WASHINGTON, D.C. – Local and federal agencies are preparing for possible traffic disruptions in the nation’s capital region related to plans inspired by the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” that occupied downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks protesting vaccine mandates.

Multiple convoy spinoffs have popped up on social media apps such as Facebook and Telegram, encouraging Americans to mobilize and head to the nation’s capital to protest vaccine mandates. There are many evolving plans, including one man saying he is leading a protest to the Beltway as soon as Wednesday; a permit filed to rally near the Washington Monument on March 1; and other organizers claiming to kick off a trip from California on Wednesday before arriving to their final destination in the D.C. area on March 5.

But extremist researchers say it is still unclear when or if these protests will happen or whether it is social media posturing.

With competing convoy organizers, routes and dates, much is unknown about the details. If plans do materialize, it’s not clear where D.C.-area demonstrations would take place, how many people would be coming, what exactly they would do or how long they would stay.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, who runs the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, said security officials have to be careful to “thread that needle” between playing down alarmist messaging and preparing for all possibilities.

Security and law enforcement officials were caught flat-footed on Jan. 6, 2021, failing to take online plotting and threats seriously ahead of the violent mob storming the Capitol. In that aftermath, they have opted to overprepare for other right-wing threats — such as the “Justice for J6” rally, a protest in September in support of those charged in the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — which led to the mobilization of multiple law enforcement agencies and the reinstallation of the U.S. Capitol temporary perimeter fencing for what turned out to be a small gathering.


“You can’t just write it off as a disruption that might come. These are public safety issues and so they do have to respond … But I am frustrated that there aren’t earlier options being invested in,” Miller-Idriss said, recommending investments in digital and media literacy to prevent people from being dragged down the conspiracy rabbit holes. “We’re in a Catch-22 at this point.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement on Tuesday that the department is analyzing a request from U.S. Capitol Police and the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency for the National Guard to “provide support at traffic control points” in and around the city to “address potential challenges stemming from possible disruptions at key traffic arteries.” This request has not yet been approved or denied.

In a Feb. 18 statement acknowledging plans for “truck convoys” to arrive in the District around the March 1 State of the Union address, the U.S. Capitol Police said the agency and the Secret Service are in “ongoing discussions,” which include the option of reinstalling the temporary inner-perimeter fence.

D.C. police also are preparing for possible demonstrations by deploying its civil disturbance units from Feb. 23 to March 1, spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said on Friday, while noting that the department’s plans may change as the situation develops. The Virginia and Maryland state police forces also said in statements that they are monitoring the planned protests.

“January 6th has made this situation in the United States more challenging and scarier,” Victor Asal, the director of the Center for Policy Research at the University at Albany, State University of New York, said of predicting far-right threats. “We still don’t know how many trucks and truckers are actually going to follow through and I don’t think we are going to know that at least for several more days.”

Anti-vaccine activists from across the country gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last month for a rally against vaccine mandates. Though organizers estimated that 20,000 people would attend the rally, there was a smaller crowd of several thousand and police reported no arrests or significant incidents.


Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security warned that U.S. truckers protesting vaccine mandates could affect the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Nothing substantial materialized.

Still, this movement in America, like the Ottawa protests, appears fueled by far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists. And extremism researchers said it’s increasingly difficult to predict when the keyboard warriors in far-right chat rooms that often include talk of violence will translate their threats into large demonstrations in the real world.

“It is likely we will see something happen, but it is not clear what that is going to look like or when it is going to happen,” said Caroline Orr Bueno, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland who studies disinformation. “People are asking, ‘Where can I find the routes?’ ‘Where do I go to meet up with you guys?’ … It is still a lot of questions and talking about plans.”

Although these demonstrations are billed as protesting vaccine mandates, researchers said the conversations are much broader, encompassing a range of right-wing culture grievances. They include baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former president Donald Trump, falsehoods about the coronavirus vaccine, pushback related tohow students are taught about race and racism, and myths about human trafficking.

Americans also sent millions of dollars, and the largest overall number of contributions, to support the Ottawa trucker convoy, according to a Washington Post analysis of leaked fundraising data.

Brian Brase of northwest Ohio, who is an organizer of one of the convoys, said the protests in Ottawa inspired him to lead a similar one in the United States. When asked about extremists in his movement he replied, “We have nothing to do with that” and said organizers are taking security measures to ensure a peaceful protest. He did not disclose exactly what the group plans to do if and when they make it to the D.C. region next month.


“This is all across the board. This isn’t one side or the other,” Brase, 37, said, referring to people across the political spectrum. “This is a peaceful protest and any extremist activities on either side of the aisle are not welcome to be a part of it if their intent is to cause mayhem or violence.”

Still, extremism researchers are concerned about the ways these protests are being promoted in the mainstream and by the far-right. High-profile U.S. Republicans expressed support for the Ottawa demonstration, including Trump and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has said he hopes truckers would come to the United States and Fox News host Tucker Carlson is selling $35 “I (heart) Truckers” T-shirts, in a play on his name.

“Whether the convoy happens, there is still very much a risk,” said Sara Aniano, a Monmouth University graduate student studying the social media rhetoric of far-right conspiracy theories and misinformation. “What’s already happening is this deeper spread of misinformation here. People who might have just been curious about this convoy are now being deliberately led down a path of far-right radicalization.”

The organizer who said he plans to lead a group of truckers to the Beltway on Wednesday afternoon in an anti-vaccine mandate protest appears to have a relatively small following online.

Another organizer has requested to hold a rally on March 1 with “hopefully 1,000 – 3,000” attendees at the Sylvan Theater, the public theater on the Washington Monument grounds, in “support of convoys in Canada,” according to a permit application submitted to the National Park Service.

And another group aims to make it to this region next month, with plans to kick off a cross-country road trip on Wednesday from California before arriving in Hagerstown, Maryland, on March 4. The following day, according to the group’s plans, they will arrive in the “DC Beltway area,” but do not plan to go into the city. This group, of which Brase is one of the organizers, has amassed a large following on social media with a Facebook group of about 148,000 members and a Telegram channel of more than 45,000 members. There are also other groups planning their own trips to D.C. from across the country.

The plans for a convoy to protest vaccine mandates are just one part of a broader movement that includes a range of right-wing causes — and one that can be mobilized again in the future, extremism researchers said.

“This movement morphs into different things. Right now it’s vaccines and it’s a convoy. It will be something else in the future. It has been something else in the past,” Orr Bueno said. “The convoy of some sort will probably happen in some form, but that also won’t be the end of this movement. Something else will pop up.”