A buzzy right-wing trucker convoy—in imitation of Canada’s anti-vaxx trucker protests—has conservatives thrilled about clogging U.S. roads. Followers have proposed hitting the Super Bowl, the southern border, and Washington D.C., but no clear plans for a demonstration have yet emerged.
The lack of concrete action hasn’t stopped the U.S. convoy from becoming a cash cow for people who promoted it online. One online fundraiser has raked in nearly $70,000, despite the convoy’s most prominent organizers claiming that they’re not asking for money. It’s not the only campaign cashing in on the embryonic protest. A constellation of cryptocurrency fundraisers, dubious crowdfunding campaigns, and fly-by-night merchandise companies are also looking for convoy cash.
The fundraisers are outpacing the planning efforts, said Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
“There have definitely been figures trying to take the excitement over what we’ve seen in Canada, and the desires to replicate it in the United States, and use it to make a buck for themselves or to ostensibly fundraise for something that is not clear is actually going to happen,” Holt told The Daily Beast.
The proposed U.S. convoy would be a copycat of a similar campaign in Canada, where drivers have parked in the capital city of Ottawa to honk their horns and obstruct traffic for days. The Canadian convoy is ostensibly in protest of a vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, although the demonstrators are not exactly a sample of Canada’s trucking profession: more than 90 percent of actual Canadian cross-border truckers are vaccinated, and many convoy participants are not professional truckers, but supporters driving personal cars. (“Private cars and pickup trucks greatly outnumbered the heavy trucks that made up the convoy in its first days,” The New York Times reported.)
Still, the Canadian convoy has become a cause célèbre on the U.S. right, especially when it comes to funding the Canadian cause. U.S. dollars flooded pro-convoy coffers on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe this month. Analysis from Canada’s CTV News this week suggested that American donors were outpacing Canadians. Although not all donors listed their locations, 52 percent of locatable donors in the CTV analysis were U.S.-based.
When GoFundMe banned those fundraisers for violating terms of service, U.S. politicians announced investigations into the closure. “It is a fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted last week, calling on GoFundMe to issue refunds, even though the company had already pledged to do so.
After GoFundMe pulled the plug on convoy fundraisers, supporters launched new campaigns on GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfund site. But it’s unclear whether any have firm links to organized protests.
The organizer of one of the largest U.S. fundraisers, which had amassed more than $69,000 as of Thursday, is neither American nor a trucker. Instead, his social media indicates that he is a Canadian mental health counselor. The man could not be reached for comment, but has purchased three domain names for “Convoy to D.C.” websites.
That fundraiser joins a crowd of cash-grabs on GiveSendGo. Another U.S. fundraiser, affiliated with a small Facebook group, has raised more than $8,000, some of which will be spent on “event location facilities,” even though the group has not announced any events, dates, or locations. A third, which does not even advertise an affiliated Facebook group, has raised nearly $4,000.
Other, alternative fundraisers have also asked U.S. convoy supporters to open their wallets. After the GoFundMe ban (which the company attributed to lack of a clear distribution model for funds), new campaigns cropped up on cryptocurrency exchanges. One, for Canadian truckers, has raised more than $713,000. (Copycat fundraisers for U.S. convoys have subsequently flooded cryptocurrency sites, but few seem to have attracted donations.)
The money-making campaign has even spread to merchandising sites like Etsy, where a number of hastily drawn stickers and T-shirts celebrate a still non-existent U.S. “Freedom Convoy.” In a 45,000-member Telegram group for the American convoy, one T-shirt manufacturer stated that he was actually based in Israel, not the U.S.
It doesn’t help that the proposed U.S. convoy has no official planners or itinerary. On Thursday night, a conference call of would-be planners announced intentions to start driving from California to D.C. in late February, arriving after the beginning of March. Meanwhile, the movement’s closest thing to a lead organizer (a Facebook group with nearly 60,000 members) has proposed a California rally on March 4 and 5, but has announced no firm plans for a road trip. The group has also distanced itself from fundraisers.
“We want to [be] very clear that at this point,” a group administrator, who did not return a request for comment, wrote in early February. “THIS group has NO funding accounts or donation links posted. We are NOT collecting donations. If that changes, it will be posted here and our Facebook group. Please research who you are sending your money to if you are in other groups and make sure they are legit.”
The group has, nevertheless, offered fuel reimbursements for truckers who attend its California event.
Lack of cohesion has hampered U.S. convoy efforts so far, Holt noted.
“One of the big hurdles that has prevented anything from really getting off the ground is a lack of common agreement on what it would look like,” Holt said. “You've got some groups trying to encourage people to go to the Super Bowl and cause a scene there. Other groups saying that the trucks should go to the southern border and make a statement there. You've got calls for rallies at state capitals and of course, calls to start convoys that have an endpoint in Washington, D.C.”
The fundraiser that’s raised $69,000, for instance, is ambiguous about where and when a U.S. trucker protest will take place. “We are working to try and get something going,” the Canadian-run fundraiser description reads. “It’s hard as there are so many groups right now trying to figure out what to do. Some want to go right now, Some say Feb 12th, Some March 1st or March 7th. I will be updating when I know more.”
While that organizer’s Facebook profile appears authentic (albeit Canadian) , other prominent organizers seem less-than-grassroots. One of the largest U.S. convoy groups on Facebook did not start as a trucker group, but as a generic right-wing page that has been trying to organize large protests for more than a year, Chicago Free Media first reported.
Before rebranding as a trucker group in late January, the group called itself “Save The Flag” and advertised a series of failed protests like an August 2021 “TRUCKER STRIKE WORLD-WIDE,” an “Operation Sick Day September 7th World Wide,” and several Arkansas-based rallies against COVID-19 precautions. (The group, which peaked above 100,000 members, has since been deleted.)
Other prominent convoy-promoters appear to be fraudulent Facebook accounts. A moderator of two large Canadian convoy groups was a dummy account impersonating another woman, Grid News’ Steve Reilly reported this week. (The imposter account has since been deleted.) Elsewhere, researchers noted that a different moderator of a large convoy group appeared to be using a computer-generated face as a profile picture, suggesting that the profile might not be that of a real person. His account was later deleted.
Fake accounts and grift-y fundraisers are no guarantee that a U.S. demonstration will be a dud, Holt cautioned. The convoy is a hot topic in coservative media, with figures like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson pushing for a knockoff version of the Canadian protest.
“Fox News hosts and people like Steve Bannon are trying to manufacture an appetite for participation in this,” Holt said. “But there are still a whole lot of question marks around this thing.”