HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The American offshoot of the Canadian “Freedom Convoy” reached the nation’s capital Sunday.
The trucker-led convoy group, which was organized on pro-Trump and anti-vaccine channels on the Telegram messaging app, drove around the Capital Beltway, which surrounds the DC metro-area. Their plan is to circle the interstate twice then return to Hagerstown, Maryland, where they gathered last night, to regroup.
Authorities in and around the nation’s capital were on alert ahead of the convoy’s potential arrival. Last month, the Pentagon authorized activating up to 700 unarmed National Guardsmen to assist with traffic control.
Inspired by protests that hit Canada, the “People’s Convoy” traveled across the country in protest against mask and vaccine mandates put in place to combat Covid over the past two years. Hundreds have joined the group since they left for their cross-country journey in Adelanto, California, on Feb. 22.
Brian Brase, a convoy co-organizer, told NBC News that he plans to bring members of the protest group to meet with lawmakers Tuesday. NBC News has not yet verified any planned meetings between the convoy organizers and legislators.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the end of February that indoor mask use is no longer necessary. Most of the major cities that once required vaccinations to unmask in indoor businesses, such as New York City, have lifted such restrictions in recent weeks.
Brase acknowledged the end to many mandates throughout the country. “What the People’s Convoy’s looking for is, we’re looking for an immediate end to the state of emergency,” he said. “We don’t believe there is an emergency any longer.”
Canadian authorities enacted emergency powers and filed for injunctions after the “Freedom Convoy” created chaos across the country last month. Truckers and joining protestors blocked US-Canadian border crossings and parked in residential areas for about two weeks.
Hundreds of tickets were issued and criminal incidents reported as Canadian residents reported feeling unsafe and targeted by some protestors while wearing masks.
Brase described the American convoy as a “peaceful, law abiding group.”
NBC News reported last week that as Covid restrictions ease and the group’s demands become less pressing, some within the group’s Telegram channels have taken interest in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Contingents within the groups, many QAnon supporters, have seized on a false conspiracy theory that the war is a cover for a military operation backed by former President Donald Trump in Ukraine.
Extremism researchers expressed fears that the overt QAnon messaging could take over the channels and spread as the initial reasons for the protest lose steam.
Julia Jester reported from Hagerstown, Maryland. Doha Madani reported from New York City.
fiona glisson and ben collins contributed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism