Even the “truckers for freedom” Telegram channel with its 96,000 subscribers can’t decide if it’s more interested in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or their very own convoy puttering across the U.S. of A.
As many involved in the so-called Trucker Convoys—the vast majority of vehicles taking part aren’t big rigs—enter the final stretch of their long haul, the group, aiming to end COVID-19 health measures, are disappointed by the lack of eyes on them, particularly after the Canadian version captured the attention of right-wing Americans for weeks.
“Truckers at this point can’t compete with the world events, and if the movement won’t transform and adapt, we won’t have the impact that we want,” wrote a member of a popular trucker Telegram group. “With new events comes new ways to bring freedom. The war in Ukraine shows something important, what it really means to hold the line. Canada Truckers failed when things got tough after two days of police…push.”
The protests are organized against COVID health mandates, many of which have been pulled or loosened nationwide amid declining case numbers and waning hospitalizations. But unlike the initial Canadian version, which started in January while that country still had a number of mandates in place, the first U.S. convoy didn’t take off until Feb. 23. Late last week, even the CDC announced that most Americans shouldn’t worry about wearing masks indoors anymore. And as the convoy makes its way to Washington, D.C., stopping at gas stations, restaurants, or hotels, they’re encountering little evidence of the “tyrannical” restrictions—proof of vaccine or mask requirements—they’ve vowed to fight against.
And while the convoy was big news initially, promoted heavily by both GOP and Fox News personalities, and covered heavily by the mainstream media, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has mostly wiped the group off American television screens and websites.
Even the organizing pages are being peppered with conversations about the war, updates on Russian advancements, and brainstorming on how to make this about their protest. “Wasn't this group originally about the global freedom convoy? How did it get highjacked so easily?” one supporter asked. Others desperately tried to direct people Ukraine-posting toward other chats. A few “truckers” are upset that people think what the Ukrainian people are going through is as bad as being asked to wear a mask or vaccine mandates.
“People now say: Well, those ‘Freedom Truckers’ sure picked a bad week to try and get attention for being victims of tyranny,” wrote one Trucker fan annoyed by the war in Ukraine. “They are starting to twist the events by saying oh our suffering is somehow much less. NO IT IS NOT!”
The “people’s convoy”, the largest of the various U.S. trucker convoys, isn’t expected to reach D.C. until March 5. The group received a hero's sendoff in Adelanto, California, and has seen vigorous crowd support along its route to the D.C. Beltway area (the area that surrounds D.C.). The Guardian reported that the convoy was made up of hundreds of vehicles and dozens of semis, but they’re dwindling and spread out and not able to clog up cities like they’d hoped.
Other convoys are in even worse shape. Lack of media attention, infighting, and poor planning have led some to fizzle out on their journey to Washington. One convoy that departed from Florida mustered only about two dozen trucks at departure, and that has declined as they’ve progressed.
A Telegram channel dedicated to coordinating the Florida convoy became plagued by infighting and suspicion over the weekend as the convoy failed to materialize at designated overpasses or rally points. “Disappointed doesn’t begin to explain it,” one participant in the chat wrote. “How do we go from days, times, meeting places, donations all throughout Florida… to which we have no knowledge of any convoy in Florida? WTF.”
“Where did all the donations go?” asked someone else.
But some observers claim they got a glimpse of the Florida convoy. “I stood in the hot sun for hours too. But everything came together,” someone wrote. “If you were at an overpass, I promise the truckers saw you. And there were lots of them. You just didn’t know who was who because all trucks look alike unless they have flags all over them.”
Freedom Convoy USA 2022, a group that tried to organize one of the convoys, pulled the plug after barely any truckers showed up. In a video statement on Monday, the organizer told the few truckers who came out to join his efforts to glom onto the larger “people’s convoy” to “prevent another rally without our truckers.” Some in the crowd want to believe that Putin’s invasion is a conspiracy by the globalists to distract the world from the convoy's message of freedom.
While some of the truckers’ fans have seemingly lost interest in the big-rigs hauling misinformation across the country, the federal authorities certainly have not. Fencing and barricades were erected in Washington, D.C., this weekend in anticipation of the convoy's arrival. U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told CBS News that the fence was erected “out of an abundance of caution” to “prevent any disruption to the important work of Congress,” including the State of the Union address, scheduled for Tuesday night.
One of the largest “truckers for freedom” Telegram channels for the convoy was reeling over the new fencing encircling the Capitol area on Monday. The channel shared a video, filmed from a car window, showing the fencing around the Capitol, as pedestrians casually walked around, enjoying the spring weather. “This is unbelievable,” the person filming said.
“DC is blocked and armed to the teeth, but also the DC beltway,” the Telegram channel wrote alongside the video. “The resistance will be fierce but we act peacefully for freedom.” They added that there are “10000 troops in DC and around DC on the beltway waiting for us.” (The military approved the deployment of 700 members of the National Guard to assist with any traffic issues that could arise from the convoy during the State of the Union, but there is no evidence to support the claim that 10,000 troops were laying in wait for the convoy to arrive.)
The convoys were inspired by the one that occupied and wreaked havoc in the Canadian capital Ottawa for several weeks. For a while, these folks were heroes to their people, but after police eventually evicted them from their occupied locations, some American convoy stans soured on their neighbors to the north. "Ukrainians show that when the shit hits the fan, you need to stand strong, something that the Canadians didn't fully do,” wrote one person. Another was even harsher in their view of the Canucks’ efforts, writing, “Canadian truckers failed when things got tough after two days of police and military push.” (The Canadian military was not involved.)
The convoys have raised millions of dollars through fundraising efforts for their cause—they’ve also garnered immense support from right-wing politicians, pundits, and grifters. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this past weekend, the convoys were brought up frequently.
“A line has been crossed. You're either with the peaceful truckers or you're with the left-wing fascists,” said former U.S. President Donald Trump of the Canadian protests. One Republican candidate for Nebraska governor said he “had a vision of a peaceful trucker protest surrounding Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Biden." Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado actually compared the situation in Ukraine to what the convoy demonstrators in Canada dealt with and said Canada needs “to be liberated.”
Even with all the attention lavished on them by political leaders at the biggest conservative conference in the United States, it’s not easy to be a convoy fan.
“What we see (in Ukraine) is not bravery, it's adrenaline and rush. Real bravery comes from a good dose of wisdom. The people fighting in wars are not brave but pumped with adrenaline and lacking wisdom…” the person behind the Trucker’s for Freedom channel wrote. “This is bravery. Support the truckers.”