Hagerstown Thursday morning.
The Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, where the so-called people’s convoy has been parked for almost a week, got a celebrity guest on Thursday morning: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Cruz, wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and standing on an improvised stage built on a truck bed, addressed the crowd—a motley crew of truckers, anti-vaxxers, and right-wingers with vague grievances about government overreach—and railed against “petty government tyrants.”
“They ask, ‘What do you want?” Cruz said. “I’m going to put it really simply for the reporters who aren’t that bright or that honest: What the people want here is for the government to leave them the hell alone.”
After his speech, Cruz, riding shotgun in a big rig, helped lead the convoy in its ceremonial loop around the Capital Beltway.
Cruz’s appearance was the second time in a week that the convoy got face time with the Texas senator. On Tuesday, some of the convoy’s organizers went to Capitol Hill to meet with Cruz, Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and other lawmakers, to discuss their (vague) demands.
Cruz’s appearance in Hagerstown drew mixed reactions from the convoy’s supporters, many of whom have been flying Trump flags. His reputation among the MAGA crowd has been particularly rocky of late. He was one of eight GOP senators to vote against certifying the results of the 2020 election, even after the violent riot at the Capitol. But he was roundly lambasted by the former president’s fan club when he characterized the riot, on its anniversary, as a “violent terrorist attack on the Capitol.” He later tried to backtrack, claiming he’d misspoken.
But not everyone was willing to move past that remark. The comment sections on YouTube livestreams of Cruz’s speech were full of viewers reminding others of what he’d said about Jan. 6.
“Ted Called J6ers terrorists,” one person wrote. “Too late he said it that's how he felt/feels thinks about Patriots !!!” wrote another.
Others were open to giving him a chance. “Ted is sketchy, but at least he showed up,” someone wrote.
The convoy’s original plan was to go into Washington, D.C., proper and, in short, make life a living hell for the people who live there—much like their Canadian counterparts did in Ottawa. But after many hopeful convoy participants voiced trepidation about going into D.C. given the ongoing prosecution effort for Jan. 6 (and conspiracy theories about getting lured into a government trap), they planned to instead clog up the 65-mile Capital Beltway that encircles D.C. and its adjacent suburbs.
But organizers got cold feet as they approached the D.C. area, and so they’ve stalled in Hagerstown. They’ve sought to placate more-radical elements within the convoy, who are hungry to make a bigger impact by entering D.C. proper, through “diplomacy” (meeting with lawmakers) or taking symbolic laps en masse around the Beltway.
Sara Aniano, a graduate student studying the far-right rhetoric on social media who has been watching the convoy for weeks, noted that some convoy attendees were reporting plans to stay at Hagerstown at least through March 24.
But it’s unclear whether they can afford to stick it out for another two weeks. The convoy has 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. That money is being used, in part, to pay for convoy participants’ gas and food. But it’s far from their $5 million goal, and donations appear to have stagnated in the last week since they got to Hagerstown.