Truckers sit out Canada's "Freedom Convoy" anti-vax protest
Pundits and organizers predicted tens to hundreds of thousands would participate. Around a thousand truckers showed up.
Mainstream media outlets have spent this weekend reporting on a so-called “Freedom Convoy” of trucks that rolled into Ottawa in protest of government measures to fight Covid. Read the coverage in The New York Times, Reuters, Fox News, and The Toronto Star and you’ll read all about protesters lining the streets, snarled traffic, and general chaos in Canada’s capital city.
Curiously, what you won’t see in any of those articles is the answer to a basic question: just how many trucks showed up?
Not many, it turns out. Over the past week, journalists and media outlets reported that as many as 50,000 trucks might join the convoy, and organizers reported even bigger numbers. But in the days since local officials have reported that the number was much closer to a thousand — or even in the hundreds.1 That’s about 2% of what the media predicted.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that I saw this coming:
As a rule you should never, ever believe hype about right-wing trucker convoy protests until you actually see the trucks. There is a long history of right-wing activists making grandiose claims about massive trucker buy-in, and not only does it never happen, it never even comes close to happening.
Look back to August, for example, when Newsweek uncritically repeated activist warnings that truckers in Australia were going “to shut down all major highways in [a] massive anti-COVID lockdown protest.” That protest “fizzled out” when only two trucks showed up, according to The New Daily, though other outlets reported a few sporadic incidents around the country. Right-wing media in the US tried to hype a copycat protest that same day, predicting that “truckers across the United States will stop driving their trucks for at least one day to fight against vaccine mandates” — but of course, it didn’t happen.
You can go back much further than August, of course. Back in 2013, for example, a “Truckers To Shutdown America” protest against then-President Barack Obama promised a hundred million participants and thousands of truckers. In the end, it delivered roughly thirty trucks. As I noted at the time, this wasn’t even enough to block four lanes of traffic on the Beltway (their intended goal).
Every one of these protests seems to follow the same general pattern:
Grassroots2 activists (sometimes truckers) make a video or statement supporting the right-wing cause du jour and calling on other truckers to join in some kind of protest.
The message goes viral along with all kinds of insane misinformation on social media. Memes about the Freedom Convoy, for example, predicted as many as 250,000 trucks. During the Australia protests, an edited stock photo depicting a truck blocking four lanes went viral. Typically these memes all involve exaggerating the success of the protest.
Right-wing media operatives hype the event, often making all kinds of unrealistic claims about its scope. Tucker Carlson, for example, claimed that the Freedom Convoy was “more than forty miles long” — seemingly just repeating a claim by one of its spokesmen. During the Truckers to Shutdown America, a radio host named Pete Santilli predicted thousands of truckers would show up.
Mainstream journalists, who seem to just take it for granted that your average trucker shares the same politics and has as much free time as your average right-wing activist, take at least some of this at face value, report it uncritically, and then don’t bother to push back on the disinformation campaign when it becomes clear that the protests were much smaller than predicted.
This incident also, of course, fits into an ongoing pattern of right-wing activists making demonstrably false or unsubstantiated claims about some rising tide of working class opposition to the government on Covid — for example, their recent claims (bizarrely repeated by Richard Wolff) about workers striking against vaccination mandates. If you’re experiencing déjà vu, recall that just a decade ago we had another ferocious national debate over the government’s role in healthcare. Back then, the political opposition positioned itself as working class, non-partisan, and worried about some vague “authoritarianism”; back then, their opposition also revolved around all kinds of high-profile publicity stunt protests, aggressively promoted by right-wing pundits and credulous liberals in the media. That movement turned out to be largely ginned up by right-wing oligarchs. It had a trucker protest, too.
UPDATE: I just came across this but I think it’s worth highlighting because it illustrates so much about the libertarian infiltration of the “left” on vaccines. Here’s Jimmy Dore pushing the talking point mentioned above about the convoy being more than 40 miles long. He plainly knows what an extraordinary claim this is, which is why he mentions that it “shattered” the world record for the longest convoy in recorded history (it was nine times longer!). And which is why he goes out of his way to caution his viewers against the fact-checkers:
I’m sure that CNN is going to tell you that’s not true and Rolling Stone probably will, but we all know that CNN and Rolling Stone are the biggest liars in the world.
Okay, so who is Dore’s source? Meet Michael Senger: an attorney who “works with domestic and international corporations” on “complex tax structuring and planning issues” as well as “mergers, financings, restructuring, spin-offs, and licensing arrangements”. Senger’s take on government measures against Covid:
Lockdowns…sprung into global policy on the order of the CCP princeling [Xi Jinping]…through an unprecedented, international influence operation…
This is from Senger’s Snake Oil — a pants-on-the-head insane book about how government measures against Covid are actually part of a Chinese plot to destroy capitalism and impose global communism.
If you are an opponent of capitalism, you should obviously be suspicious of corporate media outlets like CNN and Rolling Stone. But if your solution to this problem is “let’s listen instead to a raving conspiracy theorist and hardline capitalist who explicitly wants to crush socialism” it’s pretty clear that your “anti-authoritarianism” has way more to do with anger at the enemy media tribe than it does with fighting capitalism.
Can you blame anyone from wondering if these humble citizens are really acting spontaneously and independently? No, but I am once again begging socialists to consider an alternative: when millions of people are airing their political views online constantly, right-wing operatives are always going to be able to find some who are saying something useful. This is particularly true since media activists in particular often seem well aware that this is their role, and are more than happy to tailor their messaging around what right-wing operatives want to hear. And this is even more true if they want to get paid for it — but the point is that these days very little formal coordination is necessary.