Trucks, surrounded by supporters, were spotted in Hagerstown, Maryland, on Saturday morning, as the Washington, DC area braces for more protests that could disrupt traffic.
The “People’s Convoy” has similar goals to Canada’s “Freedom Convoy,” which saw protesters park their 18-wheelers in front of Parliament Hill, in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, for weeks.
The group is protesting COVID-19-related mandates.
“I’m protesting because the Democrats are really bad,” one protester said. “And they have us locked up, and we’re American people and we know what’s good for us and our family.”
The group said they initially planned to drive onto the Capital Beltway on Saturday, but a spokesperson told NBC4 Washington that they would stay in Hagerstown until Sunday morning.
The convoy, which was organized on pro-Trump and anti-vaccine channels on the Telegram messaging app, has picked up hundreds of cars and several trucks since the group left a parking lot in Adelanto, California, on February 22.
Livestreamers from within the convoy have repeatedly referred to “blocking the Beltway,” the 64-mile highway that surrounds Washington, but that hasn’t appeared to be the case.
“I want the government to know that this is not OK”
“I want the government to know that this is not OK,” protester Cory Polanek said. “Just to make sure that (the mandates) stay ended and that this does not happen again.”
Washington, DC’s homeland security department said the convoy would disrupt traffic around the District over the weekend. Organizers, on the other hand, said they didn’t plan on shutting down the Beltway or other roads.
“We expect to see some impacts from the convoys as early as tomorrow [Saturday],” an homeland security official said at the time. “The numbers of trucks and where they’re going and how they’re getting there tend to shift day by day.”
The group staged in Hagerstown on Friday.
Trucker convoy stretches three miles outside DC
On Saturday, NBC4 reported that trucks and vehicles stretching about three miles, were headed towards Interstate 81, in the Hagerstown, Maryland area.
Two cranes which hoisted a large American flag, with several semi trucks driving underneath, drove past pedestrians lining the roadway. Flashing lights from police cars were also seen in the NBC4 video.
“We are seeing hundreds of trucks lining up to get into the Hagerstown Speedway, and also a very large foot presence as a lot of locals are showing up to greet them,” NBC4 reporter Brad Freitas said in a live broadcast on Saturday.
Inspired by Canada’s “Freedom Convoy” American trucker convoy crosses the US
The protests are modeled after Canada’s recent trucker convoy.
Organizers planned for multiple protest groups to come to the District in recent weeks. Thus far, there hasn’t been a significant disruption to traffic, although the group’s website said it planned to drive to the Capital Beltway on Saturday.
Federal and local law enforcement have repeatedly said they are aware truck convoys plan to visit the area, and those agencies are prepared for a number of different scenarios, including a dreaded one in which the city is occupied by the big rigs, in a similar fashion to Ottawa.
National Guard troops will be ready to help with traffic control, commanding general Maj. Gen. Sherrie L. McCandless said.
“Our (Metropolitan Police Department) and (US Capitol Police) partners have asked for our help in ensuring people can demonstrate peacefully and safely, and we stand ready to assist,” McCandless said in a statement.
Around 700 National Guard troops — roughly 400 from DC and up to 300 from outside the District — were made available to “provide support at designated traffic posts, provide command and control, and cover sustainment requirements” through Monday, the defense department said.
A great many mask mandates have already been lifted around the nation.
Other trucker protest groups to join
Separate truck convoys across the United States, have been planned through online forums with names like the “People’s Convoy” and the “American Truckers Freedom Fund” — all with different starting points, departure dates and routes.
The coming weeks could be another trying time for DC.
”There’s an eerie social media resemblance to the prelude to the Jan. 6 insurrection violence in Washington, because when we review the social media that is leading up to the dispatch of this convoy, so much of this has an extremist element to it,” said Marc Ginsberg, president of Coalition for a Safer Web.
DC officials sent an alert to residents on Feb. 22, saying the demonstrations would impact the capital region for weeks ahead. “There are layered mitigation strategies in place and our agencies remain in regular contact with local, regional, and federal partners,” officials said.
Protests impact on State of the Union address
Several roads around the US Capitol were blocked by authorities this week in anticipation of some potential protests that were set to arrive just in time for US President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last Tuesday, with others arriving later.
Police erected a tall fence that surrounded parts of the Capitol grounds head of the address, with other efforts to restrict access aiming to keep the Capitol area safe, including trucks and plows blocking streets.
While there were no specific or credible threats to Biden’s speech, law enforcement officials took no chances following the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob caught the District of Columbia by surprise and successfully stormed the US Capitol, briefly disrupting the certification of the election results.
US Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger said the fencing was erected on Capitol grounds “out of an abundance of caution.”
The address was designated as a “national special security event,” which clears the way for communication, funding and preparation between multiple agencies in Washington, including the Capitol Police, Pentagon, Homeland Security and DC-area police. Other such events are the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
The US Secret Service was in charge of the event.
Scranton, Pennsylvania convoy part of group
Pennsylvania tow truck company owner Bob Bolus said a convoy left Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 23. In an interview with News4, he said the convoy would include 40 to 50 vehicles. Footage from News4 showed just a few vehicles stopped at a rest stop along I-95, at the time, with the number swelling as they passed through the route and moved into DC.
Bolus said the group had planned to go with the flow of traffic on Feb. 23, backing off from earlier statements about shutting down the Beltway. A shutdown later is possible though, he said.
“Let’s put it this way: We’re not shutting the traffic down today. If we don’t have a resolution from the government, to the rights that they’re taking from us, I will predict in the future it will get shut down,” he said.
Grievances listed by Bolus included mask mandates, COVID-19 vaccinations, and fuel prices, which have increased astronomically over the past few weeks as Russia’s invasion in Ukraine slows oil production and raises questions about whether other countries that rely upon Russian oil for their energy needs will continue to receive it as Russia grows increasingly angry at the West for supplying weapons and support to Ukrainians.