Canadian truckers and their horn-blaring supporters have become darlings of conservative activists around the world, inspiring copycat actions in Europe and worries of the same in the U.S.
Nothing attracts attention like success, and for those watching outside Canada, the 11-day long protest in Ottawa has become a must-watch spectacle, and a template for action.
On far-right and extremist social-media groups in the United States, the Canadian protest is “everywhere. They’re obsessed with it,” said Jared Holt, a resident fellow with the Digital Forensic Lab at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
What people in those groups see of the Canadian protest “is not so far off from some of their more vivid daydreams about what ‘standing up for the country’ would look like,” he said. They “are looking to what’s happening in Canada as kind of an aspiration.”
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On social media, truckers in Europe and the U.S. have begun discussing similar actions, with some American social-media groups sharing a proposed route from California to Washington and New York.
Elsewhere, people have already sought to replicate the protest on their own streets. In New Zealand this weekend, social-media videos showed trucks passing by people with “It’s not about health it’s about control” signs and farm tractors clogging a freeway. In Britain on Monday, a small rally outside the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police led to two arrests after protesters surrounded Labour Leader Keir Starmer and tossed a traffic cone at officers.
In the U.S., where former president Donald Trump has offered support for Canadian protesters, Fox News host Tucker Carlson is selling “I heart truckers” T-shirts and Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator, this weekend called Canadian truckers “heroes” who “are defending Canada, but they are defending America as well.” Mr. Cruz has sent the U.S. Federal Trade Commission a letter demanding an investigation into GoFundMe for alleged deceptive trade practices, after the crowdfunding site removed a fundraiser for Freedom Convoy 2022.
Convoys of trucks – and even boats – became a popular form of support for then-president Mr. Trump.
Social-media discussion points to March 1 as a potential date for a U.S. trucker protest, although such action remains unrealized for now, Mr. Holt said.
Still, on Monday, the Canadian protest occupied the top news slot on Gettr, an alternative to Twitter popular with some conservatives. The Trumpist, a Telegram group with nearly 180,000 followers, shared video of the border protest in Coutts, Alta., which it called “absolutely incredible.”
The Canadian demonstrations have brought considerable attention to a controversy likely to be at the heart of mid-term elections in the U.S. this year.
“The trucker protest has tapped into what has become the central mobilizing issue on the extremist right, currently, which is vaccine mandates,” said Michael Jensen, a lead investigator on a radicalization research project with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, a research group at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Social media have given immense reach to the Canadian protest. On Tik Tok, #freedomconvoy2022 videos had accumulated nearly 200 million views by Monday afternoon. On Facebook, posts mentioning the protest on U.S.-based pages have seen more interactions than those on Canadian pages, according to data analyzed by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, or ISD, a Britain-based organization that studies extremism and misinformation.
Although Canadian authorities have identified people in the U.S. as a source of funding for the protest, ISD has tracked groups in Sweden, Australia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Greece that shared crowdfunding links with followers. A separate Bitcoin funding campaign has drawn donations from across Europe, the U.S., Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador.
“This protest movement has quickly morphed into a sort of loose international coalition bringing together various anti-government, anti-establishment causes,” said Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst with ISD. The reason, he suggested, may be that “the idea of a convoy and sort of occupation is seen by these groups as massively disruptive.”
Indeed, Patriot Alerts, a hard-right Telegram account with more than 50,000 followers that usually posts U.S. content, called the Canadian protest “one of the best forms of vaccine protest that I have ever seen,” citing the importance of trucks to a country’s basic function. “It’s a genius move to use this form of protest and I hope it is replicated all around the world until these tyrannical governments are brought to heel.”
On Twitter, prominent conservatives have directed followers to donation websites, including the freedom convoy’s newest fundraising effort on GiveSendGo, which calls itself the “#1 Free Christian Crowdfunding Site.”
Jack Posobiec, a former correspondent for One Rebel News and America News Network popular among supporters of Mr. Trump, has changed his Twitter name to the Ambassador of “Truckistan,” and has tracked hour by hour developments in what he calls the “trucker uprising.” He created a Twitter poll in which 98.8 per cent of respondents said they would rather have truckers than journalists in their country. More than 30,000 people voted.
“What has the West become ... ” he wrote after Ottawa police removed fuel from protesters.
On the weekend, Fox Nation radio host Dan Bongino spoke directly to the truckers in Canada with a suggestion that their tactics should inspire others. “Your courage is contagious,” he said. “And that’s how real change happens.”
Canadians have also joined right-wing protests in the U.S., including some who waved the Maple Leaf flag during the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. The Proud Boys, a group accused of violence in the U.S., was founded by a Canadian.
And U.S. law enforcement, including Homeland Security and the FBI, has taken a role in investigating online threats from the U.S. that are part of the current protest. The FBI declined comment on its assessment of domestic risks from the Canadian protests, or on whether it has sent agents to Ottawa. But the FBI involvement suggests concern about spillover, said Veryan Khan, president of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, a private consultancy that maintains a digital intelligence repository.
Other U.S. attempts to organize mass trucker protests have, however, failed, including a proposed “Stop the tires” trucker strike on Nov. 9, 2020, to demand better benefits for drivers. The Ottawa protests have also put on notice police forces around the world.
Still, “truckers and port people and anyone who is involved in the logistics supply chain have realized they have a lot of power right now, during the pandemic,” Ms. Khan said. And “anything that gets results is going to be repeated.”
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