US funds for truck convoy protests in Ottawa could also influence US policy

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A man carrying an American flag walks past police guarding the Canadian Parliament building against demonstrators protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa on February 16.Robert Bumsted/Associated Press

The 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 the vaccination mandates and the Liberal leader of the country.

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.”

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Police flocked to downtown Ottawa on Thursday and work crews erected fences around the Houses of Parliament, which protesters feared could be the prelude to a crackdown.

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”.

Fox News host Sean Hannity told two protest organizers on his show on Wednesday that “you have a lot of support from your friends in America. That, I can tell you. He added, “We have a movement in America that is starting very soon.”

Trudeau and other senior Canadian officials have strongly criticized financial support from other countries.

“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.

Ian Reifowitz, a professor of historical studies at the State University of New York, called the protests a “gift” to Republicans in the United States, and he predicted they will use the populist appeal of the protests to raise funds before the midterm elections in November.

“They constantly need new outrage,” said Reifowitz, author of “The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Anti-Racism Rhetoric About the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump.”

“It’s a formidable (problem) eight or nine months before the election for them,” he said. “It allows you to cash in money, cash in volunteers and energize the base, which is what you want to do.”

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 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 cheerleading Canadian protesters have received from prominent American conservative politicians and pundits, like Hannity, 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.

The protests in Canada also created a money-making opportunity for some, including a “New England for Trump” chain of stores, which sold protester-inspired merchandise. A mesh-back “Freedom Convoy 2022” trucker hat is $25. —

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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