Over the past month, thousands of truckers and pedestrians occupied the Canadian capital, blockading parts of the city and blaring horns day and night, until officials arrested close to 200 people to clear the encampment.
Offshoot convoys also snarled traffic at U.S. border points across the country, disrupting supply chains, driving up inflation and harming small businesses. What started as a protest against vaccine mandates affecting truckers — despite fierce disavowals from major trucking groups and around 90% of truck drivers having already been vaccinated — has transformed into a pro-“freedom” movement demanding a complete end to Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions more broadly.
This week, copycat convoys began cropping up in the U.S. One, organized by Scranton, Pennsylvania, trucker Bob Bolus, fizzled out on the D.C. Beltway on Wednesday due to a dismal turnout, but larger convoys with several hundred vehicles have departed from the West Coast and are expected to swell in size.
It’s not clear they will be nearly as disruptive as their Canadian brethren, but there is reason for concern: Many of the same far-right groups that fomented the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol are now activated around these convoys.
U.S. convoy organizers include a fear-mongering lineup of far-right actors, QAnon backers, vaccine opponents, COVID-19 truthers, extremist groups and other self-proclaimed “patriots” leveraging disinformation to convince Americans that their liberties are at risk while imploring them to stand up and defend them.
“We do have people that are in power in this country that don’t care about we the people, they care about their own self and their own monetary value, that are getting rich off this ‘pandemic,’” U.S. convoy organizer Mike Landis declared in a video soliciting donations and support. He used air quotes when he said “pandemic” and likened the Biden administration to a “dictatorship [and] communism-style regime.”
“Our Constitution means nothing right now,” he said. “We the people want our country back.”
This time around, the issue at stake seems to be an imagined conspiracy to exert authoritarianism by enforcing COVID-19 safety measures, rather than an imagined conspiracy to thwart democracy by stealing an election. In both cases, the message, loudly amplified by conservative media and politicians, is clear: Democrats are going to take away your rights unless you fight back and stop them.
“Understand that this fight is at your door and you have no choice but to fight it now or be slaves forever more under brutal totalitarian rule.”
– Tom Zawistowski, We The People Convention
Many of the entities involved in the stateside convoy movement are employing the same rhetoric and tactics they did following the 2020 presidential election. Some originally grew out of anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine movements before pivoting to 2020 election fraud conspiracy theories, and are now returning to their roots with the convoys.
The two main convoys, the People’s Convoy and the Freedom Convoy, have been organizing trucker departure points across the country through dozens of channels on Telegram, Facebook and Gab, where #StopTheSteal plans came to life in the run-up to Jan. 6, 2021. Several convoy organizers even played a direct role in the Capitol chaos, and are now making demands including “justice” for deceased rioter Ashli Babbitt. (Among their other grievances: undocumented immigrants, gas prices, critical race theory, Black Lives Matter protesters.)
While the American movement got off to an embarrassing start this week, the National Guard will deploy hundreds of troops to D.C. at the request of Capitol Police and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. Heated discussions of confronting police and bringing “the whole system of government to its knees,” as one convoy supporter put it, are gaining momentum in large online groups, despite assurances from organizers that the demonstrations will stay peaceful.
“This needs to end up in a civil war,” a poster wrote in a 22,000-member Telegram convoy chat on Tuesday. “We outnumber them … We need to get our freedom back by force.”
Below is a list of the key players and groups organizing, funding and otherwise supporting the American convoys.
The People’s Convoy
With more than 183,000 members in its public Facebook group, and tens of thousands more on Gab, Gettr and Telegram, the People’s Convoy states on its website that it has raised nearly $465,000 in donations. Its main organizers include Landis, Jeremy “The Disrespected Trucker” Johnson, Brian Brase and Maureen Steele.
Brase has spent weeks appearing on Newsmax, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and other right-wing media outlets, promoting the convoy to millions of viewers and arguing that the unvaccinated should be a “protected class.”
Steele has done interviews with former National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who was indicted on contempt of Congress after refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation into the Capitol riot.
The People’s Convoy claims to be working with a number of entities, including Freedom Fighter Nation and Restore Liberty, a newly formed group that’s attempting to “save America” by derailing “the Left’s drive toward an all-powerful central government,” according to an article written by one of its members.
Freedom Fighter Nation is run by attorney Leigh Dundas, a virulent anti-lockdown, anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but is not believed to have breached the building. She has publicly argued that when dealing with “alleged American” turncoats who supposedly helped undermine the 2020 election, “we would be well within our rights to take ’em out back and shoot ’em or hang ’em,” and has compared Joe Biden’s election to “a Second Holocaust.”
Dundas also belongs to America’s Frontline Doctors, the fringe, dark money-funded group of doctors that went massively viral promoting dangerous COVID-19 disinformation a few months into the pandemic. AFD founder Simone Gold went on to storm the Capitol and was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct. She reached a plea deal earlier this month.
Also involved with the convoy is the America Project, a nonprofit led by disgraced retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a major QAnon supporter, and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne. In the final days of 2020, both men reportedly met with then-lame-duck President Donald Trump and pressed him to overturn the election. The America Project subsequently bankrolled efforts to audit the Arizona vote.
The American Foundation for Civil Liberties and Freedom, a conservative dark-money group that has hosted events showcasing supposed fraud in the 2020 election, is fundraising for the People’s Convoy. In an AFCLF auction starting at $250,000, bidders could compete for the chance to ride shotgun with the convoy on the “Operation Headquarter Bus.” So far, no bids have been placed, and the auction appears to have closed.
The convoy has received further support from We the People Convention, a tea party-linked organization that launched a campaign in 2020 urging Trump to invoke martial law as a means to reverse his electoral defeat.
“Once the ‘People’s Convoy’ reaches Washington, DC and their demands are ignored, which they will be, the U.S. Government and State Governments may then move to attack the peaceful truckers like [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau has done in Canada,” WTPC President Tom Zawistowski said in a press release Wednesday.
“We must be ready to defeat those attacks. All Canadians, all Americans, all free men and women of the world must understand that this fight is at your door and you have no choice but to fight it now or be slaves forever more under brutal totalitarian rule.”
The People’s Convoy has also attracted Women for America First, a nonprofit that was instrumental in organizing and funding protests on Jan. 6, 2021. The group coordinated a cross-country bus tour in the weeks leading up to that day, spreading the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and drumming up support for the demonstrations.
“Thinking it is time to get the @america1stwomen bus fired up & rolling for freedom!” WAF co-founder Amy Kremer tweeted Sunday, along with the hashtags #truckersforfreedom, #truckersconvoy and #peoplesconvoy.
Kremer, a former tea party activist, was subpoenaed by the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack.
Another women-led group, Moms for America, announced on Twitter that it’s joining the People’s Convoy. It tweeted a photo of a bright purple semi-truck bearing its logo. MFA organized the Jan. 5 rally at Freedom Plaza and the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse in 2021. Like Kremer, MFA founder Kimberly Fletcher was also subpoenaed by the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack.
A motley crew of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown groups is also taking part in the People’s Convoy, including the Unity Project, the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance and the U.S. Freedom Flyers. The latter, founded by pilot Josh Yoder, is a network of truckers and other transportation professionals that says it aims to “protect your inalienable right to travel freely without government obstruction based on your vaccination status.”
Robert Malone, the chief medical officer of the Unity Project, has soared to notoriety during the pandemic by repeating brazen anti-vaccine falsehoods on social media as well as Joe Rogan’s podcast and Fox News segments hosted by Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
Infamous anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense TV is expected to air daily broadcasts of the convoy, and journalists from the far-right news outlets Newsmax and The Epoch Times will reportedly be embedding with the truckers. Newsmax’s Eric Bolling, whose show has repeatedly platformed conspiracy theories about the pandemic and the 2020 election, is slated to do a ride-along with Steele.
Ted Nugent, a well-known American musician who describes himself as “the Motor City truckin’ guitar player,” and who has performed at a number of Trump rallies, announced in an interview on Newsmax that he will also be joining the convoy.
“You hear all this talk about, ‘We’re divided! It’s divisive!’ Well, of course we are. I’m divided between good against evil and dishonesty and rot and criminal corruption, which describes, you know, Fidel Jr. up there in the snowland,” Nugent said, referring to Trudeau in Canada. “I’m gonna go join those [U.S. convoy truckers] and make sure that the middle finger stays on fire.”
Smaller branches within the People’s Convoy have their own leaders. At the helm of the Northeast Route group, which boasts more than 78,000 Facebook members, is David Kopacz, known online as “Redpill Rebel.” In a recent interview, he said the convoy is about pushing back against mask mandates, arguing that “they” are using masks to “keep us divided.”
After his interviewer pointed out that mask mandates across the nation are ending or already over, Kopacz added, “I’ve never worn a mask. I won’t be masked by government.”
The Freedom Convoy
The other prominent group is the Freedom Convoy, run by Bob Bolus, a rabidly pro-Trump trucker from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was previously convicted of insurance fraud involving one of his company tow trucks. Prior to his convoy’s kick-off, on Wednesday, Bolus bragged in the media that it would be enormous.
“We will be along the Beltway where the Beltway will be shut down,” he told Fox5 DC on Sunday. “I’ll give you an analogy of that of a giant boa constrictor, that basically squeezes you, chokes you and it swallows you, and that’s what we’re going to do to D.C.”
In reality, when Wednesday rolled around, so few truckers turned up that Bolus had to cancel his plans, as The Daily Beast reported. Not a single other semi-truck joined, just a small handful of pick-up trucks and SUVs, tweeted Reuters reporter Julio-César Chávez, who was at the scene.
Bolus’ truck was covered in American flag images and typo-riddled text, including “TRYANNY FEARS UNITY” and “TRYANNY IS TERRIFIED.”
Steele, from the People’s Convoy, made clear in her interview with Loesch that the two convoys are separate: “We aren’t affiliated with Bob Bolus’ convoy, we’re not affiliated with the Freedom Convoy,” she said, unprompted. “We don’t even know those people.”
But there is at least some overlap: Dundas’ Freedom Fighter Nation is reportedly involved with each convoy, and Kremer’s Women For America First appeared to support both movements.
Kyle Sefcik, a Maryland gubernatorial candidate, is also involved with the Freedom Convoy, though he, too, has distanced himself from Bolus.
An offshoot of the Freedom Convoy, the USA Super Convoy, has amassed tens of thousands of members in a dedicated Telegram channel that’s ripe with QAnon language. The rhetoric there is noticeably more aggressive, and numerous members appear frustrated by the other convoys’ stated commitments to remain peaceful.
Anti-extremism activists on the ground with the convoy have reported spotting members of the Proud Boys, a violent extremist group that had a heavy presence at the Capitol riot, which led to charges against multiple members. Sue Frost, a Sacramento County, California elected official, was caught helping to plan the U.S. convoys in a Proud Boys Telegram chat, though she now says she didn’t know about the chat’s extremist affiliations.
In USA Super Convoy Telegram messages, verified by HuffPost, activists have also noticed self-identified Three Percenters, a violent anti-government militia that also had multiple members charged in the Capitol attack.
As the truckers continue rolling toward D.C., there’s still a decent chance that each movement will end up fizzling, like Bolus’ short cruise around the Beltway. But with a network of highly organized far-right groups and extremist figures behind some of these convoys, and many thousands of supporters fueled on eerily familiar disinformation, the threat they pose cannot be ignored.
Bolus himself hasn’t given up. As he told reporters, his planned Beltway disruption could still happen “in the very near future.”