'So many angry people': Experts say online conversation around trucker convoy veering into dangerous territory
As a growing group of truckers and supporters make their way to Ottawa in a protest against vaccine mandates, experts say the rhetoric online concerning the convoy is getting increasingly worrisome.
The group of truckers and concerned citizens began a cross-country trip to Ottawa over the weekend, in protest of vaccine mandates in the country. The group expects to arrive in Ottawa this Saturday.
The movement has since gathered steam nationwide, as videos show highway gatherings in support of the truckers, but some experts worry the online conversation surrounding the convoy has veered into dangerous territory.
“There are people who genuinely believe that this is overreach by the federal government, but there are also a lot of other groups that are involved and individuals who are involved who have a long history of very overheated rhetoric,” Kurt Phillips, founder and former lead writer for Anti-Racist Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a recent phone interview.
Organizers for the convoy insist they are abiding the laws and intend for a peaceful rally in Ottawa this weekend.
Even though the organizers say it will be peaceful, Phillips said he’s seen people online calling the trucker convoy Canada’s version of the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, for the truckers to ram their trucks into Parliament, and people encouraging the hanging of politicians.
“Some of the organizers are trying to get people to dial back the rhetoric, but the genie's already out of the bottle,” he said. “People are energized in an incredible way right now, and it's hard to see something not happening. I don't know if it would be on the scale of Jan. 6 in the United States, but there are so many angry people.”
Peter Smith, a journalist working with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said he’s seeing a lot of similarities between this latest convoy and a similar truck convoy from 2019 that was meant to protest federal pipeline policies.
“Right from the start, the largest groups … have been organized and managed by people who have connections to those types of groups like the Yellow Vests, the separatist Western movements,” he said. “So right from the start, this began as part of fringe politics.”
Smith said he’s seen people using the movement to accuse politicians of pedophilia and to accuse the government of being illegitimate.
“This has become the focus of the far right,” Smith said. “It's not to say that there's not people involved who have a ‘heart-in-the-right-place’ mentality, but this has become -- like the health restrictions -- an important opportunity to capitalize on people's justifiable discontent with the government.”
“Whatever happens in this movement, this protest will be a propaganda tool that's probably used for years.”
The rhetoric has also engulfed some politicians. Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the “biggest threat to freedom in Canada,” while Pierre Poilievre, Conservative MP in the Ottawa region, recently called the truckers vaccine mandate a “vaccine vendetta.” People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier called Canada’s COVID-19 measures “fascist” and “authoritarian.”
The convoy has even gathered the attention of Donald Trump Jr.
“When we push back against the insanity, we can win, and that’s how all this ends,” he said in a Facebook video.
“This is a genius idea. We need to see more of this in the U.S.”
Smith said that while the language used by some politicians is far from the most extreme comments he’s seen, it’s these comments that can lend credence to the more extreme sentiments.
“The main organizers have been explicit about saying there won't be violence, but you look at some of the streams and comments made by others -- many of whom are planning to attend -- they're almost hoping for it,” he said.
Phillips said a lot of people from different groups that would not normally associate with each other have banded together on this instance, in part because so much money has been raised.
“They seem to be gravitating towards this for a variety of reasons, might be because of the energy that's involved in it. It might be for the grift, the chance of making a profit off of it,” he said.
As of Tuesday evening, more than $4.5 million has been raised for the trucker convoy through GoFundMe, though the funds have been temporarily frozen.
Both Smith and Phillips are concerned for what might happen when the truckers arrive in Ottawa this weekend.
“I think the government needs to take this seriously,” Phillips said.