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Dates and location suggestions vary but the objective is clear: to recreate a U.S. version of the Canadian convoys and (still ongoing) vehicle blockades. For weeks, Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, has been occupied by incessantly honking demonstrators who gathered from several points across the country. Protesters claim their grievances surround the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border commercial truckers. However, most of the protesters have no affiliation to the trucking industry, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has condemned the convoy, and the majority of truckers are up-to-date on their vaccines. True demands range from the abolition of all COVID precautions to the total overthrow of the Trudeau government. Far-right extremists have also been using the “Freedom Convoy” to mainstream themselves and their ideology further, with instances of violence being reported along the caravan’s path. More recently, the Ambassador Bridge over the U.S.-Canadian border has been at a multi-day standstill and plans are growing to recreate similar disruptions around the globe.
Dozens of channels have popped up across all social media platforms, organic and astroturfed, working to recreate the Canadian protest. Researchers also noticed large pro-Trump accounts have switched their branding to pro-convoy pages. The global anti-lockdown “World Wide Rally for Freedom” meetups were similarly astroturfed but that didn’t stop them from morphing into its own locally-based, reoccurring protest movement. The numerous unaffiliated groups make it impossible to pinpoint a precise plan. Some chats/groups are sectioned by region or routes, others breakdown by state, city, and county. The target location alters between the D.C., entry points at the US-MX border, and state capitol buildings, while others express interest in blocking out highways. Due to the lack of coordination, even the kickoff date varies. Potential California protesters hope to build momentum in the weeks immediately following their planned disruption of the Super Bowl while other groups want to wait until March. QAnon’s Ron Watkins is attempting to summon a border blockade alongside a conspiratorial, violent border militia. Despite the confusion, everyone agrees the main goal is to create a convoy and disrupt the country until their own unreasonable demands are met.
Multiple reported instances violence have accompanied the path of the Canadian caravan. Ottawa’s Shepherds of Good Hope, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, was singled out by a group associated with the convoy. Protesters parked their trucks and honked their horns for 12 hours demanding food, shouting racial slurs, harassing the staff, and assaulting a man living in the shelter. A couple with an LGBTQ Pride flag displayed in their window was targeted in a separate convoy-related incident. Medical workers and journalists are experiencing harassment, an apartment lobby fire started by protesters is being investigated for arson, and hate symbols have been displayed amongst the crowds. Flags promoting the far-right militia III%er movement, the Canadian Nationalist Party, and the American Confederacy. A nazi flag being visible amongst the crowd has already been excused by far-right U.S. media channel Newsmax. The increasing threats resulted in Ottawa setting up a hate crime hotline to handle the reports of assaults and harassment. Two weeks after the convoy began, Ottawa Police had already received over 400 calls related to the hotline.
The U.S. may be laughable when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions and mandates but that hasn’t stopped the reoccurring protests throughout the country since the pandemic began. In 2021, after most of the limited protections had long expired, there were still over 1000 reported anti-vaccine demonstrations across the United States. Anti-mandate protests have been repeatedly led by right-wing extremists and the upcoming convoy planning is no exception. White nationalists like Nick Fuentes held anti-vaccine Groyper rallies on the East Coast while the neo-fascist Proud Boys engaged in violence alongside antivaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and Capitol rioters on the West Coast. Researchers for LCRW discovered a known neo-nazi, Ryan Sanchez, is heavily involved in Los Angeles convoy planning. Sanchez, an affiliate of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement and Groypers, is the administrator for the Los Angeles Telegram chat that has already spawned offline meetups. Sanchez hoped to have the prospective caravan to the D.C. Capitol after Super Bowl Sunday; other groups have different plans.
At the beginning of February 2022, Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer made a call-to-action asking potential trucker convoys to direct their attention to the Sasabe port-of-entry at the Arizona-Mexico border. Meyer is the leader of the conspiratorial, far-right militia Veterans on Patrol (VOP) which is based out of an encampment near the border where he hosts semi-permanent and rotating volunteers to assist his vigilante activities, occasionally alongside Border Patrol. Some of those rotating volunteers include violent member of Patriot Prayer, Chandler Pappas, and former 8chan/8kun administrator and AZ congressional candidate Ron Watkins. On Feb. 11th, Watkins joined the VOP camp and started repeating Meyer’s calls to bring a convoy to the southern border. In a series of posts and videos to his Telegram, Watkins can be seen associating with VOP member and Jan. 6 attendee Shawna Martin aka Butterfly. He’s asking his massive social media following to support VOP and encouraging more to join them at the US-MX border. The responses on Watkins’ channel were overwhelmingly positive, many calling for truckers to occupy the border wall.
“What do I do with all the illegal aliens I capture? Serious question,” one reply read.
“What caliber should we bring,” asked another.
Meyer even has a negative reputation in militia circles for his conspiracy-laced paranoia, earning him the nickname “Screwy Louie.” He was previously arrested in a trespassing incident after believing he discovered a Pizzagate-style trafficking ring at an abandoned industrial site. Meyer has also been charged for destroying live-saving water tanks intended for those migrating through the borderlands. Ron Watkins teaming up with a dangerous hate group in an attempt to bring a vehicle convoy to the US-MX border signals a recipe for disaster. At the end of January 2022, a low-attended QAnon conference near the border resulted in an assault on a Texas butterfly sanctuary after guests began claiming it was a hub for Pizzagate-style trafficking. The sanctuary has been forced to close indefinitely as threats from far-right conspiracy theorists continue. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently alerted the Department of Homeland Security of the numerous white nationalists, QAnon adherents, and militia groups already preying on crossing migrants at the border.
Calls to target the US-MX border have divided the Arizona-based convoy groups, which AZRWW has been tracking. Admins in the largest Arizona chat claim to be taking their directions from a massive nationwide group called The People’s Convoy, who is planning to launch their D.C.-bound caravan at the beginning of March. Sitting at a fast growing 75K+ followers on Facebook and 48K+ on Telegram, the national group is encouraging their intended convoy to pack for the long haul. An itemized list is being shared covering the most basic essentials, tips for the road and potential routes are flying through the chats. Plans to meet up privately offline have already been organized, some also suggested handing out fliers at local truck stops. People with no intention of joining the convoy are offering to assist in any way they can, either through financial donations or helping to refill needed supplies as vehicles pass through the country. And there are dozens of equally large online groups organizing with mostly-similar plans.
Mirroring the Los Angeles convoy chat, Arizona’s is also showing signs of familiar right-wing groups and individuals attempting to take the lead. One woman regularly organizing and exchanging information on Telegram is Laurie Bezick, who previously hosted the megaflop “Trumpstock” festival which brought right-wing extremists and QAnon entertainers to Kingman, AZ. Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer and another associate of VOP have also been in the Arizona Telegram channels spamming his video message to bring a convoy to the US-MX border.
“How’s it going. Arizona Proud Boy here. How can I get my chapters involved?,” one member wrote in the Arizona Convoy for Freedom chat.
U.S. conservative media and politicians are already voicing support for our own version of the Canadian vehicle siege. Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers has made calls for both a blockade at the Super Bowl and a convoy to D.C. Top Fox News propagandist Tucker Carlson has also been boosting the plans of The People’s Convoy, hosting one of the co-organizers, Brian Brase, and later announcing their March launch date on his show. Another group working with The People’s Convoy is the Freedom Fighter Nation, which is led by Orange County attorney Leigh Dundas who filmed herself amongst the chaos of the Jan. 6 insurrection shouting about murdering American “traitors.” More recently, Dundas harassed a Scottsdale school board meeting with Ron Watkins. Both are currently involved in a QAnon/sovereign citizen scheme in an attempt to unseat school board members.
The noisy Ottawa siege is a preview of what’s to come — similar plans are developing in Europe and truck drivers in Alaska already rallying in support of the Canadian “Freedom Convoy.” In the United States, it will be another extension of the endless far-right demonstrations against mandates, elections, and all other conservative gripes. Since the beginning of 2020, a nationwide movement has demanded an end to every minor measure adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Operation Gridlock,” organized at the beginning of the pandemic, resulted in armed protests inside the Michigan state capitol building and intentional traffic jams. An American convoy is already being encouraged by the same politicians, networks, and conspiracy peddlers who helped to fuel the events leading up to Jan 6. And recent hack of the Christian supremacist crowdfunding site GiveSendGo shows a large chunk of the financial support is being fueled by tens of thousands U.S. donators.. The “Let’s Go Brandon” gimmick rappers and MAGA merchandise vendors are presumably anticipating the next right-wing, trucker-themed wave to capitalize off of.
It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”