Is There an International Freedom Convoy Conspiracy?
Who’s stirring the trucker convoy pot? Vast majorities of the populations in all the countries impacted by blockades aren’t sympathetic to the causes they purport to represent.
More than 85% of all Canadians are vaccinated, including an even higher percentage of transport workers. U.S. truckers, purported to be leading the next set of protestors, aren't required to be vaccinated or wear masks on domestic routes.
NBC, and Gridnews, along with researchers at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy have tracked non-authentic accounts at Facebook purporting to be organizers of Trucker / Freedom Convoys in various countries, most of whom are aligned with U.S. foreign policy.
The Shorenstein Center points to Vietnamese spammers specifically selling large-scale “Nick” accounts, which are seemingly credible Facebook accounts that moderate high profile groups. Once purchased, these accounts are used for anything from selling themed apparel to running a foreign influence campaign.
GridNews found a huge network of Facebook groups supporting the Freedom Convoys through a hacked account in Missouri to "JS Digital Guide," a digital marketing firm based in Bangladesh.
Online groups on platforms like Facebook and Telegram, together with fundraising campaigns on the GiveSendGo site, have formed digital lifelines for the ongoing Canadian action. They funnel moral support, supplies, manpower and money to the effort, even as they help spread baseless conspiracy theories and toxic rhetoric.
Grid reviewed the membership and content of those forums, spoke with extremist experts and conducted a comprehensive review of over 80,000 recorded donations to the convoy’s primary online fundraiser. Combined, they show how QAnon adherents and fringe, even supremacist, ideologies pervade the movement.
The Bangladesh accounts were activated on January 27 & 30 and quickly accumulated more than 170,000 followers and 10,000 posts. An individual contacted by those reporters said the pages were started because he “believes in freedom” and that he was not being paid.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, deactivated most of those accounts on Thursday following inquiries from Grid.
Additionally, established far-right groups on Facebook, Telegram and voice chat app Zello are aiming to replicate the protest in cities across the United States. People handed out flyers in group chats urging truckers to stop traffic during this Sunday’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles, but ultimately it was agreed that a three-day window wasn’t enough to pull an action together.
Discussions on these pages and those of anti-vaccine groups seem to be agreeing on March 4 as the big day – with convoy plans heading to Washington DC and Los Angeles in the days preceding.
Right-wing U.S. politicians and media outlets have been supportive of the Ottawa convoy and expressed hope the action could be replicated stateside.“The Canadian trucker convoy is the single most successful human rights protest in a generation,” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said Thursday.
“I hope the truckers do come to America,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told the Daily Signal, a publication of the right-wing Heritage Foundation. “I hope they clog up cities.”
At least nine members of Congress, all Republicans, have publicized their support for convoy participants on Twitter. Self-appointed organizers for a U.S.-based convoy have found quick support from conservative outlets.
Brian Brase, the individual purporting to be U.S. convoy organizer, made the rounds on Fox News, sitting down with Carlson as well as the network’s “Fox and Friends” morning show. His original U.S. Convoy Facebook group attracted more than 130,000 followers before being deactivated for QAnon-related content.
NBC News noted the absence of individuals employed in the trucking industry:
“There’s a misconception that every participant in these chats is a trucker, but that’s not true at all. It’s really anybody who’s been a part of these movements who’ve been waiting for an excuse to do something — QAnon, anti-vaccine, sovereign citizens,” said extremism researcher Sara Aniano, who recently published a report on QAnon’s growth after Jan. 6 for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, a London-based nonprofit group. ”This feels like the culmination of everything that’s happened since Jan. 6th.”
Social media-based foreign interference in domestic politics first came into public view in the aftermath of the 2016 election after researchers found that Russia’s Internet Research Agency was conducting an elaborate influence campaign across American social media sites in an effort to support candidate Donald Trump. Since then, foreign social media interference has been tempered by efforts by major social media platforms to crack down, though various influence operations are still frequently identified.
Politico surveyed social media accounts and found activity connected with organizing protests in Europe:
Far-right groups have taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to tap into the anti-government rhetoric of the anti-vaccine movement, repeatedly posting claims in these social media channels in favor of their extremist beliefs, based on POLITICO’s analysis of six months of social media activity.
Upcoming convoys are being planned in all 27 European Union countries. Organizers are also preparing to descend on Brussels — home to the EU’s main institutions — in force on Feb. 14.
Police in France and Brussels have announced plans to prevent convoys from shutting down their respective capitals. Reports from New Zealand and Australia confirm clashes between police and demonstrators mimicking the Canadian Convoys.
A similar protest in Finland last weekend ended in chaos. Via Euractiv:
According to police estimates, up to 200 vehicles from around the country blocked the city centre. The party-like atmosphere in the snowstorm ended up turning into drunken chaos, with the crowd resisting police orders to clear the streets. Bottles were thrown, and tyres of tow trucks were slashed. Some 80 people were arrested.
Convoy Finland 2022 was set up on Facebook and the originally Russian messaging app Telegram. The group currently counts 63,000 members on Facebook and some 17,000 on Telegram.
Among those supporting the movement in Finland is the right-wing VKK MP, Ano Turtiainen. In an interview with YLE, he gave his “full support to putting a bone in the throat of the government”. Apparently, the group has already divided into two fractions, one committed to peaceful protest, the other ready for more violent actions.
The number of inauthentic social media accounts and the countries being targeted suggest the involvement of state-based agencies seeking to exploit the conflicts.
Unlike the 2016 social media misinformation campaigns attributed to Russian military/intelligence agencies, this year’s fake accounts have put some distance between their operators and whoever is paying them.
The fact that these truckers protests are “spontaneously” arising in NATO aligned countries and increasing tensions over Ukraine may just be a coincidence. Searches for similar activities in South American and African countries come up empty. (The videos of Brazilian truckers making the rounds on social media are from an earlier, unrelated protest)
So I’ll leave you with this…In the spy business a cut-out is
A mechanism or person used to create a compartment between the members of an operation to allow them to pass material or messages securely; also an agent who functions as an intermediary between a spymaster and other subagents.
Email me at WritetoDougPorter@Gmail.com