WASHINGTON — The People’s Convoy group of truckers protesting COVID vaccine mandates scored a PR breakthrough Tuesday as they were invited into the Capitol to meet with federal lawmakers. But there remains no sign of when or how their daily protests of circling Washington, DC, will end.
The convoy of hundreds of trucks, vans, trailers, and cars remains stationed at a racing track parking lot in Hagerstown, Maryland, about an hour and a half north of the capital. Since Sunday, they have made daily trips to lap the Beltway, the highway that wraps around the District of Columbia.
“We’re in it for the long haul. We could go indefinitely right now if that’s what it takes. We’re not going away,” organizer Brian Brase told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday.
Brase and other convoy members held a press conference with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson, who hailed the protesters as patriots fighting for freedom. The organizers said they had meetings with more lawmakers set up in the afternoon.
Organizers would not say what their plans are next, beyond daily laps to slow down DC-area traffic. The local government called in the National Guard to help keep the convoy from entering the district itself, something the truckers have not yet attempted.
The protest organizers insisted their movement was not tied to the political right or left, and was welcome to everyone. Sens. Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson took a more partisan approach during the press conference, repeatedly calling Democratic politicians tyrants. Johnson accused politicians, health authorities, big pharma, big tech, and the mainstream media of conspiring to hide “the truth” from the American public, as well as censoring and vilifying those who try to spread the truth, which includes himself.
The convoy has gathered at a time when mask and vaccine mandates are being lifted across the country, which organizers concede. “The mandates are starting to roll back, you’re absolutely right,” Brase said. “I’d chalk that up to a small win to the People’s Convoy. You’re welcome.” Restrictions in places like New York and Washington had been slated to fall well before the drivers showed up on the Beltway, pegged to rapidly declining COVID rates.
At the federal level, the courts have mostly stymied President Joe Biden’s efforts to enforce vaccine mandates on industry and government employees. The White House is currently appealing to the Supreme Court to allow it to enforce a vaccine mandate on Navy SEALs being deployed, which lower courts have blocked. The Supreme Court previously tossed out Biden’s attempt to enforce COVID vaccine mandates on companies with 100 or more employees.
The court did allow for vaccine mandates on workers at healthcare facilities that receive federal funding. Removing vaccine mandates from healthcare workers is one of the demands of convoy leaders. They also mentioned vaccine mandates in the military, mask mandates in schools, and a repeal of the federal state of emergency over COVID that has been in place since March 2020.
The convoy movement is inspired by the Canadian trucker convoy that took over downtown Ottawa for three weeks last month. That protest caused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare a national state of emergency for the first time in Canada in half a century. The American version’s tactics of slowing Beltway traffic haven’t yet led to the same dramatic results. Brase wouldn’t say what protesters will do if Biden simply ignores them and decides to wait them out.
“My hope is that we never have to progress to a bigger and bigger statement,” he said.
Brase said that for now the plan is for demonstrations to remain peaceful and lawful, and not to enter the District of Columbia. He did hint that the convoy may eventually move closer than their base in Hagerstown but did not specify where their new home base would be.
Brase acknowledged that he has heard criticism that their demonstration is a “glorified tailgate” from people who want the trucks to enter the district and force their point. He said their group is trying to make change through diplomacy and that isn’t going to change.
“The goal is not to come into the district due to what we saw happen, Jan. 6 stuff with false flags and bad actors mixed into the mix, and then of course what happened in Ottawa. Our goal is to be peaceful, law-abiding citizens,” he said.