“Freedom Convoy” lessons: how to discredit an «incorrect» protest in two weeks
МОСКВА, 22 февраля 2022, Институт РУССТРАТ.
“Freedom Convoy 2022”, the protest of unvaccinated Canadian truckers, has become one of the most powerful on the planet and, without a doubt, the most prominent demonstration of an organised group of citizens against mandatory vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also gave the world an example of how a peaceful movement of people deprived of their rights can be defamed by the government in a matter of days, obstructed in the media and turned into an analogue of the terrorist threat in the eyes of millions of fellow citizens.
Part of this is the fault of the participants of the «Freedom Convoy» themselves, who did not bother with either competent PR or elementary safety standards in order to protect themselves from provocateurs and inadequates. In many ways, the movement of unvaccinated «truckers» was initially doomed to failure — if only because they represented a clear minority in the country, and their protest is socially alien to the measured life of Canadian citizens.
And yet the image of honest hard workers at the wheel, who dared to raise their voice against the unjust steps of the authorities, was distorted beyond recognition. People whose entire fault lay in the «politically incorrect» struggle for their own rights — unlike the recent Black Lives Matter riots — clearly did not deserve this.
The RUSSTRAT Institute analysed the main ways to discredit the “Freedom Convoy”, which has been reduced to the level of, as the authorities put it, «a criminal community of ultra-right rednecks, alien to national interests and any human morality, who pursue narrow-minded goals with foreign money against the will of the Canadian people”.
It seems that these and similar methods of denigration can be applied to any other «incorrect» groups of people who are rebelling against strict restrictive measures in different parts of the world. All the more useful it will be to study the sad Canadian experience.
Without a piece of paper you’re just a bug
Let us briefly recall the background of the protests.
In the second half of January 2022, the four-month «grace period» allowed by the US and Canadian authorities for mandatory vaccination of drivers on cross-border routes ended. Since January 15, unvaccinated truckers, regardless of their citizenship, have stopped being allowed to enter Canada, and since January 22 — to the United States.
By this time, no more than 10-15% of the 160,000 “long-distance trucks» licensed for such transportation (three-quarters of them are Canadians) remained unvaccinated, according to various sources. This percentage corresponds to the nationwide ratio of vaccinated and unvaccinated: as of February 16, the first in the country is almost 85%. It would seem that every tenth person is not so much, but in absolute figures it gave about 12,000 people who lost their jobs at once. Counting with the Americans, it was about 26,000 drivers of multi-ton trucks. This is already a force.
At least two circumstances dramatically complicated the situation. Three days before the ban, the Canadian Border Protection Agency issued a false statement about withdrawing plans to vaccinate truckers — and then hastily withdrew it. In addition, under Canadian law, almost all health care, and with it anti-pandemic measures, are left to the provinces and municipalities, so there is simply no single vaccination passport in the Maple Leaf Country. As a result, the Canadian regions began to act in a hurry: the province of Alberta, for example, in the summer of 2021 announced that it is not going to introduce any mandates.
All of this added to the confusion at the border checkpoints. On January 22, outraged truckers organised their first convoy from Prince Rupert to Prince George in the province of British Columbia. After that, similar raids took place in different parts of Canada every day, the most numerous of which was the entrance to Regina (Saskatchewan province) on January 24 — about 1,200 trucks participated in it.
Very quickly, the truckers switched to the tactics of scattered convoys, which made it difficult for the traffic police to respond. But their most sensational actions were two blockades. The first paralysed the centre of Ottawa from January 29: there, on Parliament Hill, several thousand protesters, not all of whom were truckers, even set up a tent city. And on February 7, traffic was blocked on the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River, along which passes about a quarter of the total cargo turnover between the United States and Canada. Smaller actions took place in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Quebec, Toronto and Edmonton.
The main demand of the protesting drivers — the abolition of mandatory vaccination for them personally — quickly turned into calls for the lifting of all other anti-aids restrictions in the country and the resignation of their main conductor, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The latter angered the truckers by calling them «a fringe minority with unacceptable views» and flatly refused to negotiate, hiding in a bunker.
In response to the actions of the tractors, the authorities of Ottawa and the province of Ontario imposed a state of emergency, dozens of drivers were arrested, and their trucks were dragged away. On February 14, Trudeau announced the first nationwide application of the Emergency Law of 1988 in the country’s history, but refused to use the armed forces to disperse the demonstrators.
Protests against protest
The very nature of the «long-range» protests dictated to the Canadian authorities how best to act. From the very beginning of the protests, official statements and press reports have included phrases about a group of renegades who, while neglecting the health of citizens, are exacerbating the already tense situation with the supply chains of goods in both countries. So a minority of protesters were separated from the «majority of hardworking truck drivers in our country» who «continue to drive for the benefit of society.»
At the same time, the participants of the convoys were accused of endangering public safety — simply by virtue of the fact that their trucks occupy the roadway. With the beginning of the blockade of highways and streets of cities, truckers, in addition, were predictably opposed by local residents, whose peace was disturbed.
The consistent tactic of separating the country’s citizens has led to numerous «counter-protests» in Canada. Members of local communities through which the truckers passed began to take to the streets themselves and even block their way (which, generally speaking, is much less legal than the movement of a string of trucks).
In addition, the participants of the convoys were widely accused of «occupying» cities — although the term “occupation” in English is not as negative as in Russian, and only means «capturing» a certain place, and in some cases (Occupy Wall Street) even has a positive connotation. Then the terminology became more rigid: the protesters were accused of taking Canadian cities «hostage».
All this time, the truckers did not commit anything illegal. They did not attack the police, rob shops, burn buildings, or topple monuments from their plinths, as BLM «activists» did a year ago to the applause of the officialdom. Moreover, their right to be in the centre of Ottawa was confirmed in court (although with a ban on honking).
It is not surprising that the natural background of dislike that local residents always feel for trucks flooding their areas, especially if they are beeping loudly and taking up parking spaces, could not give the desired intensity of counter-protests. And then the real demonisation was used.
On the day the rally began in Ottawa on January 29, a double media strike was carried out on protesters. The first of them used a technique that has been tested for decades. Photos and videos of unidentified thugs holding banners reading «Down with Trudeau» and… flags of the Third Reich with swastikas began to spread across social networks at the speed of a steppe fire. «They’re fascists!» the liberal press screamed, not bothering to find out who had concocted all this.
Attempts to label the truckers as «ultra-rightists» were obvious from the very beginning, as many of them quite sincerely profess anti-Vaxxist conspiracy theories that expose «cultural Marxists» and «world government». However, hardly anyone expected such a rough execution of the provocation. And yet it worked.
I must say that the liberal media, having once ridden this horse, do not get off it. The New York Times rode on it the farthest. This liberal propaganda mouthpiece managed to track down a 93-year-old German who emigrated to Canada 70 years ago to ask him: «Is this really fascism? Isn’t that right?!»
“These protests aroused in me the post-traumatic stress disorder that I suffered from because of my service to Hitler!” said the other. «I can’t sleep now.»
But the old man is also against vaccination passports, as the author of the note in the NYT would casually note, killing the second hare. Impressive level of journalism…
«Racists», «Russian actors”, «queers«!
The second blow to the protesters turned out to be more subtle. On the day the protests began in downtown Ottawa, someone put an inverted flag of the country (which in itself is punishable) on the Terry Fox monument — probably the most revered Canadian in the last hundred years. In 1980, this young man, who had lost a leg to sarcoma, organised a «Marathon of Hope» to raise funds for cancer research. In 143 days, Fox covered 5,373 kilometres on a prosthesis. A year later, he died at the age of 21, and this was perceived throughout Canada as a national tragedy.
Of course, such an act with the flag and statue of Fox could not go unnoticed. Mass accusations of desecration of the shrine followed. Excuses of the truckers like «If Terry were alive, he would join us» and «People, it’s not the flags that are being turned upside down under your nose, but the monuments themselves!” (a clear reference to BLM) were not taken into account — even after the protesters themselves cleaned the monument to a shine. In addition, one of the participants of the rally in Ottawa for some reason climbed with beer in his hands on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was regarded as a slap in the face to the whole society.
A disgusting production? Perhaps. But the participants of the action did nothing to prevent such excesses. Although in another case, the drivers were still able drive away a provocateur with a Confederate flag from their ranks.
Another accusation against the truckers is understandable only to residents of North America. The protesters were accused of «appropriating» the Native American customs of drumming and smoking the peace pipe. They were also caught being racist — but no, they didn’t insult black people, because they were partly black themselves. It’s just that the truckers dared to go to the rally and were not immediately arrested, and if they were black, they would have been behind bars long ago, some critics said. What’s not racism here? In addition, one anonymous driver allegedly called a black reporter a «traitor with slave blood» — what more evidence is needed?!
All of this is not a joke. Nor is it light-hearted to accuse the truckers of having ties to … Moscow. In early February, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) TV host dubbed the drivers “Russian actors”. They say that the Kremlin is taking revenge on Canada for supporting Ukraine! A few days later, the channel announced its conspiracy theory in a new way: who, they say, benefits from chaos in Canada? «Highly likely» — Putin!
Such nonsense was interspersed with more traditional arguments on the topic «Because of your protests, there is no place for ambulances to park», and created a repulsive image of an unbridled boor-redneck who challenged public order. The fact that he behaved quite law-abiding at the same time, the media preferred not to talk about.
Trucker haters got away with even insults that would have dragged their opponents to court for obscurantism. So, the main example of trolling against the truckers on social networks for several days now remains the hashtag #ramranch. This is a reference to the porn song about «18 naked gay cowboys». «Yes, they are all queers!» — it’s as if leftists declare about the truckers, breaking all the patterns.
On the part of the authorities and the police, even minor dirty tricks were used. They forbade residents of cities to greet convoys through the pain of a fine of $10,000. They confiscated fuel for heating from drivers, and when the cans had to be returned to the court, they diluted it with water. They didn’t even let the protesters clean up their trash.
But to finally finish off the protest, it required a blow to its organisation — and it, of course, followed.
Fire on the headquarters
Firstly, it was decided to deal with the financial side of the issue. On January 25, the American fundraising platform GoFundMe partially blocked, and on February 4 finally froze donations for food and fuel for the convoy in the amount of $10 million Canadian (slightly less than $8 million US). They were collected in record time by 120,000 sympathisers on both sides of the border.
The platform explained its decision by «violence and other illegal actions» on the part of the protesters. In fact, GoFundMe was simply frightened by the accusations of «foreign financing of extremism» that were put forward by the House of Commons of Canada Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
A curious fact: initially, 200,000 Canadian dollars were supposed to be collected for the long-distance truckers — this should have been enough for them. As a result, the total amount of donations exceeded this goal 50-fold!
A different fate befell 8 million collected through a similar site GiveSendGo. It was threatened not by parliamentarians, but by the Ontario Supreme Court, but the platform was not at all embarrassed: hands, they say, are short! And then its website was hacked, and 92,000 donors of the «Freedom Convoy» were deanonymised.
In their message from the pages of the hacked site, the hackers (who could it be, I wonder?) also mentioned «extremists» — that’s how they described the leaders of the protest. And at the same time, they predicted a bloodbath in the capitals of the United States and Canada: they say that real terrorists with weapons can move in trucks! Oh, those anti-vaxxers…
Charges of extremism and almost preparing terrorist attacks are already very serious, and sooner or later prison sentences will follow. Who can be put in jail first? The media name a number of figures from among the organisers of the convoy, whom they can throw the book at. If you believe the press, they are all radicals of various kinds.
Who is Tamara Lich, for example, who raised money for the truckers and spoke on their behalf at press conferences? Until recently, she was a functionary of the separatist Maverick Party, which advocates the separation of the western provinces from Canada. And her fellow fundraiser, Benjamin Dichter? He, speaking at the 2019 congress of the People’s Party of Canada, just imagine, dared to compare the offensive of political Islam on the country with syphilis!
It also revealed that the Ontario convoy coordinator, Dave Steenburg, was distributing «neo-Nazi» videos on TikTok, that his colleague, Jason Lapace, himself resembles a Nazi, and that the Alberta protest coordinator, Patrick «Pat» King, partially denies the Holocaust.
All of this terrible dirt was immediately dumped on the Canadians. Although, for example, not on the main organiser of the convoy Chris Barber (his name was first in the lawsuit of an outraged Ottawa resident against the truckers), nor the protest speaker Tom Marazzo, who was ready for arrests, was able to dig up anything but their consistent anti-vaxxism.
What do Canadians want?
Unfortunately, such crude propaganda techniques still affect public opinion. As it became clear on February 3, 68% of Canadians surveyed refused to associate themselves with the truckers, and 57% considered their protest inappropriate. Five days later, only 22% of Ottawa residents supported the «Freedom Convoy» and as many as 87% of citizens considered its stay in the capital inappropriate.
According to a more recent survey, only 20% of Canadians are satisfied with the demands and methods of drivers; another 24% agree only with their rhetoric, but not with their actions, and 56% object to the goals and tactics of driving in general. All this sociology can make mistakes and even lie — the trouble is that the truckers do not have any sociology at all at hand.
Thus, the Canadian authorities managed the main thing — to turn the country’s residents against the «Freedom Convoy». Therefore, Tom Marazzo’s words «We will stay in Ottawa as long as the Canadian public wants us to» mean that the protest can be curtailed at any time. By yourself or «with the help» of the police — it is no longer so important.
All this barrage of discrediting thrown at the truckers is not surprising: after all, the Canadian state defends its interests to the best of its ability. There is no question about the duplicity of Canadian and, more broadly, Western politicians, who have learned to divide protests into «correct» and «incorrect», and citizens — into those who are worthy to go to the streets and those who are unworthy.
But what, I wonder, will Justin Trudeau say when, after a while, mandatory vaccination against coronavirus will be considered a «passed stage” around the world?