Camped outside DC, uneasy truckers paralyzed by paranoia vow to stay until demands met

Camped outside DC, uneasy truckers paralyzed by paranoia vow to stay until demands met
Image via Screengrab.

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HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Thousands of angry conservative supporters of the truckers convoy rallied at a speedway in rural Maryland 60 miles outside of the Capital Beltway on Saturday evening, torn between the imperative for militant action to reject COVID measures and the recognition that disruption will likely result in legal repercussions.

Addressing supporters filling the stands at Hagerstown Speedway, organizer Brian Brase said leaders “are currently right now working on another location that when we move to puts us within just a few miles of the Beltway,” while imploring them not to go into the District of Columbia.

“They are waiting for us to show up, and it’s a trap,” Brase said.

Brase said organizers expected to hold meetings with members of Congress at the new location near the Beltway, adding, “We will not leave until we get what we ask for.” He listed a number of demands that are unlikely to be met by the current Congress under Democratic leadership, but will likely provide talking points for the Republicans’ goal of regaining control of the legislative branch during this year’s midterm elections.

“That’s why we don’t go anywhere, sir, until they actually start to do something,” Brase said, responding to a man who shouted out that lawmakers are “liars.” “That’s why we sit there in their backyard and we wait until they legitimately drop the state of emergency, they drop the vaccine mandates, and they begin the process of bipartisan investigations… to find out the transparent version of the pandemic’s origins, and ask who is responsible for screwing this up so badly.”

From a practical standpoint, Brase urged rallygoers to extend their hotel stays in Hagerstown through Sunday night. During his speech, Brase invited supporters to a meeting at the speedway at 8 a.m. on Sunday to discuss plans for the day. The Washington Postreported late Saturday that Brase told the newspaper the convoy will circle the Beltway twice on Sunday; Brase did not mention the plan during his remarks at the speedway on Saturday evening.

The leadership of the convoy is not unanimous on the tactical decision to stay out of the District of Columbia.

Before Brase pleaded with supporters to stay out of DC, another organizer, Mike Landis vowed: “My truck with that flag will go down Constitution Avenue.” In response, the crowd broke into a chant of “USA! USA! USA!”

Leigh Dundas, an antivaccination lawyer who played a key role in assembling the convoy, also warned against going into DC in a statement issued on Saturday. On March 3, an admin for the People’s Convoy posted a statement on the official Telegram channel indicating that the group had “cut ties” with Dundas’ organization, Freedom Fighter Nation, and would “no longer be affiliated with” her. The statement also said, “We only have like-minded individuals in our organization and are continually rooting out people that do not have the best interest of the convoy in mind.”

In a statement posted on the Freedom Fighter Nation website on Saturday that appears to replicate a letter sent from Dundas to Brase, Landis and two other organizers, Dundas wrote: “Gentlemen, I feel it is my duty to reiterate to you that to the extent that you are participating in a convoy whose final destination is Washington, DC proper, the Beltway, or areas quite proximal to these destinations or roadways, you are making an immeasurable mistake. The goodwill and strength of the message that has been built will be eviscerated, and more importantly, shutting down transportation routes whether intentionally or accidentally in the Washington, DC area will undoubtedly put people’s lives in danger.”

A note attached to the statement indicated that the letter was written in the late evening of March 2 and early morning hours of March 3 “after receipt of information,” but was not sent to the organizers until March 4 — after the People’s Convoy had officially cut ties with her.

“Any escalation of a situation between the People’s Convoy (and other participants) and law enforcement agencies and/or the National Guard (should any escalation occur), could rapidly proceed to harrowing proportions, and leave a lasting stain on this movement and you gentlemen in particular,” the statement continued.

The statement authored by Dundas on the Freedom Fighter Nation is also attributed to Ray Alexander, who is described as a “former Naval commander.” According to a footnote attached to the statement, Alexander “did briefly continue onward volunteering his time as the advance team (between Wednesday evening and this Friday morning), in an effort to transfer the baton smoothly on the logistics and venue-sourcing front.”

Adding further confusion about the alleged differences that led to the parting, Dundas’ personal assistant, Maureen Steele, has remained involved with the convoy, and spoke at the rally at Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday evening.

Josh Yoder, an airline pilot who has been speaking at the nightly rallies held by the People’s Convoy, also cautioned against going into DC.

“I can tell you that right now as I speak there are traps being laid in DC,” Yoder said during the rally on Saturday evening. “I’ve been on the phone today with federal agents in DC. And I am pleading with all of you: We cannot go into the District of Columbia. It cannot happen. They are telling me anyone who comes in there with the convoy is probably going to be detained. There’s going to be big problems. I’m asking you: Please keep this peaceful. Keep it law-abiding. And do not go into the District of Columbia. I’m begging you.”

Organizers are also worried about bad actors within their own ranks. On Saturday afternoon, right-wing provocateurs Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were kicked out of the speedway grounds after trying to mobilize people to go to DC that day.

“Right now we need to stand together even more than we have this entire journey,” Brase said during the rally on Saturday evening. “It starts with policing ourselves. There are many here tonight that probably shouldn’t be here, if you know what I mean. Those of you that are here that fall in that category, you know exactly who you are. But guess what? So do I.”

With COVID restrictions easing as case counts drop, the complaints voiced by convoy participants have expanded into a full panoply of conservative grievances, including anger about inflation, opposition to government overreach in general, and lack of faith in President Biden’s leadership on foreign policy.

In a segment for former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast, a trucker identified as “Stan” said the convoy participants want to go back to an earlier time that was somehow more free.

“Things that have happened in this country in the last year — we just want to go back to the way it was before the COVID stuff,” Stan said. “Personally, me, I’d like to go back before 9/11, the Patriot Act. Things like that. It’s just very tyrannical type stuff. It’s government overreach. And that’s what we’re all about. Sure, the mask things and the shots and all this, they’re the… easy thing to talk about, but it’s all the other things behind the scenes…. We have freedom. They’re trying to take it away, and we’re gonna stop ’em. We’re gonna take our freedom back to where it was before.”

Following the speeches at the speedway, supporters retreated to the parking lot where they prepared to unfurl a giant American flag. The air was charged with anger and celebration as a row of rigs revved their engines and blasted their horns, with fireworks streaking into the sky. Supporters facing the rigs enthusiastically waved signs and chanted, “Let’s go Brandon,” a euphemism for “F*ck Joe Biden.”

Near the entrance to the speedway, a young man held up a cell phone and filmed the scene, exclaiming, “There must be thousands of people here. This is what it looks like when America stands up.”

Vehicles were scattered around the parking lot in random configurations as rallygoers held cell phones aloft in the dark to record the spectacle. A volunteer directing traffic at the entrance yelled angrily at a van driver attempting to leave the premises and at a man driving a flatbed truck who was attempting to turn into the driveway. Both failed to heed directions before eventually yielding. Pickup trucks sped down National Pike, a two-lane highway, with flags fluttering in the wind, as pedestrians carefully picked their way along the shoulder packed with cars.

A young man from a truck called out, “F*ck you, Biden!”

It was a cheerful greeting to compatriots, albeit strangers, and the throng of people walking to their cars responded in kind, hooting in agreement.

Truckers convoy organizer Brian Brase,

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