The Convoy Is Coming For Our Democracy
The GOP Invites Extremists to Sabotage Our Economy
Far-right activists can be opportunistic creatures. Their ultimate aim is to destabilize liberal democracies, creating an appetite for authoritarian forms of government, and they will support any cause that furthers the goal.
Anti-vaccine and anti-mask protests have proved to be powerful accelerants for extremist movements bent on causing much larger disruptions, as the organizers of the "Freedom Convoy" in Canada, and the American far right, know well.
"End the mandates, end the passports. That is why we are here," says one of those Canadian organizers, Tamara Lich, of the occupations of city centers and international bridges that have cost businesses on both sides of the border an estimated $300 million per day.
If only it were that simple. Lich, who was an organizer of the GoFundMe drive that raised over $10 million for the protests before the site shut down the account, has a history of anti-democratic activities. The 2019 "United We Roll" trucker protests she was involved in had limited impact, though, as did her push for a "Wexit" (secession of Western provinces from Canada).
What's different in 2022? First, the pandemic. Two years of living with Covid-19 has created mass suffering and anger that is easily focused against the sitting government.
Everywhere, the far right has smartly exploited the concerns about individual liberty and government controls raised by vaccine and mask mandates, and more primal fears of bodily invasion (conspiracy theories about vaccines as injections of poison, for example). Populist perceptions of being victimized by corrupt elites (democratic politicians, vaccine makers or scientists, etc.) also draw many in.
In the capital city of Ottawa, where thousands gather, previously unpolitical Canadians with grievances against public health mandates mingle with seasoned anti-democratic operatives. It is an extremist recruiter's dream.
Second, the convoys show the power of far-right organizers to use social media channels like Facebook and Telegraph to recruit participants for events and solicit donations.
Canadians have donated millions, but gifts from abroad have also surged. The Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo stepped in once GoFundMe was no longer available (the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has now frozen access to GiveSendGo funds as well).
Preliminary analyses of GiveSendGo and other donor data indicate that a majority of funds are coming from the US. Some are fake pro-Trump accounts rebranded as pro-convoy voices -- another example of the opportunistic nature of anti-democratic activists -- while others are real accounts of operatives who see the US as the next frontier of convoy action.
The transnational nature of the convoy movement is another sign of the influence of Trumpism in and outside of the US: Trump flags can be seen at many Canadian events. Having a supporter of political extremism in the White House gave hope to every kind of right-wing constituency, and Trump’s alignment with anti-vaccine, anti-mask sentiment during his last year in office gave that cause traction.
Add in the GOP’s evolution into a far-right entity, and you have a volatile climate. The Republicans’ acceptance of the Jan. 6 coup attempt showed they will embrace any cause and method that will help them to return to power to finish the job of destroying American democracy.
It's unsurprising that GOP lawmakers such Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have supported the convoys with an enthusiasm that has led Canadian authorities to lodge protests against "foreign interference."
In fact, the truckers are already here. On Feb. 13, more than 100 truck drivers rallied in Anchorage, Alaska. Organized by Anchorage Assembly member Jamie Allard, the protest had the blessing of the city's Republican mayor, Dave Bronson, and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
A Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by the New York Times projects other convoy actions, with a plan to converge on the Capitol in early March.
We need to be clear about the scale of destruction and destabilization the GOP and its allies intend to bring to America. Sen. Paul's comment shows how brutal and nihilistic the party has become.
Just as the Republicans uncaringly spread mass disease by rejecting public health mandates, so they are apparently willing to inflict economic pain on Americans through truck blockades if those will further their political goals.
Anti-vaccine sentiment is just a smokescreen, and the convoys merely an opportunity to activate a tested right-wing authoritarian strategy: create chaos and disrupt supply chains to drive people to the point of despair, increasing popular demand for an authoritarian who will restore order.
Just ask Chileans how effective such operations can be. Trucker blockades and strikes in 1972 featured prominently in an American-engineered plan to delegitimize Salvador Allende's democratically elected Socialist government. Food shortages and supply chain disruptions from trucker actions that lasted almost a month, paired with other economic and psychological warfare actions, created a climate conducive to acceptance of the autocracy created by the 1973 military coup.
If the convoy movement does materialize, American authorities must take resolute and swift action to neutralize the threat it poses to our democracy. Past and present events show the toll of not doing so.