Truckers and their supporters are now closest to the nation’s capital, where they want to hold lawmakers “accountable” for government responses to the pandemic. Their plans for the days ahead remained opaque on Saturday afternoon, but organizers said they intended to stay here, about an hour’s drive from the ring road, for the rest of the day and organize a gathering in the evening.
The motives of the convoy are also murky. People gathered in this western Maryland town described frustrations over workplace vaccination mandates and restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus – even though those rules have now been lifted in many places . Crowds at the speedway chanted anti-President Biden slogans and showed their support for former President Donald Trump. Extremism analysts point to a broader set of right-wing causes that motivated participants.
Trucks and cars entered the expressway complex on Saturday morning, passing under an American flag flying from a cable between two 30-foot booms attached to tractor-trailers. Inside, truckers and their supporters were waking up after the Friday night rally. Most in the crowd were white men, but there were also young children and dogs.
Rows and rows of tanker trucks, flatbeds, box trailers, motor homes and pickup trucks lined the parking lot, bearing license plates from Utah, Maine, Arkansas, Texas and other states. A chorus of car horns sounded from the area where the convoy vehicles were stacked in lines, waiting for their next move.
On Friday night, Brian Brase, a convoy organizer, looked at the 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.
Organizers of the eponymous “People’s Convoy” stressed they would not be going to DC and had previously said they would target the Beltway area on Saturday. But Brase told fans in Lore City, Ohio on Friday morning that those plans had changed. They were staying in Hagerstown on Saturday before likely targeting another location “just two miles from the ring road”, he said, without giving details.
Asked about the band’s plans, People’s Convoy organizer Mike Landis said, “We’re gonna 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.
Officials across the region have advised drivers to prepare for potentially heavy traffic throughout the weekend. “It’s a very fluid situation,” Ellen Kamilakis, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Saturday.
Friday evening, 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.
The protesters, inspired by the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks, complained about the perceived violation of their freedoms. Some of the truckers displayed flags that combined the stars and stripes with the Canadian maple leaf.
Extremism scholars who follow this movement say the protesters’ hostility to vaccines is just one of many right-wing anti-government beliefs they espouse. Flatbeds, tractor-trailers and other trucks and cars in the highway parking lot 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. Others waved flags bearing an allusion to an explicit anti-Biden slogan.
On Saturday, placards and banners covered a range of political slogans, Bible verses and expressions of patriotism. “Open the Keystone pipeline,” it read. Others: “Trump won” and “we will not comply”.
A woman offered free copies of the Bible at a stand near another supporter selling “People’s Convoy” T-shirts.
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 left to join a movement.
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 elaborate on those plans, and there was no sign they had materialized as of early Saturday afternoon.
“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 have been no trucker-related convoy permit applications for the coming days, National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said Friday. Large trucks are banned from many roads in the district and numerous regulations govern their operation, including how long they can idle.
In Hagerstown, Heather Kelly, 43, a former nurse, said she had always received the vaccines needed for her job, but did not want to get what she considered a new covid vaccine. Her opposition to mask rules and vaccination mandates – and the loss of trust in government she said was triggered – turned her life upside down. She quit her job at a long-term care facility and pulled her children out of school.
“You have free will, free choice,” she said. “You let the government tell you to put something on your face. Am I going to have to cover my head afterwards like I’m in a Muslim country?”
Kelly, who said she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008, came to Washington for the Jan. 6, 2021, rally in support of Trump, but said she only learned of the attack on the Capitol. upon her arrival at her home in Ohio. . Just over a year later, she piled her 18-year-old son into their van and joined the convoy.
“I worked hard. I was driven. I spent my kids’ childhood in medical school,” Kelly said, facing her son in the yellow hue of truck headlights, her eyes shining. “To see him corrupt as he is is very sad for me.”
Jim Hasner joined the convoy in Indiana, driving a truck. He owns his own business and blamed pandemic restrictions for economic struggles.
Like some other participants, he blamed censorship in the mainstream media and by the government for hiding the real truth about the pandemic. He said a virus that claimed the lives of more than 1,600 people in the United States on Friday, “is gone.”
“It would be really great if people could be honest about things,” he said. “Honest about what government overreach looks like, honest about what the vaccine really is. Have some transparency in the media because it’s just not accurate.
Robert Erikson, 58, who joined the convoy west of Amarillo, Texas on Feb. 27, described his truck as a “house on wheels.”
On the outside, it was written “For God and country”. Inside, the sleeper was set up for long distances on the road, complete with an oven, fryer, two burner stoves, and a pair of 12-pound weights to “keep his body limber.” Altoids and bottles of metabolism gummies sat on top of the fryer.
Erikson said he doesn’t usually vote but opted for Trump in 2016. For him, the convoy is not a political movement. Instead, he said he wanted every member of the government to resign.
“We have to start over,” he said.
Duncan reported from Washington. Jasmine Hilton and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.