From Canada to Brazil, rich right-wing elites are astroturfing ‘trucker’ protests

Supported by wealthy right-wing elites, so-called “trucker” protests (led by non-truckers) have paralyzed the capitals of Brazil and Canada in less than six months. The campaigns have many similarities – including some of the same well-funded conservative networks.

By Brian Mier and Benjamin Norton

Wealthy international right-wing networks have fueled a protest in Canada that paralyzed the capital Ottawa this January and February.

Many of the organizers of the demonstration, which they call a “freedom convoy,” are not truckers, and some have links to far-right groups and Canadian military intelligence and police agencies. But they have exploited the image of truck drivers to confuse observers into thinking it is a working-class movement.

With large sums of money and support from powerful right-wing leaders in Canada and abroad – especially from Donald Trump and his political network in the United States – the “freedom convoy” has used opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates as cover to launch an occupation of the capital.

This is despite the fact that nearly 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated, and the convoy has been condemned by major unions and organizations representing truck drivers, including the Canadian Labour Congress, Teamsters, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

Yet this is not the first time this “trucker convoy” tactic has been employed. It is the latest example of a strategy being developed by well-funded right-wing networks across the Americas, from as far north as Canada and as far south as Brazil.

The convoy in Ottawa is in fact eerily similar to an astroturfed campaign organized just a few months before in Brasilia by rich supporters of the South American nation’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

A trucker protest in Brazil in 2018 paralyzed distribution networks for weeks. Initially rooted in legitimate complaints of unreasonable hikes to the cost of diesel caused by neoliberal economic policies imposed after a 2016 political coup against a democratically elected left-wing government, the trucker protest was soon hijacked by wealthy conservative elites.

2018 was a crucial election year, and Brazil’s media oligarchies turned the trucker protest into a giant campaign commercial for the most subservient politician to US interests in the country’s history: Bolsonaro – its first head of state to ever visit CIA headquarters.

International right-wing networks again resorted to the trucker tactic in 2021. In the first week of September, Brazil held a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), starring Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo. (Donald Trump Jr. was supposed to attend in person, but he ended up speaking via video stream.)

CPAC Brazil also featured Jason Miller, a former Trump senior advisor and close ally of far-right political operative Steve Bannon.

Jason Miller Trump Bolsonaro Brazil

Former senior advisor to Donald Trump, Jason Miller, with Jair Bolsonaro and his son Eduardo in Brazil

Just a few days after CPAC Brazil, on September 7, a group of truckers occupied the national esplanade, briefly paralyzing the capital Brasilia, leading thousands of Bolsonaro supporters in what initially appeared to be a planned storming of the Supreme Court building.

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The Brazilian “trucker” protest was organized by a man who called himself Zé Trovão. It was later revealed that he was not really a trucker, and he didn’t even have a driver’s license – but he did receive thousands of dollars from Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo.

Furthemore, most of the truckers who showed up at the September 7 rally in Brasilia had actually been hired by a company, Pro Tork, whose wealthy owner, Marlon Bonilha, was one of Bolsonaro’s biggest campaign contributors.

Hours after the attempted insurgency fizzled out, Miller was detained at the Brasilia airport by federal police, who questioned him over his role in the destabilization of the country.

The clear parallels between these campaigns illustrate how powerful right-wing networks are developing a novel strategy to destabilize governments, under the cynical guise of “working-class” trucker protests.

Brazil truck Pro Tork Bolsonaro

Row of trucks at the September 7, 2021 protest in Brazil, all owned by Pro Tork, the company run by Bolsonaro campaign financer Marlon Bonilha

Wealthy right-wing elites in Canada and abroad support ‘freedom convoy’

In January 2022, the Canadian government began requiring truckers crossing the border with the United States to be vaccinated against Covid-19. For the vast majority of truck drivers, almost 90% of whom are vaccinated, this was not a problem.

But right-wing networks both inside Canada and outside of the country seized on the new policy to protest and shut down the capital.

Numerous members of far-right groups, including white nationalists and Islamophobes, helped to organize what they called a “freedom convoy.” Many of the people involved were in fact not truckers, but they portrayed the demonstrations as a trucker protest.

Some of the leaders of the convoy have backgrounds in Canadian military intelligence and police departments, and appear to have close relationships with state security forces.

Right-wing and xenophobic messaging was ubiquitous at the convoy, and a few protesters even showed up with Nazi and Confederate flags.

Countless photos and videos of the convoy show anti-communist signs, some bizarrely accusing Canada’s neoliberal centrist Prime Minister Trudeau of being a secret communist.

Many more attacked China, and blamed the Communist Party of China for the Covid-19 pandemic. Other protesters were seen with anti-Semitic signs blaming Jews for the crisis.

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A website created by supporters of the convoy listed right-wing conspiracy theorist David Icke and anti-vax groups as “allies,” and encouraged readers to follow far-right outlets InfoWars and Rebel News.

As the convoy grew, two right-wing activists who are not truckers, named Tamara Lich, and B.J. Dichter, organized a crowd-funding campaign on the website GoFundMe.

Support poured in from national and international right-wing elites, and the GoFundMe campaign raised $10 million in just over two weeks, with individual donations as high as $215,000.

The fundraiser was supplemented by conservative investment bankers, real estate moguls, and wealthy businesspeople, until it was shut down on February 4.

Fundraising for the convoy had been boosted on social media by a suspicious coordinated campaign involving a hacked account.

Ottawa’s police chief said there was “a significant element from the U.S. that have been involved in the funding, the organizing and the demonstrating.”

Former US president Donald Trump openly promoted the convoy, at rallies and online, referring to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a neoliberal centrist who has actively campaigned against the left, as a supposed “far-left lunatic.”

Canadian truckers’ unions, Indigenous communities, and leftist organizations condemn convoy

While right-wing groups threw their weight behind the convoy, left-wing groups in Canada came out firmly against the protest, including major labor unions, indigenous leaders, and socialist parties that are staunchly opposed to the Trudeau government.

The largest trucker union in Canada, Teamsters, openly condemned the convoy as a “despicable display of hate lead by the political Right,” lamenting that it “has served to delegitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today.”

Teamsters Canada noted that 90% of its truckers are vaccinated.

When the convoy created a blockade at the Canada-US border, the union published another statement denouncing the protest “that continues to hurt workers and negatively impact our economy.”

“The livelihood of working Americans and Canadians in the automotive, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors is threatened by this blockade,” Teamsters said.

The Canadian Labour Congress, the largest labor organization in the country, which represents dozens of unions and millions of workers, also came out firmly against the convoy.

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“This is not a protest, it is an occupation by an angry mob trying to disguise itself as a peaceful protest,” the Labour Congress said.

“This occupation of Ottawa streets, on top of the latest wave of the pandemic, is having a devastating effect on the livelihood of already struggling workers and businesses,” it wrote. “Frontline workers, from retail to health workers, have been bullied and harassed.”

In addition to the biggest labor organization and the largest union of actual truck drivers condemning the convoy, the Canadian Trucking Alliance released a statement clearly stating that it “does not support and strongly disapproves of” the protests.

“The vast majority of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated,” and alliance said, adding that “most of our nation’s hard-working truck drivers are continuing to move cross-border and domestic freight to ensure our economy continues to function.”

In follow-up statements, the federation emphasized that “a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements.”

The trucking alliance criticized the convoy for “impairing the hard work of truck drivers who continue to keep our essential goods moving throughout the supply chain during this critical time.”

“Drivers who are simply trying to make a living and get home to their families have been stuck at blocked border crossings for four to eight hours, many of whom have gone without access to washrooms or food,” the federation wrote.

Indigenous communities in Canada similarly denounced the convoy as a right-wing front.

The First Nations Leadership Council strongly condemned the protest for “its spread of misinformation, racism, and violence.”

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