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Convoy organizer Chris Barber leaves the hearing room during a break at the Public Order Emergency Commission hearing in Ottawa on Nov. 1.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Two very different Chris Barbers made appearances before the Public Order Emergency Commission on Tuesday, and the clanging contrast between them animated the first day of testimony from convoy leaders.

One version of Mr. Barber was possessed of an almost childlike innocence. He knew virtually nothing about his fellow protesters or their darker dealings because he was so bowled over by the tearful enthusiasm for their movement. The other Chris Barber was an astute political and communications strategist, a gleeful pot-stirrer, a capable organizer and a natural leader.

He likes to brand himself an internet troll, an identity he explained as “an online troublemaker.” Commission lawyer John Mather asked Mr. Barber why he had multiple accounts on TikTok, where his following rocketed from roughly 30,000 to 170,000 by the end of the protest.

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“The internet troll that I would like to be would constantly become banned for posting inappropriate things or things that went against community standards,” Mr. Barber explained. “Your punishment for that would be three to seven days off the device. So you would log into another account.” Asked whether he found it hard to regain his followers, Mr. Barber breezily said no: He currently uses three different accounts to get around these timeouts.

Then, exactly 90 seconds later in his testimony, that arch and self-aware internet agitator was a wide-eyed naif who was blown away at how quickly the convoy took on a life of its own online. “It was completely organic,” he said. “Everything just literally fell right into place.”

On Tuesday, there was a new audience inside and outside the Library and Archives Canada building where Justice Paul Rouleau is presiding over hearings. On the sidewalk, a woman carrying a sign reading “Go home terrorists” stood near a stuffed dummy with the face of a howling baby and the word “HONK” scrawled on its chest. Inside, the public seating was markedly more full than during earlier testimony, and if there was any question about the allegiance of those in attendance, it disappeared when Mr. Barber took the stand and was greeted by applause.

He spoke of leading the convoy from his home in Swift Current, Sask., and being awed by the long ribbon of truck lights in his rear-view mirror, and he emphasized the “constant communication,” insistence on safety and meticulous organization that got everyone to Ottawa. But at the same time, Mr. Barber portrayed himself as a sort of regretful lemming who had been led to believe the vehicles would be parked tidily out of the way, and was bewildered when a police escort left him marooned with his truck on Wellington Street.

“Occupying or parking all over the city was never part of why we came,” he said.

Purely in passing, Mr. Barber said that he removed his own truck on Feb. 7. That was one week before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act and 11 days before a massive police operation finally cleared the “red zone” around Parliament Hill.

Mr. Barber was arrested then along with other convoy leaders, and he is now awaiting trial on a handful of charges; vehicles that were still in the protest zone at the time were impounded or had their windows smashed as police took the drivers into custody.

As the protest wore on, he found the constant air horns “obnoxious,” he admitted, in the cheerfully conspiratorial tone with which you would confess to a new acquaintance that you both hate the same person. But Mr. Barber insisted he never saw any behaviour from the protesters that was disruptive or disrespectful, and if he had, he would have told off the guilty parties.

“I consider the horn honking to be a form of excitement, more than peaceful protest,” he said. “ I did everything in my power to try and get the horns to stop.”

A large screen in the hearing room played a TikTok video in which Mr. Barber walked along a downtown street, with air horns screeching in the background. “They’ve already filed a $4-million civil lawsuit against us for horns,” he said in the video, though he could barely get the sentence out because he was laughing. “Would you guys shut up over there?” he yelled in the general direction of the trucks. Then he turned back to the camera and drawled, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “There, am I doing my part?” On the video, Mr. Barber hooted in delight, and in the commission hearing room after the video cut off, his fans laughed in response.

When he was invited to account for “racist and anti-Muslim” posts he had made on social media, Mr. Barber said no one had grown or learned more during the convoy than him.

“Coming out here and seeing the amount of love and the people of all different colours, all different races, everything. It was such a diverse crowd of people here,” he said. “There was so many tears, there was so many hugs, there was so much laughter. It changed a person. It changed me.”

It must have, because it was otherwise impossible to make sense of Mr. Barber’s portrayal of himself as a babe in the convoy woods.

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