“Lawmakers including Ron Paul and Ron DeSantis say they would back disruption of a Canadian-style trucker convoy
In the wake of racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, a wave of Republican lawmakers supported legislation to punish protesters who blocked roads. Now some of those same Republicans are supporting similar tactics from conservative trucker convoys protesting against vaccine mandates.
Last year, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, signed an anti-rioting law that stiffened penalties for protesters who blocked roads and even gave some legal protection to drivers who ran them over. It went so far that in September a federal judge struck down the law, ruling it unconstitutional.
Draft legislation from DeSantis – seen by many as the leading heir to Donald Trump – was even more draconian. He initially sought to extend “stand-your-ground” laws that would have granted legal immunity to drivers claiming to have unintentionally killed or injured protesters disrupting traffic.
Yet DeSantis has thrown his support behind conservative trucker convoys using similar tactics to protest against vaccine mandates that for weeks have blocked roads between Canada and the US, stalling trade between the two nations and leading to disruptions to the global supply chain. He also announced Florida’s attorney general would investigate GoFundMe after it dropped the page for donations to Canadian truckers.
Nor is he alone. The Texas senator Ted Cruz told Politico he sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission demanding an investigation into GoFundMe. The Ohio congressman Jim Jordan similarly decried GoFundMe.
Many Republican politicians have also expressed enthusiasm and support for US truckers seeking to emulate the Canadian protests on US soil. A convoy of truckers is set to begin a protest drive to Washington later this month, in a move some fear could bring the same kind of disruption that has gripped the Canadian capital, Ottawa.
The Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who has criticized the disruptive tactics of racial justice protesters in the US, is “all for” the disruption of a trucker convoy. “I hope the truckers do come to America. I hope they clog up cities,” Paul told the Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative thinktank the Heritage Foundation.
Paul said: “Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights, to you name it. Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates.”
In 2020, Paul described a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters that confronted him in Washington as an “angry mob”, thanking police for escorting him and “literally saving our lives from a crazed mob”.
Jared Holt, a researcher of extremism, said the double standard by rightwing politicians was part of a strategy by Republicans to favor seizing any political opportunities to disrupt a Joe Biden presidency, rather than choose to be consistent in ideology .
“I think the hypocrisy on display makes evident that this kind rhetoric is best understood as a piece of a broader project and not a hard ideological stance,” said Holt, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s digital forensic lab, a non-profit that monitors and combats disinformation online.
Thirteen states with Republican legislatures have introduced bills offering some level of immunity to drivers for hitting protesters blocking roads, an investigation by the Boston Globe found, with Iowa, Oklahoma and Florida successfully putting those laws on the books.
Some of those lawmakers who drafted legislation have expressed support for convoys.
Bill Eigel, a Missouri state senator who sponsored a bill to crack down on protesters who block roads and grant some immunity to drivers who hit them, joined other Republican state legislators this month to speak at a rally promoted as a “freedom convoy” to the capitol.
The possibility of a US trucker convoy repeating the Canadian protests in America has also captured the imagination of the conservative media and many others on the right in America. Fox News has devoted 15 hours of coverage in the past few weeks, according to Media Matters.
In the same span, over a hundred thousand social media accounts have participated in convoy groups, on Facebook and alt-tech platforms like Telegram, in a decentralized effort to organize a protest in the US.
Organizers of the most popular trucker convoy group announced plans to meet in Barstow, California, next week and begin their journey to Washington.
The Department of Homeland Security this month warned law enforcement agencies that a trucker convoy could be planning to reach Washington by the State of the Union address on 1 March.
Holt said the convoys have the potential to be “fairly disrupting, especially on travel and supply chains” but cautioned against parallels to the 6 January attack on the Capitol. “From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t believe a majority of the people who have expressed interest in participating in this are doing so with the express intention of committing acts of violence,” he said.
But he added: “That being said, a fair amount of them do subscribe to conspiratorial, far-right, extremist [ideologies]. So the risk is always there.”