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US trucker convoy gathers for cross-country trip to protest Covid rules | US news

A group of US truckers embarked in a convoy of vehicles on Wednesday on a 2,500 mile cross-country trip from Barstow, California to Washington DC to protest against coronavirus restrictions.

The group, which is calling itself the “people’s convoy”, is one of several starting from different parts of the country and due to start arriving in the US capital at various points through to late next week – all inspired by the demonstrations that recently paralyzed Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, for weeks.

Just over two dozen trucks moved to the front of the convoy as it left Barstow, with almost none hauling cargo. The bulk of the convoy was made up mostly of regular cars, many with an assortment of flags including American flags and anti-Joe Biden banners.

John Elleege, who has been a trucker for 45 years, said he was planning to drive all the way to the US capital. “If my truck makes it, I’ll be there,” he said. Elleege sat in his big rig while people walked past thanking him. One woman asked him to autograph her American flag.

In the face of the protests hundreds of troops have been approved to be deployed in Washington if needed, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.

The group coming from California said it wanted to “jumpstart the economy” and reopen the US. It’s unclear how big the protest will be; organizers say they expect thousands will join them.

Some of the trucker groups are scheduled to arrive in time for Joe Biden’s State of the Union address next Tuesday, 1 March, with others arriving later.

The trip from California will take 11 days and the organizers say they should reach Washington on Saturday, 5 March “but will not be going into DC proper”, according to a statement by the group.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday it had approved 400 national guard troops from the District of Columbia, who would not carry weapons, to help at traffic posts from this Saturday through 7 March. About 50 large tactical vehicles were also approved to be placed at traffic posts.

In addition, up to 300 national guard troops from outside of Washington were approved to come to the city to assist at traffic posts if needed.

Brian Brase, a truck driver who is one of the organizers, said that, regardless of where the trucks stop, “we’re not going anywhere” until the group’s demands are met. Those demands include an end to Covid-19 vaccine and mask requirements.

Most US states are already easing some restrictions. In California universal mask requirements were lifted last week while masks for vaccinated people are required only in high-risk areas such as public transit, schools and healthcare settings.

Another convoy was also expected to leave Scranton, Pennsylvania – the president’s hometown – on Wednesday and arrive on the Beltway road system, formally known as Interstate 495, sometime during the afternoon. The Beltway goes through Maryland and Virginia outside the district.

Organizer Bob Bolus of Scranton told Washington television station WJLA that his convoy has no intention of breaking laws or blocking traffic, but warned this could happen if their demands regarding pandemic mandates and the cost of fuel are not met.

“They are not going to intimidate us and they are not going to threaten us. We’re the power, not them,” said Bolus, a trucker who owns a tow truck company.

As of Wednesday morning local time, the convoy, which had not yet left Scranton, consisted of a tractor-trailer rig, a dump truck and a handful of pickup trucks.

In Canada, pandemic-related protests choked streets in Ottawa for more than three weeks and blocked the busiest land crossing between Canada and the United States – the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit – for six days.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked rarely used emergency powers to end the protests, and Canadian police restored a sense of normalcy in Ottawa over the weekend.

“We plan to stay a while and hope they don’t escalate it the way Trudeau did with his disgusting government overreach,” Brase said from Adelanto, California, where the convoy will begin, about 80 miles (130km) north-east of Los Angeles.

Brase said he expected thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, would participate. Organisers bill the convoy as non-partisan, trucker-led, and supported by a wide range of ethnic minorities and religious faiths.

However, as in Canada, significant elements of the protest appeared to attract a rightwing crowd. “I’m so proud people got off their couches for this,” said Sharon Mabon, a local resident. Mabon said she had no plans to join the convoy but showed up to recruit people to a local group with a “Patriot Precinct” project that she said aims to promote “America first” political candidates to local positions of power.

Another resident, Janice Ferronato, helped Mabon hold up a sign from the group with the the words: “Take back our country one county at a time.”

Nationwide, new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus have plummeted from all-time highs hit a month ago, though nearly 2,000 people a day are still dying from the disease and the number of total deaths is closing in on 1 million since the pandemic began.

Reuters contributed to this report

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