Many Trucker Convoy Supporters Worried They’re Being Lured Into a Trap

As some truckers meet with politicians to discuss vaccine mandates, convoy leaders are advising attendees to avoid D.C. out of fear of being tricked into a Jan. 6–type event.

The organizers of the “people’s convoy” have found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, which for the last few days happens to be a race-car track in Hagerstown, Maryland, an hour and a half outside Washington, D.C. 

Since departing Adelanto, California, on Feb. 23 with vague intentions of protesting COVID-19 regulations, the convoy has ballooned in size to more than 1,000 vehicles, including hundreds of big rigs. 

Advertisement

It’s raked in nearly $1.7 million in funds, which are being processed by a right-wing group called the American Foundation for Civil Liberties and Freedoms (AFCLF). They’ve spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on fuel at a time when gas prices are through the roof, to more than $4 a gallon. 

But the end goal of this rolling protest remains fuzzier than ever: On the face of it, it's about ending all vaccine mandates and repealing the national emergency declared about COVID-19, but protesters are focused on a wide mishmash of grievances. Some in the convoy are beginning to lose patience, and some of their supporters are becoming disillusioned with how it’s playing out, with few tangible results. 

Organizers are meanwhile seeking solutions that will placate the more gung-ho elements in the movement, while still remaining on solid legal ground. 

"I know if I say one thing, I'll lose half this group, and if I say another, I'll lose the other half. I'm aware of this,” organizer Brian Brase told the crowd in Hagerstown on Monday morning. “I hear the grumblings, I know that there are people that are concerned of what our next actions are going to be. I'm asking everybody to please stand together."

The original plan, when plans for a U.S. convoy were starting to come together in early February, was to head into D.C. and occupy the nation’s capital, like their Canadian counterparts did in Ottawa. But fearing a possible repeat of Jan. 6, 2021—and authorities prepared for them—they switched gears in mid-February, saying the new plan was to clog up the Capital Beltway, the road encircling D.C. and its suburbs. 

On Tuesday the group’s organizers are planning to meet with several politicians to discuss “the harmful effects of President Biden’s vaccine mandates while the convoy circles the Beltway.”

Sara Aniano, a graduate student studying the far-right rhetoric on social media who has been watching the convoy for weeks, told VICE News that she’s seeing attendees who “are confused about what the end game” is and who don’t “think that what they're doing at the present time is enough.” 

Advertisement

“I think people are starting to wonder, ‘What happens if we don't actually sit down with lawmakers and what happens if our voice is not heard in the way we want it to be heard?’” said Aniano. "I do think people are getting exhausted. They're getting tired. They've spent a lot of time and money to take part in this. It seems like they thought there would be a more concrete plan at least by this point, if not earlier."  

The people taking part in the convoy are real people with real finances, driving across the country while fuel prices spike, and paying for some travel expenses. All of this has led to some questioning from supporters, who are taking to Zello, Telegram, and Facebook to demand clarity about where the funds are going. 

The AFCLF is a relatively new organization, and it lacks transparency about who’s donating and where the money is going. It was started in recent years and initially raised money to help finance efforts to investigate “2020 election fraud.” The founder told the Daily Beast that the convoy money is going toward “fuel, food, signage and basics for their journey.” As reported by the Washington Post, Pamela Milacek, the AFCLF executive director, pleaded guilty to fraud in 2020. AFCLF did not respond to questions sent to them by VICE News. 

Advertisement

But one couple who’s been with the convoy since Adelanto told VICE News they feel well taken care of by the organizers. Andrea and Thomas Traphagan, whose adult kids are running their farm in California during their absence, said they set aside around $7,000 for the entire trip. So far, they’ve only had to pay out of pocket for fuel once. “The rest of the time, it has been through donations through the people’s convoy,” Thomas said. “We’ve been lining up to refuel about every two days.” They had to fork out $4,200 for their big rig’s repair since getting on the road, but otherwise, they’ve saved costs by sleeping in the back of the truck. 

Since Friday, the convoy has been stationed in Hagerstown. Conspiracy theories that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set a “false flag” trap for the convoy in D.C. are common, and some organizers seem to have gotten cold feet about venturing too close to the U.S. capital city.  

On Sunday, the convoy did a symbolic two laps of the Capital Beltway, which organizers said was meant to demonstrate their size. But they failed to make any real impact on the usually traffic-snarled road. Some convoy participants got mixed in with regular drivers. 

Some of their supporters are not impressed by the loops. “Driving in circles around the capital is a joke,” one person wrote in a Telegram channel. “Great job to the organizers of all this. You will see this will do absolutely nothing. You would have had a greater impact if you just all stayed home.” (Despite these complaints, members of the convoy took another couple laps of the beltway on Monday.) 

Advertisement

Brase told the convoy on Monday morning that there are no current plans to go into D.C. proper. “I know some of you passionately want that to happen, but I have to worry about the safety of the children in this convoy and every one of you,” said Brase. “I don’t want it on my conscience [if] I brought people down there and bad stuff happens.”

Aniano said that a pervasive sense of paranoia regarding being tricked into a January 6-esque event has, in a sense, hobbled the convoy. And some protesters’ dismay with the apparent lack of action is one of the more concerning aspects for Aniano. 

“My concern is not a well-coordinated mob of thousands descending on downtown D.C.,” she said. “My concern is people getting frustrated as they already are, but then taking that frustration and using it to mobilize and go rogue in a way that defies the official guidance of the people's convoys." 

Renee Harrington, another organizer, speaking on the walkie-talkie app Zello to members of the convoy, echoed Brase’s remarks. “Please understand that if you step inside D.C.—and don’t get us wrong, all of y’all, all the drivers, are adults—but if you go into D.C., you will no longer be backed by the convoy,” Harrington said. 

Despite these official statements from organizers, the Capitol Police seem to be taking no chances. On Sunday they issued an emergency declaration, which would allow them to ask for help from the National Guard if needed. They also advised members of Congress to consider working from home. 

And meanwhile, there are also simmering complaints from convoy participants about what they say is a lack of transparency and communication from the protest leaders. “These are adults who have been patient for weeks and months at a time. They have had faith,” said a woman on Zello. “They have been patient. But at this point their patience is over, and that’s what I’m trying to communicate.” 

Advertisement

If the organizers continue this way, she added, “people are just going to pack up and go home.” Some livestreamers have reported that people attending the protest have indeed headed home due to lack of action. Another on that Zello channel warned that soon people will “start taking matters into their own hands.” “We all agree we want to prevent THAT,” they wrote. “Do we have *clear goals* that after we achieve those we can get back to our lives/ families?” 

Andrea and Thomas Traphagan told VICE News they’re in it for the long haul. 

“We don’t wanna harm anyone, we don’t want to stop traffic,” said Thomas. “This could take a long time.” 

Organizers have dangled the prospect of a meeting with members of Congress, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. A spokesperson for Gaetz said, “Gaetz, Greene, and [Rep. Thomas] Massie will host a roundtable discussion with truckers (Tuesday).” The spokesperson told VICE they expect about “100 truckers” to attend the invitation-only roundtable. Still, despite the upcoming meeting, some truckers remain paranoid about the capital and politicians—even those on their side. Later on Monday, Sens. Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson announced they’ll be meeting with the truckers. 

“A lot of questions have been asked on the name,” Brase said when speaking about meeting politicians. “I don’t want to release the name of the (politician) we’re meeting with until I know without a doubt that these people will actually talk to us.” 

“I am fearful of them trying to do to us what they did to those involved in January 6.” 

Follow Mack and Tess on Twitter.

Correction: This article previously incorrectly identified Leigh Dundas as an AFCLF figure who pleaded guilty to fraud. Pamela Milacek is the AFCLF  executive director who pleaded guilty to fraud. 

Tagged:

Washington, DC, anti-vaccine, The Extremism Desk, trucker convoy, covid-conspriacies

More
like this
Gab Founder Andrew Torba Wants to Build a Christian Nationalist Internet
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Has Teamed Up With a White Nationalist
Conservative Leader Finally Denounces Far-Right Group After Rape Threat Against Wife
Republicans Are Suddenly Very Eager to Defund the Police
The QAnon Queen Used a Roger Stone Cameo to Raise Money
FBI Standoff Suspect Posted ‘Call to Arms’ on Trump's Truth Social
Even Before the FBI Search, MAGA World Was Saying It's at War
A Proud Boy and Michael Flynn Were Elected to a Republican Executive Committee in Florida