Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday threatened to investigate GoFundMe over apparent "fraud" after the crowdfunding platform vowed to refund money donated to the Freedom Convoy, a protest against pandemic restrictions led by Canadian truckers that has virtually shut down Ottawa, that nation's capital city.
The demonstration, which has amassed roughly 50,000 truckers and thousands of tagalong supporters, gained steam late last month after the Canadian government passed a law mandating that all truckers who cross the U.S.-Canada border be vaccinated. Members of the protest have converged just outside Canada's Parliament building, clogging the city's traffic flow, blasting loud music and even assaulting local residents. On Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency as authorities began making arrests and seizing vehicles. (Salon's Kathryn Joyce interviewed a Canadian expert in hate groups on the various forces converging in the convoy protest.)
Over the past two weeks, supporters of the Freedom Convoy have managed to raise roughly $10 million for the movement through GoFundMe, much of it apparently coming from conservative donors in the U.S. On Friday, the fundraising platform announced that it would prevent participants of the demonstration from receiving any of the funds, instead vowing to refund donors and redirect any remaining funds to various charities.
"GoFundMe supports peaceful protests and we believe that was the intention of the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser when it was first created," the platform said. "However, as a result of multiple discussions with local law enforcement and police reports of violence and other unlawful activity, the Freedom Convoy fundraiser has been removed from the GoFundMe platform."
"We will work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers and verified by GoFundMe," it added.
Shortly after that announcement, the company announced it would automatically refunding all donations to the original donors, instead of requiring them to submit refund requests. But that nuance did not stop conservative politicians and pundits from pouncing on opportunity to accuse the company of exploiting its users.
DeSantis, a longtime critic of COVID-related public health mandates, called it "fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing," tweeting on Saturday: "I will work with [Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody] to investigate these deceptive practices — these donors should be given a refund."
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Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general — who has himself been indicted on charges of securities fraud — also issued a stern rebuke against the platform, saying that GoFundMe "went woke, froze the funds, [and] failed to deliver Texans' money."
"Today I assembled a team to investigate their potential fraud & deception. Texas donors will get Justice!" he added.
"All GOP Attorney Generals should be looking at this & helping to get people their $$$ back so it can be redirected to the truckers. Don't let @gofundme scam you," echoed Donald Trump Jr. "Call your AGs & let them know. [GoFundMe] seems to have no problem finding BLM riots … peaceful truckers should be fine too."
While the move rankled conservatives, Ottawa Police thanked the company for "listening to our concerns as a City and a police service." City authorities issued at least 550 tickets on Sunday and have launched more than 60 criminal investigations into the demonstration, according to The Washington Post,
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly has speculated that "there may not be a policing solution" to the protest, given its size. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that using the military to disperse demonstrators was "not in the cards."
Evan Balgord, the executive director of Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN), told Salon a week ago that the protest is not likely to lead to large-scale violence, but said, "There are people in this convoy who want to do violence to others."
"Every single hate group, far-right group we monitor is involved in this in some way, shape or form, pretty vocally," said Balgord. "So it does create a volatile situation. I don't think we're quite at critical mass. We don't have all the right ingredients, I think, to make this a Jan. 6. But the point is, there's people here who want it to be."
Read more on the fight over vaccine mandates: