The truckers of the so-called People’s Convoy are battling a boogeyman. It’s not mask mandates, vaccines, government overreach, or President Joe Biden that has them looking over their shoulders, but D.C. commuters they suspect to be antifa provocateurs out to get them.
“Today while circling the Beltway, the People's Convoy became increasingly paranoid over standard commuter cars they believe to be with ‘Antifa,’” tweeted out Daily Beast reporter Zachary Petrizzo.
“Six antifa vehicles! Six antifa vehicles,” a trucker said over the CB radio. “Keep your heads on a swivel!” another trucker yelled,” wrote Petrizzo.
The truckers who’ve been snarling traffic on the Beltway that surrounds Washington for several weeks are a bit of a jumpy bunch. Antifa could be anyone and anything. A car cutting off a trucker a bit aggressively, a commuter flipping the bird at them, or just people in vehicles they don’t like? Must be antifa.
“Sometimes they just don't like the look of the car and they assume it's antifa,” said Sara Aniano, a graduate student studying far-right rhetoric who has been watching the convoy for weeks. “It does seem like any car that is driving some sort of way that does not align with their ideal of driving is labeled as a possible instigator.”
Aniano said it’s possible some of the truckers just don’t understand how rough driving can be on the Beltway, so “regular commuter traffic and possibly a bit of road rage comes off as a deliberate antagonist aggravation.”
Regardless, barely a livestream goes by without a protester peering out the window and muttering about “antifa.”
The trucker protest was inspired by a similar one in Canada and is targeting COVID-19 health measures, particularly vaccine mandates. Organizers say they want the federal government to overturn the federal emergency declaration set in 2020 about COVID-19 and have all areas roll back vaccine mandates (many regions have pulled back COVID-19 restrictions already). The protesters, who arrived in the area on March 4, have met with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Matt Gaetz.
For the most part, the convoy has been content lapping the Beltway, while avoiding D.C. proper because leadership has warned of the dangers of venturing into America's capital. On the Beltway, authorities have blocked off numerous exits with dump trucks and other barricades. On livestreams, the truckers have been herding together to cause as much traffic disruption as possible.
It’s also gotten pretty nasty. Video posted by internet researcher Talia Jane shows a trucker getting into a minor accident with a driver and then threatening to run him over when he gets out to talk.
A livestream from Monday shows a trucker climb out of his big rig, march up to the vehicle in front of him, and punch the window before getting back behind the wheel and mocking the person’s accent.
On Thursday morning, organizer and de facto face of the movement Brain Brase told the drivers that they “will be doing something a little different today.” Instead of going out into one large convoy, Brase told the crowd to “form your own little groups and convoy in the direction you wish to convoy” as going in different directions, he said, “twists them up a bit.”
The paranoia rippling through the convoy community is one of the defining features of the convoy. From antifa to federal agents tricking the truckers into committing a Jan. 6–style event, fear is constant in the group. It can be clearly seen in the organizers’ daily morning speeches, in their communication on apps like Zello and Telegram, and in personal livestreams.
As the days drag on, the convoy has been slowly shrinking as the less-dedicated protesters head home. While that means fewer vehicles on the road, it also means those left are the diehards.
“The ones who are left behind, who are staying in Hagerstown still, they're ardent believers,” said Aniano. “They genuinely really believe in this little thing, and they might try to do things that aren't endorsed by leadership. You have a smaller, more ardent group of believers. I think that's actually more worrisome than a larger, mostly agreeable crowd.”
When the truckers aren't driving, they're making the parking lot of the Hagerstown Speedway home—and carrying on with life, like the couple who got married there Wednesday morning. Standing proudly on the back of a flatbed, a man in a visibility jacket, who seemingly got ordained for this moment, declared them husband and wife.
“That you all for being here. It means a lot,” the bride said after the couple’s first kiss. “Thank you, Trucker G, for standing in for my dad.”