Some 700 unarmed National Guard will now be deployed in the Washington, D.C. area as the region readies itself for trucker convoys that will start trickling into town beginning Wednesday afternoon and then likely continuing through next week as more truckers make their way across the country.
Troops are expected to help manage traffic disruptions caused by the convoys. It will be a group effort according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who announced late Tuesday that the forces would be a combination of National Guard and D.C. Guard. Fifty large tactical vehicles will be stationed at traffic posts in the region no later than Saturday.
None of the Guard have law enforcement authority or surveillance authority. They are expected only to assist agencies like the U.S. Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police Department, as well as state police forces from nearby Maryland and Virginia.
Truckers in the U.S. convoys have premised their protests on a variety of issues, all of them prevalent among the nation’s more extreme right-wing groups. Organizers for the convoys have cited their opposition to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates but simultaneously, much of the underpinning philosophy is fueled by ubiquitous conspiracy theories, including the belief that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
Demonstrators have also pointed to critical race theory as an impetus, as well as—ironically for a group planning miles-long sojourns—high gas prices.
Some of the truckers are also concerned about Jan. 6 “political prisoners.”
A protest is scheduled Wednesday afternoon at a jail in Washington, D.C. where defendants charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol are being held. That rally will get underway just after 1 PM on Wednesday.
It will likely coincide with the arrival of at least one convoy coming to the nation’s capital.
Bob Bolus of Scranton, Pennsylvania, told reporters at ABC News that he was leading his convoy out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday morning and expected to be in the D.C. area just before rush hour. ABC News reported there was a slight delay when he got started thanks to two flat tires but he eventually got on the road, according to Reuters.
Notably, the convoy was small, with just Bolus’ 18 wheeler and a few trucks behind him. He originally claimed 25 trucks would follow him on Wednesday.
Bolus, a longtime supporter of former President Donald Trump said he will not enter D.C. but will stick to Maryland and Virginia instead.
During a stop for breakfast and fuel, Bolus told ABC that even without the full convoy participation as planned from Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the attention on social media was “like having 10,000 people” along for the ride anyway.
Highway cameras near Baltimore, Maryland captured Bolus’s arrival late Wednesday afternoon. He was trailed by one truck decked out in Trump flags and a small number of cars.
The tow operator has been part of demonstrations supporting the president before, including in 2016 and 2020 when he parked a truck littered with anti-Democrat missives.
Bolus said he’s had “dialogue” and “conference calls” with other convoys, like those departing from California on Wednesday.
Reuters reported Wednesday from Pennsylvania that one organizer told reporters there were 30 trucks and vehicles in Bolus’s convoy. According to Reuters, who had a reporter following Bolus, the convoy’s numbers never broke more than 15 trucks.
One of those groups is the People’s Convoy departing from Adelanto Stadium in California. The group has eight stops planned and will be in Hagerstown, Maryland, by March 4.
The L.A. Times reported from Adelanto Stadium on Wednesday that several hundred demonstrators had gathered there before heading to Washington.
The American Truckers Freedom Convoy says it will depart from Washington state on March 1, putting their group in town by March 6.
The National Park Service confirmed to Daily Kos on Wednesday that at least one permit has been filed for a demonstration by a nonprofit organization at the Washington Monument on March 1.
The permit application has not yet been approved as of Wednesday morning. A spokesperson for the National Park Service (NPS) said that permits are only granted “when staff have the necessary information to ensure the safety of the public and the protection of park resources.”
“Then the permit will be issued,” NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst said. “It’s not unusual for permits for larger events to be issued just 1-2 days before the event.”
The request was filed by the KNK Foundation, a nonprofit organization run out of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and operated by Kyle Secfik, an MMA fighter currently running for governor of Maryland as an independent. Secfik has also been involved in organizing efforts for the Freedom Convoy USA, but on the application to the National Park Service, only KNK was listed.
Secfik noted on the application that KNK expects “1,000 to 3,000” people to join them on the grounds around the National Monument known as the Sylvan Theater “in support of Canadian convoys/lifting mandates in DC/USA.”
Under the “purpose of event” section, the applicant wrote: “Peaceful Demonstration/Assembly! Christian Music/Speakers against mandates. Support of Convoys in Canada. Lifting Mandates in DC/USA.”
And under the “plan for proposed activity,” the permit reads: “No Marching. Just masks and speeches at the stage.”
There will be a couple of tents, but no portable restrooms and according to the application, KNK has volunteers “ready to clean if there is any mess.”
The KNK protest is slated for the same day as President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address from the Capitol. Temporary fencing around the Capitol is expected to go up in advance of Biden’s speech. The district’s own Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton is expected to have a meeting with U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger on Wednesday. Holmes has expressed concern about fencing becoming a permanent fixture around the Capitol.
Though the Park Service received one permit application, local law enforcement agencies have not confirmed whether they too received requests. A request for comment was not immediately returned Wednesday.
In Virginia, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin told Daily Kos on Monday that the governor was “monitoring the situation” and directed the commonwealth’s secretary of the Department of Transportation to work with local police and “ensure all travelers are able to make it safely through Virginia.”
An inquiry from Daily Kos for more information about any possible arrangements the governor’s office may have made with tow removal services to assist law enforcement in advance of the demonstrations has not been addressed by Youngkin as of Wednesday.
A representative for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The convoys in Canada and the U.S. received financial backing from donors large and small, based in the U.S. and not. Republican lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul have cheered on the demonstrations, encouraging convoys to visit D.C. Fox News host Tucker Carlson has got in on the grift, selling “i [HEART] Truckers” shirts online.
According to Maj. Aaron Thacker, strategic communications advisoer for the D.C. chapter of the National Guard, troops are approved to help local authorities through Monday, March 7.
“The people who live, work and visit the District are part of our community and their safety is our first mission priority,” D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. Sherrie McCandless said in a statement Tuesday.