A convoy in Central Alberta on its way to Edmonton in support of the trucker protests in Ottawa.
The growing trucker protests across Canada finally elicited a public response from three leading U.S. business organizations last week. The business message came after a group of protestors in Canada blocked a key bridge to the U.S., causing a significant disruption in trade between the two countries. The words were chosen carefully, and they express an awareness that right-wing extremists – and their vehicles – pose a real and growing threat to commercial interests here in the U.S.
The bridge in question is the Ambassador Bridge, a key commercial route linking the U.S. and Canada between Detroit and Windsor. Protestors began blocking the Canadian side of the bridge last Monday, as part of a rippling series of trucker protests originating with a convoy that began occupying downtown Ottawa at the end of January.
U.S. business organizations were silent as long as the Ottawa protest stayed in Ottawa, but the Ambassador Bridge action was cause for alarm. In a joint statement, the U.S. Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers urged President Biden to work with the Canadian government “to act swiftly to address “the disruption to the flow of trade.”
“The disruptions we are seeing at the U.S.-Canada border…are adding to the significant supply chain strains on manufacturers and other businesses in the United States,” they explained, adding that “the North American economy relies on our ability to work closely together.”
“We appreciate that the Biden Administration is engaged with the Canadian government, and we strongly encourage officials to continue efforts to resolve these blockages at the border,” they emphasized.
Despite the bland wording, the use of language like “flow of trade,” and “blockages at the border” and “North American economy” is significant. To the extent that the trucker protests are associated with right-wing extremism, the joint statement sends a clear message. Business leaders are finally recognizing that right-wing extremists have the will, and the ability, to disrupt commercial interests on a multinational level.
The joint statement frames the Ambassador Bridge occupation as a matter that rises above the responsibility of local law enforcement. It is a matter of national significance, requiring aggressive action from elected officials at the highest levels of government.
As for the association between the Ambassador Bridge blockaders and right-wing extremism, warning signs have been flashing red for weeks.
As widely reported, the bridge occupation is an outgrowth of the “Freedom Convoy” that has occupied downtown Ottawa, Canada's capital, since late January.
The convoy began to gather steam after a GoFundMe account was posted on January 14, in support of Canadian truck drivers upset over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. However, the Canadian Trucking Alliance disavowed the convoy early on.
In a strongly worded statement issued on January 22, CTA pointed out that the “vast majority of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated.” CTA also emphasized that it “does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges.”
“… what is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border,” the organization warned.
On January 27, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network addressed the involvement of right-wing extremists in the Freedom Convoy head on, issuing a report under the headline, “The ‘Freedom Convoy’ Is Nothing But A Vehicle For The Far Right.”
“They say it is about truckers, and have raised over $6 million dollars on GoFundMe. But if you look at its organizers and promoters, you’ll find Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism, and incitements to violence,” the Anti-Hate Network alleged.
In support of the Anti-Hate Network’s analysis, multiple news reports have taken note of Nazi flags and other far-right symbols among the occupants joining the trucker protests.
Given that backdrop, it is not surprising that practically all of the Freedom Convoy participants are white, even though people of color, including South Asians, make up approximately 25 percent of Canada’s 300,000 truckers.
Organizers and supporters of the Ottawa occupation and other trucker protests across Canada have encouraged similar actions to take place in Canada and elsewhere. The money appears to be following, with a hefty assistance from donors outside of Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has claimed that approximately half of the Freedom Convoy GoFundMe donations are coming from U.S. donors. The account ballooned to more than $8 million before GoFundMe shut it down for violating its terms of service.
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Supporters of the protest quickly pivoted to the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, raising $3.5 million in just two days. A preliminary analysis by CTV News indicates that more than half of those donors are from the U.S.
Evidently those funds have been deployed on behalf of the Ambassador Bridge occupation. On February 11 a judge in Canada blocked access to the GiveSendGo account, on the request of the Ontario government.
Rumors of Canadian-style trucker blockades have already begun swirling around the U.S. If and when such actions take place, it will not be the first time.
The U.S. has been just one step away from a Canadian-style infrastructure blockade for years. Right-wing extremists in this country have had ample practice in organizing their vehicles for disruption, most recently in the form of the notorious “Trump Train” convoys of pickup trucks and SUVs that dominated the headlines during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
Supporters of U.S. blockades are already getting ample publicity, as U.S Senator Rand Paul and other Republican legislators in the U.S. are openly advocating for extremists to shut down entire cities with their vehicles.
Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson and other high-profile personalities associated with right-wing extremism are also primed to support blockades in the U.S, just as they did as the Freedom Convoy got under way.
Social media will play a key role in rallying participants for ongoing trucker protests, and that is where the Canadian protests take on broader significance.
Publicity to solicit participation in the convoy through Facebook has been traced to multiple fake accounts and overseas sources. Facebook took down “dozens” of accounts by February 7, but it is a simple matter for others to pop up and rally support for blockades in the U.S.
On February 11, Grid News, a news organization founded by Washington, D.C. journalists, reported that “a Bangladeshi firm appears to have played a key role in promoting the Ottawa protest online.” Grid News further stated that it has uncovered “increasing evidence of fringe conspiracies and violent extremism throughout the movement.”
NBC News has also reported growing momentum for protests in the U.S., assisted by Facebook accounts associated with “content mills” in several countries overseas including Vietnam, Romania and Bangladesh.
Coincidentally or not, Canada’s status as a founding member of NATO looms large during the disruptions fomented by the trucker protests, considering that Europe and Russia are on a wartime footing.
The actions in Canada have also disrupted the economy of another, more powerful NATO founder, the U.S.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest land crossing in North America. It is a vital supply chain route for the U.S. auto industry and many others. The fact that it took little more than a handful of pickup trucks and SUVs to bring all that commerce to a halt finally seems to have awakened U.S. businesses to scope of the threat.
As of this writing, rumors of a series of protests on Super Bowl Sunday appear to have fizzled, but the Department of Homeland Security is drawing attention to the potential for a nationwide convoy and blockade movement in March.
That timeline provides business leaders with an opportunity craft a more forceful, urgent message against the blockades. However, much more is needed. Years of inaction have fostered a political environment ripe for state sanctioned, violent right-wing extremism, with the help of lax gun laws and the suppression of voting rights.
The web of tolerance for race based, right-wing extremist violence has deep roots in the U.S. and unraveling it will be a monumental task. Business leaders who really profess to care about national security and American democracy can start by taking vigorous, aggressive action against those who deploy vehicles as weapons, including their own employees, vendors, contractors and clients.
Image credit: Naomi Mckinney via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.