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MAD MAGA: FURY ROAD PASSES THROUGH ARIZONA—HERE'S WHAT WE SAW

by ARIZONA RIGHT WING WATCH | ELI KNÉSÓL | ABNER HÄUGE

EDITOR'S NOTE :

AZ Right Wing Watch focuses on right-wing extremism in Arizona. You can follow them on Twitter at @az_rww. You can tip them for their work at $AZRWW on cashapp.

Eli Knesol is a Las Vegas-based investigative journalist. You can follow them on Twitter here and support them on Cashapp here.

“The People’s Convoy” began their journey towards Washington D.C. in Adelanto, California, with plans to hold a vehicle protest styled after the recent blockade in Canada. For weeks, a series of noisy blockades occupied the capital city of Ottawa and international border crossings between the United States and Canada, including the Ambassador Bridge. As a result, Justin Trudeau temporarily invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since it was passed. The protesters claimed their grievances lay with vaccine mandates for truckers but the overwhelming majority were already vaccinated against COVID-19 and Canada had already dropped it’s vaccine requirement for truckers. In reality, the vehicle protests were demanding an end to ALL public health measures around COVID-19, while others desired the overthrow of the Trudeau government. Violence and incessant honking followed the Canadian convoys, resulting in the launch of a hate crime hotline to deal with the offenses committed during these demonstrations.

A majority of Canadians disapproved of the protests while the majority of the financial support came from the United States. A leak of the 92,000 GiveSendGo donors to the Canadian convoy shows 55 percent was from the U.S., with 1,610 people listing an Arizona ZIP code. That enthusiasm could still be seen while one of the first planned U.S. “trucker” convoys passed through Northern Arizona.

CALIFORNIA: LET’S MEET AT THE BALLPARK NEXT TO THE FEDERAL PRISON

big trucks in a parking lot with don't tread on me flags
I know it looks pretty but the wind chill was hellish.

There was snow on the ground and high winds last Tuesday as I rattled on edge down the 395 towards Adelanto, a town with not much nearby but a federal prison and a GEO Group ICE facility that poisoned migrants with pesticides. Before I turned towards Adelanto Stadium I was wary. Sources had told me the local Proud Boys chapters might show up in force, though it later turned out they’d mistaken the yellow and black “People’s Convoy” sign for something the fascist street gang—ahem—“mens’ drinking club” had set up on the back of a big rig’s flatbed trailer. During breaks in the drive down I watched some clips from “People’s Convoy” social media another of our reporters was posting.

“How many trucks you think we’re gonna have coming in here?” a livestreamer asked a man named John who came down from Idaho.

“Well, I hope they’re gonna have thousands,” John said. He told the livestreamer he got to the convoy at one in the morning and he was only running on a couple of hours of sleep. John told organizers he was willing to volunteer and they gave him a yellow shirt. I’m pretty sure he was the guy who told me where to park when I went to poke around that afternoon.

There was a rally with a couple hundred people around noon or so and someone got chased out of it apparently for asking too many questions. Considering the heightened paranoia, I decided I would take a quick look around and then leave. The parking lot had at least a hundred cars and pickup trucks and about twelve semis were on display with conspiracy theory and right wing grievance-riddled signs blocking out their windows for photo ops. Joey Gilbert, a recurring character in Nevada politics who’s known by hashtag sedition hunters as “purple meathead” had his campaign trailer parked as a display.

Half the cars and people I saw had Trump gear on because of course we all know what this is really about. I counted about 20-30 people milling about the parking lot of this baseball field and another 15 or so very well-coordinated volunteers with handheld radios. A slow but steady stream of people came in and out to get their personal photo ops. Lots of people brought their kids. The high winds and high 30s temperature made people dressed warmer than me shiver. I almost felt sorry for the people selling Trump flags for ten bucks a pop who huddled under the entrance to the park. As I skulked about admiring Joey Gilbert’s bizarre pose laminated onto the side of his campaign van, a woman popped out of the back of a food truck and asked me if I’d like some pizza. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to sell it to me or give it to me so I said not now but I might come back later.

And later I did come back.

Wednesday morning was about as cold as the previous afternoon. As I passed through Rancho Cucamonga on the way back, there was a thin layer of snow on the roofs of peoples’ houses. I got back to the baseball park around nine—an hour before the “People’s Convoy” group announced they’d roll out.

A painting composed like a movie poster collage with images of canadian protesters waving a canadian flag and american iconography like the senate building and the state of abraham lincoln floating behind a couple of big rig trucks
I think I pirated this movie off Limewire back in the day.

There were at least a couple hundred cars in the lot and at least ten more semis. The turnout was huge—or at least huge for the middle of the high desert two hours from Los Angeles. I saw hundreds of people walking around in the near-freezing weather. The first thing I noticed was a trailer for a vendor called “American Weapon Apparel Company” (“I AM THE WEAPON” is the slogan on most of their merch) parked by the stadium entrance next to a bright pink food truck selling coffee and donuts. I wandered around and saw the sights: a semi cab with a gaunt mannequin of Uncle Sam on the back, the main stage blaring “We’ll put a boot in your ass,” a freaky painting on two canvases of a couple of trucks collaged with Canadian protesters waving flags and a bunch of American iconography, a white van with its side windows painted over so people could write all over the whole thing. A nice man tried to offer me a marker to write my own message along with everyone else’s. I thought that writing “GREETINGS FROM RAM RANCH” and getting caught would be a health risk, so instead I just rubbed my hands together and said “Oh jeez, give me a minute to warm my hands up first, thanks.” That got him to turn to someone else.

The van’s scrawlings were bizarre.

“The nations were Angry; and your rath[sic] has come Rev. 11:18,” one read. “Jesus is king. Biden is NOT!!” another read.

“Lets[sic] save America at Sonic speed!!” another read with a crude drawing of Sonic the Hedgehog under it.

Around then I got a text warning me that Josh Fulfer, who LCRW readers may remember as “cum guy” was livestreaming. I decided to split lest he spill his fluids on me. Capitol rioter Christopher Brow attended, as well as neo-Nazi Ryan Sanchez who ingratiated himself with the Convoy crowd, got admin privileges in the telegram group, and even held a planning meeting for a potential kickoff during the Superbowl that didn’t really materialize. He was later kicked out of the convoy in Arizona. More on that later.

As I drove past the stadium a few times, I guessed the crowd was at least a few hundred people. I left at 11:30 or so because I was tired of waiting for them to roll out. Just as well because they didn’t until 1:30. But a lot of trucks and other vehicles rolled out from the California high desert that day. I’m guessing at least 30 semis and many more other vehicles. Enough on their own to cause some mayhem in D.C.—with more joining them on the way.

After departing from the parking lot of Adelanto Stadium, the convoy’s first two overnight stops were in two small Arizona towns, Kingman and Lupton. As LCRW previously reported, the self-branded “People’s Convoy” is one of numerous groups hoping to organize a vehicle protest to D.C. with smaller, localized convoys planning to link up with them along route. Another, much less successful “Freedom Convoy USA 2022,” would start out for Las Vegas later in the week.

NEVADA: CONVOY SNUBS VEGAS (AIN’T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD?)

A group of 30 or so people waving flags on the side of the road in Las Vegas on a day with a blue sky
The crowd earlier in the day.

On Feb. 25, a group from Freedom Convoy USA 2022 departed from San Diego around 9 AM. It aimed to arrive in Las Vegas around 5 PM to refuel and pick up a batch of donations from a group of supporters rallied at a truck stop. At 3:45 PM, convoy supporters began to gather at the Wild Wild West Truck plaza, compiling their donations, waving flags, and chanting various dirty things about socialism and Biden. At 6:06 PM, Jesse Martinsen, one of the event organizers, picked up a megaphone and said,

“So, uh, the truckers are not coming.”

people holding a flag pole with a hybrid canadian american flag on it and another person with a sign that says no jab! no mask! no Sisolak!
Stand for the…uh…flag(s)?

Right from the start, local New Vegas anti-maskers and far-right organizers like Martinsen hoped to capitalize on the convoy craze. Early on, some convoys appeared to plan on heading to DC through Las Vegas via the i-15. This seemed to set up Vegas as a convenient rest stop, and the city’s far-right immediately began trying to organize donation drives and rallies that would support the convoy as it passed through. However, as the planned routes adjusted, fate decided to make my job easier, and only a single convoy ended up deciding that going through Vegas on a Friday was a good idea.

A bunch of kids in a crowd waving flags with adults we hope some of at least are their parents
They sure do love bringing their kids to these events where they scream about pedophiles.

This wasn’t enough to deter our favorite faction of freaks, and they decided that they would go ALL-OUT for their heroes.

As the convoy’s supporters arrived at the truck stop, the donation table was a sad sight, with only four boxes of canned food, snack bars, and jerky as well as a case of water bottles. Around 30 anti-maskers lined up at the intersection of Tropicana Ave. & Dean Martin Drive, hooting at passing cars and hollering at masked pedestrians. 2 hours later, their numbers had dwindled in the cold, and Martinsen announced that “Probably due to the weather from the north, or something” the truckers with Freedom Convoy USA 2022 would not be coming after all, and that it would be best if everyone took their donations back with them.

A merchandise tent draped with qanon and other tshirts
Yes, they’re selling QAnon merch still. What did we tell you?

Following a short prayer led by neo-confederate John Carlo, the crowd slowly dispersed.

In the end, the merch table only sold three shirts.

ARIZONA: GUZZLING GAS AND PIZZA IN THE MOJAVE DESERT

A truck with a sign on it that says faith over fear
It feels like it’s looking at me.

The People’s Convoy was about five hours later than their estimated time into Kingman, AZ but that didn’t stop hundreds of dedicated Arizonans from waiting for hours over every freeway overpass leading into the town. Numerous American and Canadian flags (sometimes weird hybrids of both) were hung over the highway alongside the endless variations of pro-Trump/anti-Biden messaging. Some had DIY “People’s Convoy” signs while another man was cosplaying as Jesus holding a large wooden cross. When the convoy finally arrived, they were met with hundreds more cheering supporters at the right-wing Great American Pizza and Subs restaurant, which previously hosted the flop “Trumpstock" event.

“Hold the line,” the crowd chanted at the drivers as they pulled into their first meetup spot.

“Make it all the way,” others shouted.

Vehicles flooded the area surrounding the Great American Pizza and Subs, itself decorated with Trump art, merchandise, and a massive painted shipping container reading “fuck China” on one side and “Trump 2022” on another (previously it read “Trump 2021” and “Trump 2020” before that). A large mural inside depicts a version of Washington Crossing the Delaware with a pizza being proudly held up in George Washington’s hand. The restaurant was offering free pizza to the convoy and a nearby gas station, Crazy Fred’s Truck Stop, was providing the vehicles with free gasoline. Locals brought in literal truckloads of food and supplies to stock the convoy which organizers then had loaded into their own vehicles. One man who had been with the convoy since California and planned to go all the way to D.C. told me they were “preparing for the long haul.” Earlier, I saw an older woman hand over one co-organizer a handful of money asking him to “make sure it gets to the truckers.” According to their website, as of Feb. 27th, The People’s Convoy has already raised over $1.5 million in online donations.

A framed painting of washington crossing the deleware holding a pizza hanging on the wall of a pizzeria
We weren’t kidding.

For hours, decorated bobtails, RVs, buses, some semis, and mostly personal vehicles and pickup trucks slowly streamed into the pizza restaurant. A rumor spread through the crowd that a nearby gas station was refusing service to the arriving convoy. There was no truth to the claims, but that didn’t stop the group from telling one another to contact the gas station workers to demand they be served. “Let’s Go Brandon” themed music blasted into the small Mojave Desert town, which could barely be heard through the constant honking. Despite the organizers claims that this is an apolitical protest about mandates, vehicles were decorated with Three Percenter, QAnon, InfoWars, Blue Lives Matter, Confederate, pro-Kyle Rittenhouse, and pro-Trump messaging. Right-wing candidates like former boxer and Jan. 6 Capitol rioter Joey Gilbert had a sponsored bus driving in the convoy. Fans signed the bus advertising his gubernatorial run in Nevada with supportive comments. Mayor Crystal Ruiz of San Jacinto, CA also had an advertised van driving within the convoy.

One car’s written message said “ FREEDOM NOW. Restore the U.S. Constitution. Let freedom roll. Honk honk honk honk. No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

An RV had large lettering overtaking the entire backside reading “If U voted for IDIOT BIDEN please wear 6 MASKS and THANK BIDEN for COVID spreading w/ OPEN BORDERS.”

Protest signs that say 'Dr King leads the way, thank you freedom convoy give them the trucking truth, we are all truckers kingman loves ya'
Wonder what Dr. King would think of this one.

The next morning, those continuing with the MAGA caravan were expected to rally back at the Great American Pizza and Subs to take off in unison. Some spent the night in the pizza parking lot, others stayed in nearby motels. Vehicles obviously affiliated with the convoy were in the parking lot of the cheap motel I slept in. One woman’s minivan was decorated with an American flag and a homemade sign that read “ Wake up now! Join Us!” When I arrived back at the restaurant, nearby locals were still bringing in more supplies to stock their journey. Another empty semi trailer was being filled with crates of water, diapers, non-perishable foods, and an obscene amount of Yerba Mate. So much was donated that crates of items had to be left behind (mostly Yerba Mate). Also being left behind was an Orange County neo-nazi who was tagging along with the convoy.

The night before, drama ensued on The People’s Convoy social media when the organizers publicly called out Ryan Sanchez aka Culture War Criminal, a groyper and former member of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement street fighting group. Sanchez had been serving as an administrator in the chatroom for the Los Angeles convoy group and holding offline meetups to collect donations and supplies. By the time the group reached Arizona, Sanchez was already feuding with Erik Rohde, a co-organizer of The People Convoy, recruiter for the Washington Three Percenters militia, and prank target of Sasha Baron Cohen’s second Borat film. In a video, Rohde speculated if Sanchez was a “fed,” and said he was being a “little pain the ass,” who was no longer welcome in the convoy. Sanchez stuck around for another day before finally being pushed out.

two fire engines straddle a bridge with a giant american flag between them while others on the bridge wave smaller flags and cars on the road pass under
Firemen showing their love for truckers with their big, big American flag.

As the convoy made its way to the eastern border of Arizona for their second rest stop, the roads were similarly lined with enthusiastic fans lining their route. The blizzard that closed off parts of Northern Arizona the night before didn’t stop large groups from gathering along the snowy highway. Banners and signs draped every overpass. One was completely overtaken by two fire trucks from the Seligman Fire Department hoisting up an enormous American flag. On the Joseph City overpass near Holbrook, an officer from the Navajo County Sheriff Office joined the large crowd. At the bridge, an anti-vaccine sign said “mRNA shot = GMO humans,” a large banner read “#vaccinesHARM.” I drove ahead of the slow moving group to join a packed overpass awaiting their arrival. The convoy, only going about 40 MPH on the freeway, was running late for their planned destination again. While we waited, a man waiting on the bridge told me “it doesn’t matter what the protests are about” but quickly clarified it was “mostly” about mandates. Further confirming that these rallies are a confusing mixture of grievances to the point where those gathering don’t entirely know what it’s about.

So far, the U.S. version of the Canadian blockade/convoy is nowhere close to the numbers of vehicles involved in the Ottawa siege. There are far more people supporting and supplying the idea of a convoy than actually participating in it. About 200 vehicles left California, some dropped off at the first rest stop while others joined in but The People’s Convoy still has over half the country to travel. More similarly disorganized convoys are being planned throughout the next month, some with plans to merge together. Already being organized by a member of the Three Percenters and a QAnon-linked, Capitol storming attorney, The People’s Convoy is struggling to contain the extremist elements in their group. Known Proud Boys were spotted from the start of their journey and they’ve made requests for Oath Keepers to aid with security. The organizers for The People’s Convoy insist they intend to remain peaceful when they reach D.C., but with chaotic organizing and disorganized messaging, it’s impossible to foresee where the convoy leads. For some, it’s just another MAGA tailgate party to meet up, wave flags and get drunk. Others have explicit demands and don’t intend to leave D.C. until they’re met.

LCRW will keep you posted on what happens when they get there—and what happens in between.

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