People’s Convoy: Gathering at Hagerstown

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Truckers and supporters are now closest to the nation’s capital, where they want to hold lawmakers “accountable” for government responses to the pandemic. But it’s unclear what they will do next to achieve their goals.

On Friday night, Brian Brase, a convoy organizer, watched a crowd, some dressed in red, white and blue beanies and waving American flags, and told them to celebrate how far they had come. But they would have to wait longer to find out their final destination and what to do once there.

“Well, let’s do something,” he laughs. “What it is is yet to be determined. Please be patient.

The eponymous “People’s Convoy” stressed it would not be going to DC and previously said it would target the Beltway area on March 5. Brase told fans in Lore City, Ohio on Friday morning that those plans had changed. They plan to stay in Hagerstown for another rally on Saturday before likely targeting another location “just two miles from the ring road”, he said, without giving details.

Asked Friday night about the group’s plans, People’s Convoy organizer Mike Landis said, “We’re going to keep bugging DC… Just make them wonder a little bit.” He continued, “Listen, we are truckers; we are very spontaneous.

The possibility of caravans of truckers heading for the Beltway has raised safety concerns, drawing police departments from DC, Maryland and Virginia to monitor the group. Supporters joined and left throughout the journey, making it difficult to estimate the size of the convoy.

But Friday in Hagerstown, the atmosphere of the group was festive and proud. Truckers shouted “Take Me Home, Country Road” and ate spaghetti, burgers and chicken tacos donated by supporters. The leaders stood on the makeshift stage of a flatbed truck and lambasted the federal government for imposing vaccine and mask mandates, policies they said violated their basic rights as Americans.

Although protesters, inspired by the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that has occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks, have complained about the perceived violation of their freedoms, many pandemic-related warrants have already been issued. blocked or cancelled.

Extremism researchers who follow this movement say the protesters’ hostility to vaccines is just one of many right-wing anti-government beliefs. Rigs, tractor-trailers and other trucks and cars in the freeway parking lot on Friday were decorated with signs and posts referencing far-right political views and conspiracy theories, including calls to “arrest Fauci,” referencing White House medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci, and equating the warrants to the ‘slavery. Some supporters wore Make America Great Again caps.

A truck passed with a Wisconsin license plate to join hundreds of others parked on the freeway. A group of girls pointed past. “Oh, wow,” they said, almost in unison. “Freedom!”

Brase said the group wants to end the national emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus — first issued by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020 and later extended by President Biden — and that Congress holds hearings to investigate the government’s response to the pandemic.

Craig Brown, 53, left his home in Sandpoint, Idaho, two weeks ago. A freight truck driver, he picked up a delivery of apples in Los Angeles to get closer to the convoy’s launch point in Adelanto, California. He felt uncomfortable that the government could expect him to receive such a new vaccine, and he wanted to teach his teenage daughters to stand up for what they believe in. So he bought a month’s worth of non-perishable food, installed an extra freezer in his vehicle and got on the road.

On February 23, a group of American truckers began a cross-country drive from California to Washington to protest coronavirus restrictions. (Reuters)

En route to Los Angeles, Brown blew up the back of his truck and waited five days for repairs. And even before finding the other truckers, Brown adopted a two-year-old golden retriever named Copper.

On February 23, he had joined the group leaving Southern California. Since then, Brown said the trip has been more exciting than he could have imagined. People across the country had made signs in support, he said, and so many volunteers had brought food to rest stops that he had barely dipped into his non-perishable food.

“It’s a high, to see all the people on the overpasses and the sides of the roads,” Brown said. “All these people treat us like we’re heroes.”

Brown, who had covid-19 last month, doesn’t want to do anything political in DC He said he wanted to finish the trip by parking next to truckers and their supporters, and eating together.

“We’re going to eat, celebrate and enjoy the company of people who think we’re heroes,” he said.

During the ride, fans stood on cold overpasses to wave American flags. They cheered at rallies and followed the trip on social media. And the donations poured in. On Monday, the group claimed to have raised more than $1.5 million.

A convoy participant said during a YouTube livestream on Friday that “some trucks will go to the White House,” but stressed that the group as a whole would not be going into the city. He did not specify those plans.

“I don’t want people to think we’re invading DC,” he said on-air. “This is not the convoy that enters DC Commons. These are a few select pilots.”

There are no trucker-related convoy permit applications for the next few days, National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said Friday.

DC police said they were unaware of this latest statement from one of the convoy participants, but noted that motorists did not need permission from law enforcement to travel to the district.

Authorities, however, pointed out that large trucks are banned from many roads in the district and there are numerous regulations governing their operation, including how long they can idle.

On Friday, DC police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck described the convoy as a “fluid situation,” adding, “Any kind of response strategy will be implemented in real time.”

Sara Aniano, a communications graduate student from Monmouth University who studies far-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories on social media, warns it is still unclear what the convoy will do in that area.

“Maybe people don’t want to listen to Brian [Brase]. Maybe people want to go rogue and do their own thing. I wouldn’t trust anything,” said Aniano, who followed the people’s convoy via Telegram chats, other social media and live streams. “We still don’t know where and what the endgame is. “

For Brown, the endgame is a date. March 15, to be exact, when he just learned that his driver’s license will expire. He’ll have to be in Idaho by then, but what if the convoy is still together after that day?

“I’ll turn around and join them,” he said.

Peter Hermann contributed to this report.

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