The People’s Convoy (TPC) – the American version of Canada’s Freedom Convoy – hit the road, intending to reach Washington, D.C. in time for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address on March 1.
Tampa Bay, Florida’s local channel WFLA 8 said the truckers seek an end to Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions – including mask mandates and compulsory vaccination. TPC set out from Adelanto, California on Feb. 23. Several trucks and other vehicles congregated in a parking lot at the town near the Mojave Desert before hitting the road.
Trucker and TPC core organizer Brian Brase said: “To the truck drivers around the world: Now is your time to stand up. Now is your time to usher in a renaissance time of freedom. Do not bow down.” Brase is working on the convoy’s contingent coming from California, which is set to meet up with other truckers along the way.
Truck driver Dallas Hughbanks, who joined the California group, said: “We’re not [going to] be violent, we’re not [going to] try to block or blockade anything. Just doing a convoy and bringing people to awareness.” The 61-year-old said his message is freedom of choice, specifically noting that he does not want to wear a face mask.
The trucks who joined TPC carried signs such as “legalize freedom” and “let them breathe.” A statement by TPC organizers said the convoy was multicultural and non-partisan, although some flags express support toward former President Donald Trump. The organizers pledged a “100 percent safe, lawful and peaceful journey” that will “terminate in the vicinity of the D.C. area [and] will not be going into D.C. proper,” setting a March 5 arrival.
WFLA 8 said the convoys all have different starting points, departure dates and routes. Snowfall forced some last-minute route changes while the convoy is on the road. “It wasn’t clear how many intended to go all the way,” the report added.
Law enforcement bracing for TPC’s arrival
Law enforcement in the federal capital and the surrounding states also made preparations for the convoy’s arrival. These preparations include the deployment of state troopers and the National Guard.
CBS News reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had approved requests from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Capitol police for National Guard assistance. Up to 700 guardsmen – 400 from the D.C. National Guard and nearly 300 from nearby New Jersey, Vermont and West Virginia – will be assigned to traffic control duty. The 700 guardsmen are set to arrive “no later than Feb. 26,” the report added.
Maj. Gen. Sherrie McCandless, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, confirmed the move. “Our partners have asked for our help in ensuring people can demonstrate peacefully and safely, and we stand ready to assist. The people who live, work and visit [D.C.] are part of our community, and their safety is our first mission priority,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, officials from the Virginia State Police and Maryland State Police told CBS News that they are monitoring the situation.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Feb. 22 that the federal government is tracking reports about TPC. She added that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is helping out in the endeavor.
“We have been working closely with our federal, state and local partners to continuously assess the threat environment and keep our communities safe,” said Psaki.
“[Our] efforts include enhanced intelligence sharing, a Critical Incident Response Plan for the U.S. Capitol, a regional security assessment and a simulation experiment that developed data-driven recommendations to bolster regional security. [We] are closely monitoring, closely watching and working with state and local authorities.”
**By Ramon Tomey