The Alt-Right on Facebook Are Hijacking Canada's Trucker Blockade - 2022-02-08
For two weeks now, truckers have brought the center of Ottawa, Canada's capital city, to a standstill. What started as a localized dispute against vaccine mandates has now snowballed—co-opted as a cause célèbre of America's radical right-wing into a protest that reaches far beyond Parliament Hill. On the ground, hundreds of trucks and cars have blocked the streets of the city and set up a tent commune to protest against the imposition of vaccination requirements for truck drivers. On social media, videos about the protest are racking up millions of views and crowdfunding campaigns, shared by the likes of Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino, have raised huge sums. Confederate flags, QAnon symbols, and swastikas have all reportedly been seen at the protest site.
Viewed from a distance, what's happening in Ottawa seems like an organic uprising by disgruntled truckers. But the alt-right has seized on the opportunity to turn a local protest into another chapter in the unending culture war. Offline, 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry in the country and does not support the convoy, has said most of the people in and around the protests "do not have a connection to the trucking industry." Online, the incident has become a global sensation with supporters gathering on Facebook and Telegram in the hundreds of thousands—with many of them living outside Canada's borders.
"The online chatter is very transnational," says Amarnath Amarasingam, an extremism researcher at Queen's University, Ottawa. "There are people from Brazil, Australia, and the US." This global attention has seemingly galvanized those on the ground. While few protestors remain, policing the protest is costing an estimated CAD $800,000 ($630,000) a day. And, thanks to the backing of some of the biggest names in the US alt-right social media sphere, the protest, dubbed the Freedom Convoy by its supporters, has continued to gain momentum online, even as numbers on the ground dwindle.