People’s Caravan: Gathering at Hagerstown

Truck drivers and their supporters are now closest to the nation’s capital, wanting to hold lawmakers “responsible” for the government’s responses to the pandemic. Their plans for the coming days remained murky Saturday afternoon, but organizers said they intended to stay here, about an hour’s drive from Beltway, for the rest of the day and hold a gathering in the evening.

The motives of the convoy are also muddy. People gathered in this western Maryland city described frustration with workplace vaccine mandates and restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus. Corona Virus – Although these rules are now lifted in many places. Crowds on the highway chanted anti-Biden slogans and showed support for former President Donald Trump. Analysts of extremism point to a broader set of right-wing reasons that motivated the participants.

Trucks and cars rolled into the highway complex on Saturday morning, passing under an American flag waving from a 30-foot twirl cable attached to two radius trucks. Inside, truck drivers and their supporters were getting up after a Friday night rally. Most of the crowd was white men, but there were some kids and dogs too.

Rows and rows of tanker trucks, flatbed trucks, box-trailers, RVs and vans lined the parking lot, carrying license plates from Utah, Maine, Arkansas, Texas and other states. A chorus of trumpets sounded from the area where the convoy cars were stacked in queues, waiting for their next move.

On Friday night, Brian Price, the organizer of the caravan, looked at the crowd, some wearing red, white and blue beanie hats and waving American flags, and asked them to celebrate their distance. But they will have to wait longer to find out their final destination and what to do when they get there.

“Okay, we’ll do something,” he said with a laugh. What this is has not yet been determined. Please be patient.”

The organizers of the “People’s Caravan”, dubbed the “People’s Caravan”, confirmed that they would not go to the capital and had previously said they would target the Beltway area on Saturday. But Brase announced Friday morning to his supporters in Lower City, Ohio, that those plans had changed. He said they were staying in Hagerstown on Saturday before another location likely “just two miles from the Beltway” was targeted, without providing details.

When asked about the group’s plans, Mike Landis, the organizer of the People’s Caravan, said, “We’re going to continue to bother DC…just make them wonder a little.” He continued, “Look, we are truck drivers. We are very spontaneous.”

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The prospect of convoys of truck drivers heading to the Beltway raised security concerns, as police agencies from the capital, Maryland and Virginia were called in to monitor the group. Supporters were joining and leaving throughout the journey, making it difficult to estimate the size of the caravan.

Officials across the region have advised drivers to prepare for potentially heavy traffic over the weekend. “It’s a very fluid situation,” Ellen Kamilakis, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Saturday.

On Friday night, the mood of the group was festive and proud. Truckers launched a “Take Me Home, Country Road” campaign and ate spaghetti, burgers and chicken tacos donated by their supporters. Leaders stood on the makeshift platform of a flatbed truck and criticized the federal government for enforcing mandates for vaccines and masks, policies they believe violated their basic rights as Americans.

Demonstrators, inspired by their self-proclaimedFreedom Caravan“who had occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks, complained of the perceived infringement of their liberties. Some truck drivers displayed flags mixing stars and stripes with Canadian maple leaves.

Extremism researchers who track this movement say the protesters’ anti-vaccination is just one of several right-wing anti-government beliefs they hold. Flat wagons, trucks and other cars are decorated in the highway parking area References and messages referring to far-right political views and conspiracy theories, including calls to “arrest Fauci,” referring to White House medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci, Equality between mandates and slavery. Some fans wore Make America Great Again hats. Others waved flags bearing a sign of A clear anti-Biden slogan.

On Saturday, banners and placards displayed a full gamut of political slogans, Bible verses and expressions of patriotism. One read “Opening the Keystone Pipeline”. Others: “Trump won” and “We won’t comply.”

A woman offered free copies of the Bible from a stall near another supporter selling “People’s Caravan” T-shirts.

Brass said the group wants to end the national emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus — first issued by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020 and later extended by President Biden — and for Congress to hold hearings to investigate the government’s response to the pandemic.

Craig Brown, 53, left his home in Sandpoint, Idaho, two weeks ago. A truck driver, taking a shipment of apples to Los Angeles to get closer to the caravan’s starting point in Adelanto, California. He felt uncomfortable that the government expected him to receive such a new vaccine, and wanted his teenage son to teach girls to stand up for what they believe in. So he bought a month’s worth of non-perishable food, put an extra freezer in his car, and set out to join the movement.

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On February 23, a group of American truck drivers began a cross-country trip from California to Washington to protest coronavirus restrictions. (Reuters)

On his way to Los Angeles, Brown blew up the back of his truck and waited five days to get it fixed. And before he even found out about the other truck drivers, Brown adopted a two-year-old golden dog named Cooper.

By February 23, he had joined the group on their way out of Southern California. Since then, Brown has said the trip has been more exciting than he could have imagined. He said people across the country had put up signs to support them, and so many volunteers had brought comfort food that he barely made use of the non-perishables.

“It’s loud, seeing all the people on the bridges and on the roadsides,” Brown said. “All these people treat us like we’re heroes.”

Brown, who contracted COVID-19 last month, does not want to do anything political in the capital. He said he wanted to end the trip by standing next to the truck drivers and their supporters, and having a meal together.

“We will eat, celebrate and enjoy the company of people who think we are heroes,” he said.

During the trip, supporters stood on cold bridges on highways to wave American flags. They cheered at rallies and followed the journey on social media. Donations poured in. By Monday, the group claimed to have raised more than $1.5 million.

“Select trucks will go to the White House,” a convoy participant said Friday during a YouTube live broadcast, but emphasized that the group as a whole would not go to the city. He did not elaborate on those plans and there were no indications they had materialized early Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t want people to think that we are invading the capital,” he said in the live broadcast. “This is not the caravan heading to the Common Capital. This is a few selected drivers.”

There have been no requests for a permit for the convoy of truck drivers in the coming days, National Park Service spokesman Mike Letterst said Friday. Large trucks are prohibited on many roads in the area, and there are many regulations governing their operation, including how long they can be idle.

In Hagerstown, Heather Kelly, 43, a former nurse, said she always had the vaccinations needed for her job, but didn’t want to get what she saw as a new shot of the virus. Her opposition to hiding rules and mandates for vaccines — and the loss of confidence in the government she said she caused — turned her life upside down. She quit her job at a long-term care center and pulled her children out of school.

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“You have free will, and free choice,” she said. “I let the government ask you to put something on your face. Will I have to cover my head afterwards as if I were in a Muslim country?”

Kelly, who said she voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008, came to Washington at the Jan. 6, 2021 rally to support Trump, but said she knew nothing about the Capitol attack until she got to Ohio. . A little over a year later, she packed her 18-year-old son into their pickup truck and joined the caravan.

“I was working hard. I was driven.” Kelly said, facing her son under the yellow shade of the truck lights, her eyes blinking. “To see her damaged the way she is is so sad to me.”

Jim Hasner joined the caravan in Indiana, driving a truck. He owns his own business and blames pandemic restrictions on economic struggles.

Like some of the other participants, he blamed censorship in the mainstream media and the government for hiding the true truth about the pandemic. He said the virus, which killed more than 1,600 people in the United States on Friday, was “gone.”

He said, “It would be really cool for people to be honest about things. Honest about what government overreach looks like, and honest about what a vaccine really is. Have some transparency in the media because it’s just not accurate.”

Robert Erickson, 58, who joined the convoy west of Amarillo, Texas, on February 27, described his truck as a “home on wheels.”

Abroad, he said: “To God and the Fatherland.” Inside, the long sleeper is set up on the road, with an oven, deep fryer, two stoves and a pair of 12-pound weights to “keep his body slim.” Altoids and bottles of metabolism-boosting gum were placed on top of the frying pan.

Erickson said he doesn’t usually vote but went for Trump in 2016. For him, the caravan is not a political movement. Instead, he said he wanted everyone in the government to resign.

“We need to start over,” he said.

Duncan reported from Washington. Jasmine Hilton and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.

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