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‘Peoples Convoy’ of Anti-Vaxxers Gather Near DC to Protest COVID Restrictions (Which Are About to Be Lifted Anyway)

‘Peoples Convoy’ of Anti-Vaxxers Gather Near DC to Protest COVID Restrictions (Which Are About to Be Lifted Anyway)

More than a thousand large trucks, RVs, minivans, and cars are gathering on the outskirts of Washington, DC as part of a protest against COVID-19 restrictions, and they are threatening to move closer to the U.S. capital in the coming days, although a website for the protest said they did not plan to enter “D.C. proper” and social media posts suggested they could remain at the Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland on Saturday.

The so-called “People’s Convoy,” which originated in California and has drawn participants from around the country, is calling for an end to all pandemic-related restrictions. It was inspired by demonstrations last month that paralyzed Ottawa, Canada‘s capital city.

Their timing is a bit off–COVID restrictions are being lifted all over the country, with some states having to revise indoor mask mandates as cases and hospitalizations have fallen off dramatically since the Omicron variant peaked in January. A separate convoy that had launched in California fizzled out with only 5 trucks left in Las Vegas, leaving the remaining protesters in other Western states to join up with the Peoples Convoy at stops in Salt Lake City and Denver before heading east.

More than 100 18-wheeler trucks had amassed with other vehicles on Friday evening at the Hagerstown Speedway, which is located about 80 miles from downtown DC. Drivers continued to stream into the parking lot on Saturday morning, with more expected before the end of the weekend.

U.S. federal law enforcement agencies have been coordinating with state and local authorities for weeks in preparation for the possible arrival of the convoy, said one U.S. official who spoke to Reuters but requested anonymity to discuss internal operations. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bulletin dated February 26th and addressed to law enforcement said trucker convoys could hinder emergency responders depending on the size of the protest. The bulletin said federal law enforcement was not aware of any substantiated threats from domestic violent extremists, but that some extremists “probably will be drawn to the event and could engage in premeditated or opportunistic violence.”

DHS said the possibility of an attack could be higher because COVID restrictions have been a “key driver” of domestic extremist violence over the last two years. Federal officials would be unlikely to see violent plotting in online public platforms beforehand due to the use of encrypted apps and private forums, it said. But federal law enforcement is also cognizant of the need to respect the right to peaceful protest, the official told Reuters.

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