supplies as it stops. At each stop, local supporters massively swell the numbers as they cheer the convoyers on.
Organisers of the People’s Convoy have repeatedly stressed that they have no plans to enter DC:
The People’s Convoy will abide by agreements with local authorities, and terminate in the vicinity of the DC area, but will NOT be going into DC proper.
But I think that’s a way of keeping the organisers clean legally. They’ll bring them to the gates and then wash their hands of them. By the time they arrive in the DC area, participants will have had plenty of time to make plans.
They aren’t expecting a friendly welcome
On January 6, Trump supporters flooded to DC expecting to be heroes. I wrote recently:
There would be riots when Pence threw out all the Biden votes and Trump won. So perhaps that’s why he wanted his people in DC, to protect the city from “Antifa and BLM rioters”.
Or perhaps they were supposed to be Macris’s militia, there to help the military arrest the traitors in Congress and fire the first shots of the Second American Civil War.
Either way, he must be calling them to DC for a reason. Something important. A job. Of course he’d want them to be armed because it’d probably involve fighting. It might be dangerous, though, too. Battles are never bloodless.
This time, it’s different. The convoy backers know they won’t be facing a friendly welcome in Washington. They no longer see the various DC police forces as allies, and don’t expect to be shoulder to shoulder with the National Guard.
The difference in tone among the various online convoy groups is stark. Only the most extreme minority are talking about taking weapons and pitched battles. And part of that is because…
Many potential participants think it’s a trap
As soon as convoy-planning groups formed, some members thought the whole thing was a Deep State trap to lure ‘patriots’ to DC and arrest them. Many of them, of course, believe that January 6 was just such a trap too.
That paranoia only stepped up a gear after Canada arrested the truck protest leaders and dismantled the barricades. Fearmongering around the Canadian reaction (“it’s like the Nazis, the UN is involved, he’s a dictator now, New World Order”) spilled over into the US convoy hivemind. What if Biden does the same and uses the truckers to turn the USA into a communist dictatorship like Trudeau did?
So there’s a lot of nerves.
There’s not much authorities can do unless they break laws
Facebook isn’t shutting down convoy groups. The FBI isn’t arresting leaders. Payment platforms aren’t kicking out their fundraisers.
And that’s because these convoys aren’t doing anything illegal —yet. The People’s Convoy is rushing around telling everyone how much it isn’t going to break any laws.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t end up on the wrong side of the law, if they do try to block roads or harass people etc. But for now, people are allowed to drive around with dumb signs looking dumb, even if they’ve got six weeks of food rations with them.
They probably won’t be popular
The Canadian trucker protest was unpopular; polls consistently showed a solid majority of the public opposed both the message and the tactics. The Canadian government took a popularity hit for seeming weak, allowing it to go on so long.
In the US, opinion is always more partisan. I’m sure some of the GOP will try to hug the truckers close, and we’ll see a parade of Congress members lining up to address them. But most people support Covid vaccinations (most people have had Covid vaccinations) and aren’t militant coronaskeptics. The convoys can try to sell broader messages against mandates or masks, but the loudest people are also the most extreme. These are antivax convoys. There’s no reason for them, or us, to pretend otherwise.
Ukraine may change the agenda
Like I said at the start, it felt wrong to be finishing this article today. Russia invaded its neighbour with a massive force after Putin pretty much vowed to wipe Ukraine off the map altogether.
Perhaps the Ukraine crisis will mean nobody will notice the convoys, a piddling domestic story of little import. Or perhaps they’ll readjust: a number of the trucks I saw mentioned gasoline prices as another thing they’re angry about, and the Ukraine crisis will likely drive gas prices higher. The irony of driving across the country to protest the price of fuel is hard to miss.
It all depends on how many people join, how long they’re willing to stay and what they plan to do when they arrive. And right now, even though there are trucks already en route, nobody knows the answers to those questions. Including the participants themselves.
Particular thanks to Sara Aniano and AZ Right Wing Watch whose research into the convoy movement heavily informed this piece