The Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement authorities of the potential that a trucker convoy, along the lines of the "Freedom Convoy" that has largely shut down Canada's capital city, could converge on Washington or even threaten the Super Bowl game in Los Angeles this coming Sunday, according to Yahoo News.
The DHS claimed in a Tuesday bulletin that it "has received reports of truck drivers planning to potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities in the United States in protest of, among other things, vaccine mandates for truck drivers."
The would-be demonstrators reportedly "[intend] to start in California as early as mid-February and travel to Washington, D.C., as late as mid-March, reportedly gathering truckers as they travel across the country."
While DHS noted that the threat "appears to be purely aspirational because the event is only being discussed online," one DHS official told Yahoo News that the threat "is absolutely a real concern."
"They are definitely going to follow the Canadian model and shut down Washington," the official added.
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This uncertain threat comes amid the unprecedented demonstration in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, where thousands of truckers and tagalong supporters have converged around the nation's Parliament building in protest of a recently-passed law mandating that all truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border must be vaccinated.
The so-called Freedom Convoy has at times brought daily life in Ottawa to a near-operational standstill, with aggrieved truckers blocking major roads, blaring their horns for prolonged periods and even assaulting residents. The protest, which began in late January, has already wreaked havoc on the Canadian economy and has blocked or slowed access to the bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing. Estimates suggest the damage to trade is costing the Canadian economy roughly $300 million per day.
It's by no means clear that a copycat American convoy can be organized anytime soon, and there is virtually no evidence that it poses a threat to the Super Bowl. Insider reports, however, that dozens of conservative groups have been using the encrypted messaging platform Telegram in an effort to organize a trucker-led blockade of Washington, D.C.
"Our nation needs a big bear hug right around DC," one user commented, noting that the Capital Beltway is "perfect for a slow roll bear hug."
"Nothing moves without truckers and that's a fact!!" another user posted.
One group on Telegram is reportedly seeking to monetize the hypothetical protest, encouraging users to "be prepared" by purchasing "4-Week Emergency Food Supply" kits that cost almost $300.
Alex Kaplan, a senior researcher at Media Matters for America, told Salon that he has seen local organizing on multiple platforms like Facebook, Telegram and Gab.
"It's just kind of disorganized, but it is concerning because it's been spreading on multiple platforms," Kaplan said, noting that hundreds of thousands of members of various online groups have signed onto the cause. Much of the organizing he's seen online, he said, is more focused on March than February — which would leave the Super Bowl unmolested, for instance.
It wouldn't be the first time that online right-wing chatter has played a key role in fomenting a mass demonstration.
In the summer of 2017, white nationalist groups and neo-Nazis reportedly used the instant messaging platform Discord to "convene in private, invite-only threads" around the planning of the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, according to the Washington Post. NBC News reported that attendees on Discord "coordinated rides, planned chants, discussed Virginia laws and talked about what gear to take."
During preparations for the January 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, militia groups and pro-Trump activists used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as right-leaning messaging apps like Parler and Gab to amplify the former president's claims of election fraud and stir up sentiment for insurrection. Many rioters discussed tips and tricks on how to avoid the police, where to penetrate the Capitol building and how best to smuggle weapons into the city. According to Zignal Labs, a media insights company, the term "storm the Capitol" was used more than 100,000 times online during the month before the riot.
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