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Protesters in Ottawa

Two demonstrators on horses ride through Ottawa to protest mandates and restrictions related to Covid-19 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on February 5, 2022. (Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Far-Right, Anti-Vax Factions in US and Beyond Rally Around Ottawa 'Siege'

With the so-called "Freedom Convoy" in its second week, similar protests are reportedly being planned in the U.S. and throughout Europe.

Julia Conley

Now in its second week, an anti-government demonstration in the Canadian capital of Ottawa has garnered support from right-wing lawmakers and media personalities in the U.S. and abroad, with millions of dollars raised internationally to back the so-called "Freedom Convoy" and similar protests reportedly being planned in the U.S. and Europe for the coming weeks.

The demonstration began last month over a federal Covid-19 vaccine mandate for truck drivers who operate between the U.S. and Canada. Only 10% of the country's cross-border truckers are unvaccinated, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, but the far-right group Canada Unity and other organizers assembled what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a "small fringe minority" to protest the mandate.

"Rightwing U.S. political figures and content creators... really gave it a boost that made it global."

Since then, participants have called for an end to all Covid-19 mandates and other public health measures in Canada and the removal of Trudeau's government and have said they won't leave Ottawa until the restrictions are abolished.

Public health measures such as mask mandates in Canada vary by province and city; Alberta and Ontario require proof of vaccination to enter "non-essential venues," according to CNN.

While Trudeau has dismissed the convoy, right-wing politicians in the U.S. including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have applauded the protest.

Right-wing commentators such as Mike Huckabee, Glenn Beck, and Ben Shapiro have urged their followers to support the convoy, directing audience members to donate to the organizers.

Multiple crowdfunding campaigns have garnered millions of dollars for the convoy, including $8 million in donations that were raised using GoFundMe before the platform shut down the fundraiser last week, saying the protest had become an "occupation" rather than a peaceful demonstration and violated the company's terms of service.

After Paxton, DeSantis, and other supporters criticized GoFundMe for its decision, GiveSendGo—which previously raised money for Kyle Rittenhouse's legal defense team—created a new fundraiser which has so far collected more than $2 million, with a goal of raising $16 million.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told Politico on Sunday that the convoy is "highly organized, well funded, [and] extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstrations safely" and has relied on a "significant element from the United States" for funding and organization.

Ciaran O'Connor, an analyst with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a think tank based in London, told Politico that the scale of international donations and support for the convoy is "unprecedented."

"Rightwing U.S. political figures and content creators... really gave it a boost that made it global," said O'Connor, whose group found that several right-wing organizations in the U.S., Australia, and Europe donated to the GoFundMe fundraiser.

According to Canadian outlet Global News, as with the January 6, 2021 insurrection in the U.S, some convoy organizers have a documented history of pushing white nationalist views.

Since arriving in Ottawa, hundreds of drivers of trucks and other vehicles participating in the convoy have blocked roads, driven onto sidewalks, and blared horns for hours at a time in residential areas.

The Ottawa Police Service said Sunday it had issued more than 450 tickets to protesters over the course of one day, including for red light violations and "stunt driving." Nearly a dozen investigations have also been opened regarding potential hate crimes committed by convoy participants, according to HuffPost.

The protest, which authorities have called an "insurrection" and a "siege," has presented "risks to public safety and unacceptable distress for Ottawa residents," said the police.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency Sunday, a move which "reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government," according to an official statement.

The convoy and the havoc it's created in Ottawa "is all coordinated and not separate from what is happening" in the U.S., said entrepreneur Elizabeth McLaughlin, including threats of violence against school board members over masking in schools and executive orders issued by right-wing governors including DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia barring school districts from following public health guidance.

According to social media messages analyzed by Politico, protests like the "Freedom Convoy" are now being organized across the U.S., with people planning to travel to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate against public health measures "sometime in early March."

Convoys are also being organized across the European Union, reportedly headed to Brussels on February 14.

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