Washington, D.C., officials say they are monitoring plans for demonstrations after truckers threatened to clog the Capital Beltway in the coming days and weeks.
About 700 unarmed National Guard troops are set to be deployed around the D.C. area to assist with traffic control and help local authorities solve any problems, the National Guard announced Tuesday.
Modeled after recent trucker protests in Canada, separate truck convoys have been planned through online forums with names like the People’s Convoy and the American Truckers Freedom Fund — all with different starting points, departure dates and routes. Some are scheduled to arrive in time for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1; others may arrive later.
Pennsylvania tow truck company owner Bob Bolus said a convoy left Scranton, Pennsylvania, Wednesday morning. He said in an interview that the convoy would include 40 to 50 vehicles. Chopper4 footage that evening showed just a few vehicles stopped at a rest stop along I-95.
Bolus said the group planned to go with the flow of traffic on Wednesday, backing off from earlier statements about shutting down the Beltway. A shutdown later is possible though, he said.
“Let’s put it this way: We’re not shutting the traffic down today. If we don’t have a resolution from the government, to the rights that they’re taking from us, I will predict in the future it will get shut down," he said.
He listed grievances regarding mask mandates, COVID-19 vaccinations and fuel prices.
The convoy was expected to stop at U.S. Route 50 and the Beltway in Prince George's County, Maryland. Prince George's County Public Schools had told parents to prepare for potential school bus delays Wednesday.
Truckers apparently spurred on by the recent protests in Canada have spoken on social media about clogging traffic around the D.C. area, but the extent of the protests and how disruptive they may be is still unclear.
National Guard troops will be ready to help with traffic control, commanding general Maj. Gen. Sherrie L. McCandless said.
"Our [Metropolitan Police Department] and [U.S. Capitol Police] partners have asked for our help in ensuring people can demonstrate peacefully and safely, and we stand ready to assist,” McCandless said in a statement.
About 400 D.C. National Guard members and 50 large tactical vehicles will be deployed to designated traffic posts no later than Saturday at 1 p.m., according to a National Guard statement. Guard members can be posted on a 24-hour basis through March 7, the statement said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin also approved 300 guard members from outside D.C.
The coming weeks could be another trying time for D.C., said Marc Ginsberg, president of Coalition for a Safer Web.
”There’s an eerie social media resemblance to the prelude to the Jan. 6 insurrection violence in Washington, because when we review the social media that is leading up to the dispatch of this convoy, so much of this has an extremist element to it,” he said.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton received a briefing from U.S. Capitol Police Wednesday on their preparations.
Capitol Police’s goal is to ensure lawmakers and staffers get to and from the State of the Union address. They told Norton they are monitoring online chatter and they know how to stop and reroute the truckers, though they did not elaborate on their strategy.
The National Guard will be deployed to deal with traffic control. Capitol Police is the lead agency, but other local agencies will be all hands on deck.
Norton said she will demand that any fencing be temporary. Fencing around the Capitol is being considered, but no decision has been made.
Capitol Hill residents can stay informed through the Capitol Police listserv.
Another group, which dubbed itself the People's Convoy, began assembling in the Los Angeles area with intentions to travel to D.C. by early March, the Los Angeles Times reported.
D.C. officials sent an alert to residents on Tuesday, saying the demonstrations could impact the capital region “in the weeks ahead,” but no permit application has been filed with police.
“There are layered mitigation strategies in place and our agencies remain in regular contact with local, regional, and federal partners,” the notice said.
Several roads around the U.S. Capitol were blocked by authorities this week in anticipation of potential protests and President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, set for Tuesday.
Stay with News4 for details on this developing story.
Correction (Feb. 23, 2022 at 10:52 a.m.): An earlier version of this story erroneously said the trucker convoy would go through Harrisonburg. It was set to travel through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.