Three weeks ago, when the “People’s Convoy” and its 100 or so trucks pulled into the Washington, D.C., area, visions of repeating the shutdown of Ottawa by a similar convoy buoyed the hopes of its organizers, participants, and supporters. They set up camp at a racetrack in nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, where they revved up their engines and their far-right conspiracist rhetoric about COVID-19 vaccine mandates and masking and Joe Biden, or whatever was floating their boat that day.
This week, their ambitions deflated to some regular routine loops around the Beltway, a few photo ops with Senator Ted Cruz, and maybe going back to California and trying the same thing in Sacramento, they started filing out of Hagerstown. Some of them swore they would be back, but it’s not clear they’ll even make it back to the West Coast.
The convoy revealed just how pathetically thin their disguise of “nonpartisan” protest—as they claimed to reporters they were, despite the plethora of Trump 2024 and Let’s Go Brandon flags at the scene—really was: Besides their meetings with Cruz and other Trumpite Republicans, they had difficulty explaining just what it was they were protesting, what their demands might be, and what they intended to do force a response.
The whole circus, in fact, simply manifested what the operation appeared to be from the outset: right-wing agitprop, providing extremists an outlet for their impotent rage at being out of power in the White House. The final tally of convoy participants showed it was comprised of 258 cars, 68 motor homes, and 95 trucks.
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As Zachary Petrizzo (whose reporting on the convoy for Daily Beast has been first-rate) wryly observed, the hapless convoy organizers “kept stepping on rakes.” This included getting into fights on the freeway with Beltway drivers (including a motorcyclist assaulted by convoy participants) and feeling persecuted when people angry at them flipped them off: “Six antifa vehicles! Six antifa vehicles,” one shouted over CB radio during a traffic confrontation. “Keep your heads on a swivel!” said another.
During its final week in Hagerstown, the group became increasingly desperate, with two of its medics leaving and factions emerging between those who believed the convoy was “corrupt[ed]” and those who thought it wasn’t. Morale was also dropping fast, and it appeared that the $2 million raised was drying up quickly, as organizers increasingly tightened the restrictions on how and when fuel reimbursements would be distributed to truckers.
After performing loops around the Beltway for its first week or so encamped at Hagerstown, convoy organizers—whose COVID-related demands kept shifting as mandates increasingly began ending regardless of their demands—finally managed to arrange meetings with a handful of Republican lawmakers: Cruz and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, as well as House Republicans Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
Cruz praised the Ottawa truckers for shutting down the Canadian capital for two weeks: "'The People's Convoy' continues that legacy," said Cruz. "They want government to leave them the hell alone."
"These are people that are fighting for freedom. It's just that simple," Johnson said. "We've already seen tears here. I didn't expect that, it doesn't surprise me at all."
The convoy’s goalposts kept moving. Originally organized as a protest against health mandates that are in the process of ending, their new demands included taking up the cause of people who were dismissed and discharged from the military and health care positions for refusing to get vaccinated.
"This is how it's affecting our communities, our loved ones back home and we're on the road working," Brase told Cruz.
Brase admitted onstage at Hagerstown that he enthusiastically supported the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. “I would have been inside that Capitol building,” he said. “You bet your ass I would have went in!”
Infighting has also erupted, with one faction working to stir up discontent among the truckers and move their location to one with “working bathrooms.” With an April 7 deadline looming to leave the racetrack premises in time for its season, paranoia blossomed amid an uncertain future for a group of people whose entire reasons for being revolve around conspiracy theories.
As freelance writer Sara Aniano adroitly observed, the event has been a typical right-wing conspiracist cluster, with accusations of “corruption” and fears of looming persecution driving their discourse and their decision-making, such as it was—particularly online:
Still, a glimpse into some of these public yet esoteric networks gives us an idea of the potentially radicalizing content that an everyday user might come across while trying to obtain convoy information. The relatively uncensored Telegram channels and chats dedicated to convoy planning—which, at first, were so numerous that most could not discern which was an “official” channel or not—boast a plethora of conspiratorial content, ranging from election fraud theories and vaccine misinformation to blatant QAnon tropes. Users also use these spaces to share news stories from around the world, and while that may seem unrelated to domestic movements, it has had a meaningful effect on the attitudes of supporters. For example, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 did not sit well with many on far-right social media, generating suspicions that false flag operations or crisis actors were set up deliberately to distract from the convoy, which had officially embarked on their journey just a day beforehand.
Brase turned up on Newsmax on Monday evening to declare that they weren’t giving up—just shifting tactics. “Listen, the fight in D.C. isn’t over,” Brase said.
Co-lead organizer Marcus Sommers issued a statement: “We’re leaving the D.C. area, but we are not abandoning this mission. … The People’s Convoy is in this for the long haul.”
However, their plan now is to cross the country back to Los Angeles, where they intend to reconvene at the planned Defeat the Mandates protest on Sunday, April 10, 2022, at Grand Park. They are showing up to protest what organizers call the “most invasive COVID-19 legislation yet.”
Co-organizer Mike Landis read off a list of strict COVID-control measures that he said were pending in California during a livestream of its nightly rally Sunday. “These 10 bills that I just read are up for a vote next week in California,” he said. “To me, they are the reason that we are here.”
“I think stopping those is more important at this point in time than getting the emergency declaration repealed because that’s already in place and we need to stop stuff like these bills from getting in place,” he went on. “Otherwise, the rest of us that don’t live in California are going to end up subject to the same situation.”
Landis said that he hopes the People's Convoy will have a big enough group after the Los Angeles rally to continue north to the state capitol in Sacramento to protest there. He also hinted that the group might return to Washington.
“We’re not done here,” Landis said. “We’ll go to California and raise awareness along the way and hopefully get more people like we did on our way here. And then, once we stop this, we’ll come back to finish this job.”