The trucks keep lining up, clogging the heart of Ottawa and blocking roads to the U.S. border, burping out ear-splitting honks and serving as the weapons of an occupation.
The fight has been building since January 15th, when the Canadian government announced that all truckers crossing into the country from the U.S. would need proof of vaccination or be quarantined for two weeks — a regulation that already applies to Canadian citizens and travelers. Truckers had been exempted from this law for the purpose of speeding up supply chains, but a steep rise in the Omicron variant over the winter inspired the push for a consistent policy.
For a small group of anti-vaxx truckers, however, the mandate became a symbolic last straw in what they describe as a fight for freedom and personal choice. A convoy grew in Vancouver and drove east, gaining political notoriety all along the way. They got to Ottawa, the nation’s capital, on January 28th — and now, they’re refusing to leave until lockdowns and vaccination mandates are overturned. Some even claim that they’ll fight until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau steps down.
The conservative media has painted this trucker convoy as a brave grassroots movement led by the working class, striking back against out-of-touch meddling of political elites and progressives. The convoy’s leaders have emphasized this, too, screaming and shouting about how mandates and lockdowns are destroying small businesses and threatening the sanctity of the economy (nevermind that research shows a less compelling effect).
But upon further examination, the hundreds of trucks that are disrupting downtown Ottawa, serving as the vanguard of the movement, aren’t a celebration of working-class solidarity. It’s the ultimate expression of a far-right grift, led by extremists and paid for by a smorgasbord of major conservative funders. And the more you look at the context, the clearer it becomes that the truckers, many of them independent business owners, aren’t simply sacrificing their wages in a good-faith battle for liberty.
Instead, the truckers are there to organize and tailgate with a party platter of conspiracies, far-right rhetoric and overdramatic angst over vaccines, all under the watchful eye of a conservative machine ready to pay up for the staging of a “blue-collar” insurrection. It’s impossible to ignore the influence of the American right in this nascent trucker-protest movement, and the symbiosis is inspiring right-wing grifters in the U.S. to take notes and strategize. The “freedom convoy” isn’t a proletariat uprising — it’s a fight for the bourgeoisie far-right, fronted by a group of truckers whose beliefs make them a minority even in the trucking world.
The pretense is everywhere. For one, organizers of the “freedom convoy” claim that somewhere between 36,000 to 50,000 heavy trucks are taking part — a grossly exaggerated claim that isn’t corroborated by law enforcement, local officials or media reports. By some estimates, the number is closer to around 8,000 people participating, mostly around the nexus of a few hundred tractor-trailers and smaller trucks blocking key thoroughfares in Ottawa.
Despite being smaller in scale than hoped by organizers, the convoy has earned rousing applause from American right-wing influencers like Donald Trump, Jr., Senator Ted Cruz and Candace Owens, all of whom have spread conspiracies about the vaccine. It’s also gained support from the far-right on spaces like Gab and Telegram, where Proud Boys, QAnon grifters and white nationalists are buzzing about the possibility of recruiting truckers for political action under the guise of a simple anti-vaxx protest.
But who are these truckers? Some observers have noted that the bulk are independent owner-operators of their rigs, suggesting that they’re not so much “working-class” as they are small business owners with cash and flexible time to burn. Independent truckers can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, albeit with the caveat that truck maintenance, fuel and other expenses can eat up as much as 70 percent of gross earnings. Either way, it’s hard to imagine someone who struggles to make rent somehow taking weeks off of work to protest; there may be evidence that some convoy truckers are company employees who just decided to borrow — steal? — their tractor-trailers, but for the most part, this appears to be a movement of a distinct class of truckers.
More significantly, their leaders are not working-class heroes, but rather, again, a melange of extremists and political grifters who are leveraging the moment after failing to gain traction in the past. Co-founder Tamara Lich is a former member of the right-wing Maverick Party and a “Wexit” movement leader who spreads anti-government conspiracies. Convoy “vice president” B.J. Dichter is a failed political candidate who once publicly claimed that “political Islam is rotting away at our society like syphilis.”
Another convoy organizer, Patrick King, once tried to make a name for himself by fighting Alberta’s COVID restrictions but failed in embarrassing fashion. He has openly spoken about the “depopulation of the Caucasian race” and how white people have “the strongest bloodlines.” The group’s “head of protective intelligence,” Tom Quiggin, is a former intelligence officer for the Canadian government who is notable for spreading misinformation about Muslim terrorism; he is currently shilling conspiracies about the deep state to the “freedom convoy.” Self-proclaimed convoy leader and trucker Dave Steenberg, meanwhile, was caught rallying convoy protesters with a TikTok post that prominently displayed the logo of the Soldiers of Odin, a defunct anti-immigrant hate group.
Given these threads, it’s probably no minor coincidence that Ottawa police have been flooded with calls about potential hate crimes committed by truckers, or that swastikas and Confederate flags have flown during convoy rallies. “We’re saying that this is a far-right convoy because — from day one — the organizers themselves are part of the far-right movement,” Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told Global News.
There are some major red flags in the funders, too. The convoy’s GoFundMe raised nearly $8 million before it got frozen by the platform for funding illegal acts, and the money has since migrated to the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, a darling of the far-right for its lenient policies. Thus far, the convoy’s two fundraisers have collected $9 million and more than $572,000, respectively — a jaw-dropping amount that’s bolstered by mega-donors, including $215,000 from an anonymous contributor, $90,000 from someone claiming to be American billionaire Thomas Seibel and $25,000 from a Ontario real estate investor. Hundreds of people have given more than $1,000 in a single donation, making it clear that resources are flowing from privileged right-wingers who have money to blow and can trust their cash isn’t just being stolen (it’s allegedly paying for the truckers’ diesel fuel, food and other expenses).
All of this, for a protest in a nation that’s strongly supportive of vaccine mandates, with some 90 percent of truckers already vaccinated. No wonder there’s a glaring absence of the South Asian truck drivers that comprise a major portion of the industry in Canada. Or that the Teamsters Union that represents truckers have come out with a strong statement in opposition to the convoy, claiming that it distracts from the harms of labor exploitation and COVID sickness that truckers face daily. “The so-called ‘freedom convoy’ and the despicable display of hate led by the political right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members, and in fact has served to delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today,” it declared in a statement.
The “freedom convoy” is, in so many ways, a mirror of the attitudes and representation we saw in the January 6th insurrection, led by a writhing mass of privileged white people who had the means and the flexibility to strategize a trip to D.C. and boldly break the law, emboldened and arrogant about having moral and monetary support to win no matter what the odds. Of course a number of Capitol rioters were outed as being paid handsomely by the federal government in the form of PPP loans — the perfect ironic cherry on top of the anti-government sundae. The insurrection wasn’t the rise of exhausted blue-collar workers in need of acknowledgment. It was a conspiratorial riot fueled by far-right disinformation and mass media. And so it is in Canada, which is now ground zero for anyone who wants to latch onto a problematic cause and role-play as liberators.
Truckers have long been a force to be reckoned with when they rise up together, as they did in the momentous 1973 trucker strike in America. Those workers were being crushed by oppressive gas pricing, and without clear ways to sustain their livelihood, they took to the highways in a show of frustration and need. It’s a stark contrast to the “freedom convoy,” which claims to be an oppressed class of people — even though they’re just willfully ignoring the very basic tenets of public safety and a mountain of evidence on how COVID spreads.
It only looks like a genuine blue-collar fight because of some big trucks, but if you peer into the convoy, it’s a familiar blend of opportunism, privilege and paranoia, held up by systemic support and free-flowing dollars from far-right leaders and institutions. It’s no surprise that, as we speak, the activist grifters are planning America’s own right-wing truck invasion, coming soon to a city near you.