By RICHARD LARDNER, MICHELLE R. SMITH and ALI SWENSON, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Canadians who disrupted travel and trade with the United States and occupied downtown Ottawa for nearly three weeks have been cheered and funded by right-wing American activists and conservative politicians who also oppose vaccination mandates and the country’s liberal leader.
Yet regardless of the impact of the protests on Canadian society and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, experts say the outside support is really aimed at energizing conservative politics in the United States. Midterm elections are looming, and some Republicans believe standing with protesters in the north will galvanize fundraising and voter turnout at home, these experts say.
“The kind of narratives that the truckers and the trucker convoy are focusing on are going to be really important questions for the upcoming (US) election,” said Samantha Bradshaw, postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab. . “And so using this protest as an opportunity to galvanize their own supporters and other groups, I think that’s really an opportunity for them.”
By Wednesday afternoon, all previously blocked border crossings had been reopened and police began pressuring truckers and other protesters in Ottawa to leave the capital or face arrest, fines and forfeiture of their vehicles.
About 44% of the nearly $10 million in contributions to support the protesters came from US donors, according to an Associated Press analysis of leaked donor files. US Republican lawmakers, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, have praised the protesters as “heroes” and “patriots”.
“What this country faces is a largely foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack on critical infrastructure and our democratic institutions,” Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Security, said earlier this week. civil.
Protesters in Ottawa were regularly supplied with fuel and food, and the area around Parliament Hill at times looked like a spectacular carnival with bouncy castles, gymnasiums, a playground and a concert stage with DJs .
GiveSendGo, a website used to collect donations for Canadian protests, has raised at least $9.58 million, including $4.2 million, or 44%, from the United States, according to a database. donor information published online by DDoSecrets, a non-profit group.
However, the Canadian government worked to block protesters’ access to these funds, and it’s unclear how much money was ultimately channeled.
Millions of dollars raised through another crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, were blocked after Canadian officials raised objections with the company, which determined the effort violated its terms of service regarding illegal activities.
The GiveSendGo database analyzed by AP showed a tally of more than 109,000 donations through Friday night for campaigns in support of the protests, including just under 62,000 from the United States.
Data from GiveSendGo listed several Americans as having donated thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to the protest, with the largest donation of $90,000 coming from someone who identified himself as Thomas M. Siebel.
Siebel, the billionaire founder of software company Siebel Systems, did not respond to messages sent to an email associated with a foundation he leads and his LinkedIn account.
A representative for the Siebel Scholars Foundation, who only signed his name as Jennifer, did not respond to questions about whether he had donated the money. But she said Siebel used to support multiple causes, including efforts to “protect individual liberty.”
“These are personal initiatives and have nothing to do with the companies he is associated with,” she wrote.
Siebel has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and organizations over the past 20 years, according to Federal Election Commission records, including a $400,000 contribution in 2019 to a fundraising committee of the GOP called “Take Back the House 2020”.
The GiveSendGo Freedom Convoy campaign was created on January 27 by Tamara Lich. She previously belonged to the far-right Maverick Party, which calls for independence for Western Canada.
The Canadian government decided earlier this week to cut off funding for protesters by expanding the scope of national anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing rules to cover crowdfunding platforms like GiveSendGo.
“We are making these changes because we know these platforms are used to support illegal blockages and illegal activities, which harm the Canadian economy,” said Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Perhaps more important than financial support is the support Canadian protesters have received from prominent American conservative politicians and pundits, who see kindred spirits in their northern neighbors opposing vaccination mandates.
On the same day Lich created the GiveSendGo campaign, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn shared a video of the convoy in a message on the Telegram messaging app.
“These truckers are fighting against nonsense and tyranny, especially from the Canadian government,” wrote Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who briefly served as the former’s national security adviser. President Donald Trump.
Days later, Flynn urged people to donate to Canadian protesters. Earlier this week, he twice posted “#TrudeauTheCoward” on Telegram, referring to the prime minister who leads the Liberal Party of Canada.
Fox News hosts routinely praise the protests, and Trump has weighed in with a broadside at Trudeau, calling him a “far-left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.” Cruz called the truckers “heroes” and “patriots,” and Greene said she was looking forward to seeing a convoy protest in Washington.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he hoped truckers would come to America and “clog up the cities” in an interview last week with the Daily Signal, a conservative Heritage Foundation news site.
Far-right and anti-vaccine activists, inspired by Canadian actions, are now planning US versions of protests against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions modeled on Canadian protests.
Swenson reported from New York and Smith reported from Providence, Rhode Island. Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz in Washington, Larry Fenn in New York, Frank Bajak in Boston and Camille Fassett in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.
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