OTTAWA — Two weeks ago, a group of anti–vaccine mandate protesters in Ottawa were talking on the live chat app Zello when one member chimed in with an offer. “I’d love to share a freedom song,” he said. “I’ve got my old guitar here ready to go.”
The others responded appreciatively. So he began singing: “How many roads must a convoy drive down before you reach the Ram Ranch…”
“Unbelievable!” one protester complained. “You give that guy respect to play a song and then what happens?”
Welcome to the Ram Ranch Resistance. For weeks, as trucker protesters dug into their occupation of downtown Ottawa, double agents have infiltrated their communications channels waiting for the perfect, unexpected moment to blast "Ram Ranch," the deliriously vulgar song detailing the various actions and hard, throbbing body parts of 18 naked cowboys at the titular ranch.
It started as a way to ridicule the members of the so-called Freedom Convoy. It’s grown into an audio guerrilla warfare campaign to stymie their communications and tank morale. The ranchers, as they identify themselves, even played a role in helping break down the blockade at the Detroit–Windsor border, and their cause has become something of a widespread resistance slogan.
“I never thought the words ‘Ram Ranch' would mean so much to me," said one Ottawa resident, a burly, bearded guy who blends into the convoy crowds to steal as much food and supplies as he can, which he then gives to people experiencing homelessness in the local area. “You want some hand warmers? I’ve got four boxes of them.”
It’s become a way for people angry at the Ottawa protests to fight back. A large majority of Canadians are vaccinated. Ranchers include residents of Ottawa and nearby cities like Montreal and Toronto, but also expats around the world. Now they’re sharing their tactics with Americans, as Freedom Convoy protests begin to take shape there.
“'Ram Ranch' has historically been a rebel song,” said Grant MacDonald, writer and performer of the tune.
"Ram Ranch" started as a protest song a decade ago. MacDonald had written some country music tracks and submitted them to record labels. He said the songs, such as one about his friend Jake swimming in a lake, were rejected for being “too gay.” Fed up with what he saw as the hate and anti-gay prejudice of the country establishment in Nashville, he decided to write a song showing how gay country music could be. “I took out a piece of paper, and I started writing, ‘18 naked cowboys in the showers at Ram Ranch…’”
He said the track has regularly been used in pranks, such as tech kids taking over their school’s speaker system to blare the song. When he first heard "Ram Ranch" was being played in Ottawa, his heart sank because he thought the trucker protesters were playing it. He then found out it was being used against them, and he was thrilled. “I’m just honored,” he said. “The Ram Ranch cowboys have stood up for Canada, for love, dignity, and respect.”
The high-water mark of the resistance came last week when police were moving in to clear a blockade of the Windsor–Detroit border crossing. A double agent named Teagan McLean had infiltrated the convoy’s Zello chats and even showed up to protests in person to earn their trust. Eventually he worked his way up to being the owner of a chat with almost 2,000 members.
He used this perch to urge the demonstrators to go home. He claimed to have been leaked secret documents stating that the protesters were going to be charged as terrorists. He read off passages from the “top secret” documents listing what powers the Royal Canadian Mounted Police could use against them. In fact, he was just reading off the force’s public website.
“Everyone had full, complete trust in me,” he told BuzzFeed News.
He kept instilling fear and panic, and said some of the “soccer mom” types were persuaded to leave. When police moved in, it was time for the end game. McLean removed administrator privileges from all the blockade supporters, claiming there was a mole. He then granted admin powers to a handful of ranchers. “Then I blasted the 'Ram Ranch,'” he said.
Hundreds of people on his side flooded into the Zello group, ruining the convoy’s main method of communication and coordination when they needed it most. “People were shocked and confused. A lot of people were pissed, the true supporters,” McLean said. Ultimately, police were able to clear the blockade and reopen the border.
The annoyance of the anti-mandate protesters sometimes boils over. On Tuesday night Pat King, perhaps the most high-profile organizer, took to Facebook Live to rail against those pushing back against his movement. For an hour, he listed information about people opposed to the protest, ranging from people who took part in blocking their passage to those who had merely posted negative sentiment. He urged his followers to report their accounts for harassment. “Don’t worry, it’s coming, kids,” he said. "You’re playing with the wrong crew."
Formerly their main method of communication, Zello has become all but unusable for the convoy. “The trolls have shut down all the channels,” said Noelle, a Toronto resident who coined the phrase "Ram Ranch Resistance" on Twitter.
Some locked-down channels are still running. Others have moved to platforms like Facebook or Telegram to communicate. Some in the resistance have now pivoted to finding the convoy’s crowdfunding pages and reporting them to authorities. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a state of emergency and made it illegal to financially support the Ottawa protesters. Financial institutions are empowered to freeze bank accounts they suspect are contributing to the semipermanent demonstration.
Many of the ranchers are normal people who got caught up in an unprecedented situation. Montreal resident Jennie said she was getting anxiety from watching the anti-mandate convoy gain support and move across the country toward Ottawa. She’s studying for her bar exam but ultimately pushed that off so she could spend more time listening in on the protesters. “This was the only way I could make sense of this nightmare,” she said.