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COVID-19 protest on DC's doorstep

China Daily | Updated: 2022-03-07 09:44
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The so-called People's Convoy in Hagerstown, Maryland, on Saturday. TAYFUN COSKUN/GETTY IMAGES

Truck convoy takes its message to Washington, venting ire over curbs

WASHINGTON-More than 1,000 large trucks, recreational vehicles and cars had gathered on the outskirts of Washington over the weekend as part of a protest against COVID-19 restrictions that threatens to roll on the US capital in the coming days.

Those in the so-called People's Convoy, which originated in California and has drawn participants from around the country, are calling for an end to all pandemic-related restrictions. It was inspired by demonstrations last month that paralyzed the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

The convoy's message has been undercut in recent weeks as major US cities have wound back mask mandates and other measures against COVID-19, which has led to more than 958,400 deaths in the United States, with nearly 80 million confirmed cases by Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

US President Joe Biden signaled in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that the country is entering a new, more controlled phase of the pandemic without business lockdowns or school closures. Still, more than 100 18-wheeler trucks were amassed with other vehicles on Friday evening at Hagerstown Speedway, a racetrack about 130 kilometers from downtown Washington, according to Reuters witnesses. Drivers continued to stream into the parking lot on Saturday morning, one witness said.

A website for the protest said they did not plan to enter "DC proper", and social media posts suggested they could remain at the racetrack on Saturday. But one participant who described himself as the lead trucker told a cheering crowd at the racetrack on Friday night that he would drive his truck into the heart of the US capital.

"DC, the government, whomever, can claim that they have all this opposition for us waiting in DC," the man said. "But that flag on the back of my truck will go down to Constitution Avenue between the White House and the Washington Monument."

A little more than a year ago supporters of former president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attack that left five people dead and more than 100 police officers injured.

Earlier, US federal authorities reinstalled fencing around the US Capitol to protect Biden's State of the Union speech last Tuesday and to "prevent any disruption to the important work of Congress", US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said.

US federal law enforcement agencies have been coordinating with state and local authorities for weeks in preparation for the possible arrival of the convoy, said one US official who requested anonymity to discuss internal operations.

Warning of emergency

A bulletin from the US Department of Homeland Security to law enforcement on Feb 26 said trucker convoys could hinder emergency responders depending on the size of the protest.

Federal law enforcement was unaware of any substantiated threats from domestic violent extremists, but that some extremists "probably will be drawn to the event and could engage in premeditated or opportunistic violence", the bulletin said.

The possibility of an attack could be higher because COVID-19 restrictions have been a "key driver" of domestic extremist violence over the past two years, the Department of Homeland Security said. Federal officials would be unlikely to see violent plotting in online public platforms beforehand because of the use of encrypted apps and private forums, it said.

Federal law enforcement is also aware of the need to respect the right to peaceful protest, the official said.

On Friday evening a woman from nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, said she opposed COVID-19-related restrictions and that the issue had caused divisions in her family and problems at work.

"I think our medical choices are private and we should not be required to disclose them to participate in everyday activities," Reuters quoted her as saying.

Agencies via Xinhua

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