HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The U.S. offshoot of the Canadian “Freedom Convoy” reached the nation’s capital Sunday.
The trucker-led convoy group, which was organized on pro-Trump and anti-vaccination channels on the Telegram messaging app, drove around the Capital Beltway, which surrounds metropolitan Washington, D.C. Their plan was to circle the interstate twice and then return to Hagerstown, Maryland, where they gathered Saturday night, to regroup.
Authorities in and around the capital were on alert ahead of the convoy’s arrival. Last month, the Defense Department authorized activating up to 700 unarmed National Guard members to assist with traffic control.
Inspired by protests in Canada, the “People’s Convoy” traveled across the country in protest against mask and vaccination mandates to combat Covid-19 over the past two years. Hundreds of people have joined the group since it left on its cross-country journey Feb. 22 in Adelanto, California.
Brian Brase, a convoy co-organizer, said he plans to take members of the protest group to meet with lawmakers Tuesday. NBC News has not verified any planned meetings with lawmakers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the end of February that masks are no longer necessary indoors. Most of the major cities that once required vaccinations to unmask in indoor businesses, such as New York City, have lifted such restrictions in recent weeks.
Brase acknowledged the end to many mandates throughout the country. “What the People’s Convoy’s looking for is, we’re looking for immediate end to the state of emergency,” he said. “We don’t believe there is an emergency any longer.”
Canadian authorities enacted emergency powers and filed for injunctions after the “Freedom Convoy” created chaos across the country last month. Truckers and joining protesters blockaded U.S.-Canada border crossings and parked in residential areas for about two weeks.
Hundreds of tickets were issued and criminal incidents were reported as Canadians reported feeling unsafe and targeted by some protesters while wearing masks.
Brase described the U.S. convoy as a “peaceful, law-abiding group.”
NBC News reported last week that as Covid restrictions ease and the group’s demands become less pressing, some within the group’s Telegram channels have taken interest in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Contingents within the groups, many of them QAnon supporters, have seized on a false conspiracy theory that the war is a cover for a military operation backed by former President Donald Trump in Ukraine.
Extremism researchers expressed fears that the overt QAnon messaging could take over the channels and spread as the initial reasons for the protest lose steam.
Julia Jester reported from Hagerstown, Maryland. Doha Madani reported from New York City.
Julia Jester is a 2020 campaign embed for NBC News.
Doha Madani is a breaking news reporter for NBC News. Pronouns: she/her.