Several hundred people gathered Wednesday morning in the Mojave Desert to send off a group of truckers driving cross-country to protest COVID-19 mandates.
Supporters posed for selfies and gifted homemade cookies and other items to dozens of truck drivers who intend to travel to Washington, D.C. The convoy is similar to ones whose defiant blockades have shut down border crossings to the north as truckers rallied in Canada over the nation’s response to the pandemic.
Organizers with the group calling itself the People’s Convoy hoped to have 1,000 semi-truck drivers depart from Adelanto Stadium. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department estimated that 100 big rigs and 500 to 600 cars participated in the convoy in Adelanto.
Campers, pickups and SUVs with handwritten messages of support joined the procession of vehicles trailing the trucks onto the highway. Several versions of “God Bless the U.S.A.” blared from car stereos.
National organizer Maureen Steele, 57, said the convoy will head to Washington, D.C., and is expected to arrive after the State of the Union address Tuesday. But she said the group will not stop at the nation’s Capitol.
“Because we don’t want another Jan. 6,” Steele said, referring to the 2021 insurrection, when a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. “This convoy starts in Barstow and ends in freedom.”
Originally, the rally was meant to start in Barstow but later was changed to Adelanto. As the Omicron surge of the coronavirus has receded across the U.S. and more states begin to lift mask mandates, similar caravans and blockades have started to pop up across the globe. In the U.S., the loosely organized effort has gained momentum, although talk of a Super Bowl rally never came to fruition. And how many truckers will ultimately participate remains unclear.
Steele said there are different convoys making their way east. Federal officials have expressed concern that some may arrive during President Biden’s address to Congress early next week and could use similar tactics to those that blocked U.S.-Canada border crossings for weeks.
Police arrested nearly 200 people last week and towed 79 vehicles after the Canadian government issued emergency powers in response to the blockade in Ottawa.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Wednesday that the Defense Department has approved 700 National Guard troops and 50 vehicles to support the D.C. Metropolitan Police at traffic posts if trucks start arriving in Washington.
“Supporting members of the National Guard will not be issued firearms and they will not engage in the surveillance of U.S. or foreign persons, although they are authorized to report any observed criminal activity to appropriate law enforcement personnel,” Kirby said in a statement. “Although participating service members will conduct traffic control, they will not affect arrests or conduct other such law enforcement activities.”
The People’s Convoy organizers are demanding the American government drop all pandemic-related mandates and “re-open the country,” according to a statement from the group.
While COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the nation averages more than 2,300 deaths from the virus each day. The majority of those are among unvaccinated people.
On Wednesday, before the semi-trucks departed from Adelanto, speakers repeated false claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill more people than they save and promoted the unproven treatment of Ivermectin against the virus.