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Since late January, a group of truckers has been staging protests in Canadian cities against COVID-19-vaccine mandates. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swiftly condemned the “Freedom Convoy” as a “small fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.” Since then, the right-wing media industrial complex has lavished attention on the group, elevating them to MAGA-hero status. But all the conservative think pieces in the world can’t change the facts: The group doesn’t represent anything near a majority of either truckers or Canadians. According to Trudeau, almost 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated. And many in the convoy aren’t even truckers. This isn’t a movement; it’s a Rorschach test, and the far-right media (including the polite right) see working men rising up against their oppressors. The rest of the media, meanwhile, are reporting on the protests without jumping to the conclusion that society is crumbling in Canada. (In fact, Ottawa’s chief of police has resigned following criticism over the weak response to the protests, which led to supply-chain issues for American carmakers and millions of dollars in lost wages for American workers. Eventually Trudeau declared a national public-order emergency.)
Tucker Carlson? He’s selling “I ❤️ Truckers” shirts that are a play on his name for 35 bucks. Elsewhere on Fox News, Sean Hannity told his viewers on February 11 that if Canadian-government officials “dare send the military in or cops or law enforcement in to arrest these guys, that’s on them. Whatever the result of that is will be on them.” Hannity also told Fox’s Sara Carter to “send our solidarity, love and support to all of the brave people who are there.” Solidarity! That’s quite a break from how Hannity, vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, tends to talk about protesters. Turns out he doesn’t “back the blue” when it comes to the Canadian police or anyone who’s trying to police something he likes.
Even the intellectual dark web is getting in on the action. Bari Weiss ran a piece on her Substack by Rupa Subramanya that lionized the group.
But are these protests anything more than a branding exercise for the alt-right? The first thing to understand is that the truckers are not regular folks merely pushing back against vaccines.
I asked my friend Jeet Heer, a Canadian columnist for The Nation who resides in Regina, Saskatchewan, about the protests. “There’s been an attempt to whitewash the so-called Freedom Convoy into just a protest about mandates,” he said. “But if you listen to the videos of the leaders and many of the prominent figures, what you’ll hear is QAnon- and sovereign-citizen-inflected ideas about Justin Trudeau being the illegitimate son of Fidel Castro, a hidden queen of Canada declaring martial law, the need to make citizens’ arrests and form a new government. No wonder the ‘Freedom Convoy’ has alienated the large majority of Canadians.”
As Stephanie Carvin, a former national-security official in Canada, told The New York Times, “The biggest misconception about this, even within Canada, is that extremists have infiltrated the movement … This was an extremist movement that got mainstream attention.”
But it’s not just mainstream attention, right? What about all the likes, shares, and retweets organically springing up on Facebook?
Well, funny thing about all that virality.
According to Grid, two of the biggest Facebook groups related to the protests—“Freedom Convoy 2022” and “Convoy to Ottawa 2022”—were created by a Bangladeshi digital-marketing firm. Ben Collins of NBC News wrote that “many of the groups have changed names multiple times, going from those that tap hot-button political issues such as support for former President Donald Trump or opposition to vaccine mandates, to names with keywords like ‘trucker,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘convoy.’” Much of this inorganic engagement isn’t coming from Canada at all. In his newsletter, Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick makes a pretty good case that much of the action is originating from just three sites. “I took a spin through the metrics around the Freedom Convoy movement on Facebook. Using two platforms, Buzzsumo and CrowdTangle, I was able to get a pretty good look at what kinds of content users are actually sharing about the convoy protests in Ottawa,” he wrote. “According to the third-party links that convoy protest supporters are engaging with, the bulk of it is coming from YouTube, Daily Wire, and Rumble.”
The right-wing media want the truckers to be a big story, because that would play into their anti-vaccine narrative. Canada has largely been spared all the anti-vaccine drama that has caused so much carnage in America, and the Americans at Fox News and The Daily Wire apparently see that as an opening to lash out at vaccine mandates and liberal leadership like Trudeau’s. We’ll see more hot takes about the freedom truckers as the days go on, but it’s important to remember that it’s largely Astroturfed conservative-media wish-casting. Many of these “anti-vax truckers” are vaccinated or aren’t even truckers at all, but why should that get in the way of a good right-wing grift?