‘Incredibly scary’: How Canada’s trucker convoy protest is galvanizing the American right

Click to play video: 'Foreign influence concerns rise as Ottawa convoy galvanizes U.S. far-right'
Foreign influence concerns rise as Ottawa convoy galvanizes U.S. far-right
WATCH: Foreign influence concerns rise as Ottawa convoy galvanizes U.S. far-right – Feb 7, 2022

The trucker convoy protest against COVID-19 measures that has brought Canada’s national capital to a standstill for the past 11 days is garnering growing interest across the border in the United States.

Since Jan. 28, the so-called “Freedom Convoy” has been parked around Parliament Hill, honking horns and disrupting traffic in Ottawa’s downtown core.

Many in the hundreds of vehicles have vowed to stay until all COVID-19 restrictions, including mask and vaccination mandates, are lifted.

While demonstrations in solidarity with the truckers have been staged across the country, the convoy protest movement has also been endorsed by several right-wing American politicians and is getting a lot of airtime on conservative U.S. news channels.

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Click to play video: 'Is the trucker protest changing the perception of the Canadian flag?'
Is the trucker protest changing the perception of the Canadian flag?

Among those who have voiced support for the protest movement is former president Donald Trump, who was a vocal critic of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns during his own presidency.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and attorneys general in Florida, Texas, West Virginia and Louisiana — all Republicans — have also thrown their weight behind the Canadian truckers.

Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada under Barack Obama, said it was “wholly inappropriate” for U.S. senators, governors and states’ attorneys general to suggest support of the trucker movement and interfere with Canada’s domestic affairs.

“It’s so incredibly scary and disappointing,” he told Global News in an interview from Chicago.

“There’s a group now within the Republican Party that … is willing to go cross what I consider to be a red line — and that red line is to be promoting disruptive activity in our neighbour, friend and allies’ backyard,” he said.

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What are Americans saying?

Speaking at a rally in Conroe, Texas, on Jan. 29, Trump lauded the Canadian convoy for “doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far.”

“We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way,” he told the crowd.

In another statement on Feb. 4, he said the “Freedom Convoy is peacefully protesting the harsh policies of far-left lunatic Justin Trudeau who has destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.”

His son, Donald Trump Jr., also took to social media to support the Canadian trucker convoy’s protest against what he called “medical tyranny”, urging Americans to follow suit.

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“This is a genius idea,” he said in a Facebook video posted on Jan. 25.

“We need to see more of this here in the U.S. and we need to see more of it in countries like Canada, like New Zealand, like Australia that were probably perhaps known or at least thought of as free countries.”

Cruz said the “totalitarian left wants to fire truck drivers” because they won’t “knuckle under their COVID mandates.”

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“Canadian truckers are awesome and they’re fighting for American freedom in a way we all should be doing,” he said on his podcast and YouTube show “Verdict with Ted Cruz.”

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GoFundMe’s decision on Friday to take down a fundraiser for Canada’s trucker convoy for violating “terms of service” has also sparked controversy in the U.S., as many of the donations have been traced to supporters south of the Canadian border.

DeSantis and Cruz both said they want GoFundMe investigated after the fundraising platform froze roughly $9 million in donations earmarked for the ongoing Ottawa protest, then announced Friday it would issue refunds upon request or distribute the money to charities chosen by the protest organizers.

The company reversed course within hours “due to donor feedback,” promising automatic refunds. But attorneys general in Florida, Texas, West Virginia and Louisiana nonetheless urged donors to come forward in the name of launching investigations.

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has backed conspiracy theories, also criticized GoFundMe for the move.

“These corporate communists — this big tech company, basically — that acts as like a bank, and their corporate communists are stealing money,” she said in a video post on the conservative social media site Gettr.

“I mean, this is literally theft by deception. It is completely wrong and they should be arrested. They seriously should be arrested.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed on Twitter to examine GoFundMe for diverting funds away from a “worthy cause.”

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The U.S. support is drawing Canadian ire.

In a virtual news conference on Monday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said it was not the concern of the Texas attorney general how Canada goes about its daily lives in accordance with the rule of law.

“We are Canadian, we have our own set of laws, and we will follow them,” he said.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair also voiced his disapproval.

“We’re all entitled to an opinion, and in my opinion, (Paxton is) wrong,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Blair calls for trilateral table between Feds, province and Ottawa amid ongoing demonstration'
Trucker protests: Blair calls for trilateral table between Feds, province and Ottawa amid ongoing demonstration

‘Extremist territory’

Some organizers of the convoy have well-documented ties to white supremacists and there have been multiple instances of Nazi flags, Confederate flags and Canadian flags marred by swastikas flown by individuals in the crowd.

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Ciaran O’Connor, a disinformation analyst and researcher with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said the trucker protest movement has spread far beyond Canada and has opened the door for “extremists” who are using it to press forward with their own agenda.

“The danger is that protests like this can often veer into extremist territory,” he told Global News.

And based on his research since Jan. 22., the scale of the level of donations and the international interest online seems to be “quite unprecedented”, O’Connor added.

O’Connor said he was able to find evidence of international support for the original GoFundMe page on Facebook and Twitter from groups and communities outside of Canada.

Click to play video: 'Vitriol, threats against journalists arise amid disruptive convoy protests'
Vitriol, threats against journalists arise amid disruptive convoy protests

He said there was also evidence of the GoFundMe page being shared among white supremacist communities on Telegram.

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It all points to the international impact that the convoy has received, he added.

Since the GoFundMe page was taken down, an alternative fundraising campaign by Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo has raised more than $5 million in just a few days.

And based on the comments left by the donors, many of the donations are purportedly coming from the U.S.

“Thank you Canada for showing the western world what matters,” said one.

“Many of us in the States are with you,” read another.

Click to play video: 'Ottawa trucker convoy ‘not above the law’: public safety minister'
Ottawa trucker convoy ‘not above the law’: public safety minister

When asked about the alleged foreign funding for the Canadian convoy, Mendicino said any evidence of activities that can undermine public safety will be investigated by independent law enforcement officials.

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“We need to be very vigilant about external forces, about foreign interference, and that funds which are being collected are not used for inappropriate purposes,” he said.

— with files from Jackson Proskow and The Canadian Press

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