Some of the United States’ most right-wing politicians and commentators are doing their damnedest to get into the middle of Canada’s No. 1 domestic issue: the anti-vax-mandate protest known as the “freedom convoy.”
Many non-Canadian figures started piping up in support of the protest after GoFundMe pulled its fundraiser, which had raised over $10 million, because of “police reports of violence and other unlawful activity” from protesters.
“It is a fraud for GoFundMe to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing,” tweeted Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted out that he “assembled a team to investigate their potential fraud & deception.” The West Virginia attorney general urged his followers to contact him if they were “victimized.” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said that his office will be looking into whether “GoFundMe violated our state law.” Georgia Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene repeatedly called the company a “communist corporation.” Fox host Tucker Carlson is hawking “I Heart Truckers” merchandise, and Ted Cruz sent a strongly worded letter.
The obvious irony is that while many convoy participants and backers have ranted about “globalists” and elites, the protest is now creating a truly global campaign.
"The right-wing media in the U.S., the right-wing (online) content creators and that far-right media ecosystem played quite a significant role in turning this convoy from something existing merely within Canada to something that's gone truly global,” said Ciarán O'Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
It’s become a favorite show for people in the COVID-conspiracy movement, many of whom can’t stop watching, as the protest has grown to thousands of participants on its most active days so far.
The protests in Canada are well into their second week, laying siege to the capital Ottawa, tying up several major border crossings (more irony given the protests were supposedly about vaccine mandates hurting international trucking routes), and similar protests have sprung up around the globe, in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Germany. There is an active campaign to start one in the U.S. as well. The supporters are coming from a large coalition of anti-government, anti-vaccine, and conspiracy-addled types invigorated by the Canadian protest.
The fundraising certainly didn’t cease after GoFundMe pulled the plug, however, and the convoy has now raised over $5,000,000 at the time of writing on GiveSendGo, a site that advertises itself as the best “Christian fundraising site.” The group is also fundraising through personal donations to organizers. At one point, one anonymous individual even gave $215,000 to the fundraiser.
All that paired with the on-the-ground support, like supply trucks full of food and fuel, and direct donations to the organizers means that the convoy could be around for a long time.
All of this money and the Ottawa police chief saying his department was “aware of a significant element from the United States in the funding, organizing" of the protest, has led to many speculating the trucker protesters are being astroturfed. However, Jess Davis, the president of Insight Threat Intelligence, who’s been writing about the convoy finances on her Substack, warns against jumping to conclusions.
“We don't know if any of the money is coming from out of the country because there's literally no identity verification that happens on the front end for either website,” said Davis. “It's a very good important hypothesis to put forward, and I'm pretty sure that there is a good amount of foreign funding, but we just literally don't know.”
GoFundMe has been called to testify before the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security, so Davis says Canadians may get a definitive answer down the road on this.
A police cruiser blocks University Avenue between Bloor Street and Queen's Park during a demonstration in support of a trucker convoy in Ottawa protesting COVID-19 restrictions, in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue shared with VICE News, and first reported on by Politico, shows that when the GoFundMe link was active, it was shared across a variety of international pages on social media. These include “I AM THE TEA PARTY” group, which has over 180,000 followers online; the “James Woods for Gov of California” page, which has over 20,000 followers; the Swedish page "Folkets rättigheter i samhället", which has over 35,000 members; and many more. The GiveSendGo campaign has been similarly shared around, especially by right-wing content creators like Candace Owens and Jack Prosobiec.
The impact of foreign actors’ role in amplifying and energizing the movement isn’t just financial. The footprint of the convoy is large. The ISD research shows that between Jan. 22 and Feb. 5 there were 97,012 posts from Facebook Pages and Public Groups worldwide that mentioned the convoy and which generated 24,094,123 interactions. On TikTok, the hashtag, #FreedomConvoy2020, has over 200 million views and counting.
On Telegram and other social media platforms, groups with thousands of followers are urging organizers to do a similar stunt in the United States that would target President Biden. Already several countries are seeing protests with tactics similar to Canada’s convoy, like drivers clogging urban centers and blaring their horns to annoy the locals “for freedom's sake.”
Stephanie Carvin, a former intelligence analyst now an associate professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. said that it’s important to look at U.S. officials wading into this mess but to remember they’re most likely just using it as fodder for their culture war. She dubbed it “foreign interference but stupid.” However, despite how much international commentators truly care, the attention is nevertheless important to the organizers.
"When they get this international praise, they can see themselves in the vanguard of an international movement,” said Carvin. “I think that injects energy into it, 'oh look, the world sees us as leaders' so I think that's important for their energy.”
A cursory glance at the organizers and supporters' social media pages and internal communications show they clearly view themselves as heroes fighting a corrupt system. Some are still surprised by the surly reception from Ottawa’s citizens. It should be noticed that the majority of the organizers are not truckers (only one is) and those who are front and center are figures who have long played a role in fringe far-right organizing and/or the COVID-conspiracy movement.
Carvin added that while the convoy and those organizing it may have galvanized the far-right globally, and possibly even inspired similar campaigns in countries far removed from the Great White North, it’s important to remember that this is something that must be viewed as Canadian. It was organized by long-time right-wing activists, who have tried similar stunts in the past, those who are vocally cheering it on are Canadians, and those smashing the horns behind the cabs of the trucks and getting drunk on the Ottawa streets are definitely Canadians.
“A lot of Canadians I think are pretty horrified by what they're seeing, and they don't necessarily want to believe that Canadians are behind this or doing this,” she said. “This is a Canadian-led movement. The participants are overwhelmingly Canadian. We have Canadian hate groups.
“So stop being surprised.”
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