Instead of driving loops around Washington, D.C., the leaders of the trucker convoy spent Wednesday morning handing out a plaque and medallions to the convoy’s attendees.
The doling out of commemorative items came after the convoy’s leadership met with a number of Republican politicians on Capitol Hill Tuesday, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The convoy was inspired by Canada’s “freedom convoy”, which embedded itself into the capital Ottawa and wreaked havoc there for weeks. While the group in the U.S. has raised significant money and gotten plenty of media attention, it’s been subdued in comparison. The group has been staging in Hagerstown, Maryland, north of the capital, for four days now, and they’ve been spending their time rolling in a single lane convoy around the Beltway—an eight-lane highway that surrounds Washington.
For several hours on Tuesday, the group’s leadership held multiple meetings with lawmakers. Cruz and Johnson railed against Democrats and President Joe Biden, and the convoy attendees aired their grievances about COVID-19 health restrictions and the media, and spoke of “the Great Awakening” (a phrase often associated with the QAnon conspiracy movement). On Wednesday, Brian Brase, the convoy’s spokesperson and de facto leader, said the convoy’s YouTube livestream of the event was pulled down for “medical misinformation.”
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 Brase’s meeting with lawmakers was an important moment for the truckers.
“But it seems that there is a misunderstanding between how lawmakers feel and what they can actually do,” said Aniano. “The organizers were really pressing for more-immediate change, while the politicians had to remind them that there is a policy and a hierarchy and a timeline they must follow. I'm not sure that will satisfy the remaining convoy attendees.”
Convoy organizer Brian Brase speaks to demonstrators during "The People's Convoy" event in Hagerstown, Maryland, U.S., on Sunday, March 6, 2022. The convoy has called on President Joe Biden to end vaccine and other pandemic mandates while modeling themselves after Canadian drivers who had occupied the center of Ottawa in a similar protest. Photographer: Craig Hudson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Despite the urging of many followers, the leadership of the group has resisted entering Washington because of a pervasive paranoia about being tricked into a January 6–style event. But the convoy says they’re “not going away,” and on Tuesday, Brase told reporters the group “it is (in it) for the long haul.” That said, the very next day, the convoy was halted by some rain.
“Due to safety concerns with the weather and traffic, the people’s convoy is not going to happen… I don’t want to risk the safety of those in the convoy and those in the motoring public more than necessary.”
“Anybody that greatly opposes that, if you do decide to go out on the convoy, you must know you’re not doing so under the people’s convoy. I can’t have it associated if something bad happens and takes down this movement.”
Brase went on to say he’s not going to stop people from doing what they want and they should “do what you need to do or what you feel is best for you.” Brase indicated a lawyer or an advisor told him to advise people they weren’t responsible, adding, “I don’t know why I have to say all that, but I’m told I need to mention it.”
Several attendees and followers are frustrated and consider the convoy nothing more than a political tailgate party, a sentiment that’s been prevalent since they made landfall in Hagerstown on Saturday.
“Wow! Rain is stopping the convoy. I’m behind you guys, but it’s starting to seem like a weak protest that will never amount to much change,” one person commented on Facebook following the news that the convoy was taking a break Wednesday. “Canadians were out in below-freezing conditions for almost a month. I’ve got to say that this protest is kinda disappointing. Maybe the news of the fizzle was right.”
Kris Young, an admin for the people’s convoy Facebook group, replied. “Let’s be clear and speak the truth so misinformation doesn’t get out,” Young wrote. “It was SLEETING.”
It wasn’t all weather reports and participation medallions at the convoy meeting Wednesday. One of the attendees took the mic to say he missed his son's eighth birthday to drive loops around the Beltway. He had the crowd give his son a “happy late birthday shoutout” to show him that “freedom is a better birthday present than any material thing I could have gotten from a store.”
After weeks of vague messaging around mask and vaccine mandates, many of which didn’t exist or were already being rescinded, the convoy has recently focused its energy on overturning the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration, in place since March 2020. The declaration freed up billions of dollars in federal aid. Biden renewed that declaration in February, pointing to the more than 900,000 American deaths from COVID-19.
Last week, the Senate narrowly passed a Republican bill to end that emergency declaration. Biden has pledged to veto it if it gets to his desk, saying ending the declaration would be a “reckless and costly mistake.”