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latest news The popular convoy of truckers shows a nation divided by reality

Donny Thomas and I agreed on a lot of things when we spoke at the California Capitol this week. It’s alarming when you consider that he is part of the so-called people’s convoy that has criss-crossed the country in recent days protesting against coronavirus health measures and serving as an echo chamber for conspiracy theories and Propaganda.

Standing next to his silver BMW 550i, with “liberate your body and mind” scrawled in pink and yellow on the rear window, he and I agreed that we’re fooling ourselves if we think billionaires have the best interests of the society.

We also both believe that there are bad politicians in both parties. As Donny said, they are “two wings of the same bird. That’s a lot of bird poo.

As we watched about 100 of his compatriots gathered on the side stairs of the building, shouting through megaphones about warrants that largely don’t exist and the consequences of betrayal, we also both agreed that the world needed more gardens, more hands in the dirt, outdoor stuff to get us away from technology and social media. He would like to see us turn football stadiums into community pitches.

No, I’m not here to convince you that the far right is right. But to label the many people who gravitate to extremism – not quite there but rub shoulders with those who are – as hateful and hateful (or even just plain stupid or gullible) is too simplistic.

Donny Thomas drove about 12,000 miles in his BMW as part of the so-called People’s Convoy. Here he is at the California Capitol, holding a flyer denouncing state legislation his convoy opposes.

(Anita Chabria/Los Angeles Times)

Thomas – who says he’s not political, right-wing or left-wing – was reasonable and reasoned, likeable and engaging, at least on the surface, a guy you could have a drink with if you avoid digging into the details of his beliefs.

He’s the kind of ordinary person we miss when we talk about the Republican Party walking in the darkness of the very tyranny it claims to be fighting. And for those who care about democracy, we ignore them at our peril.

When the media has covered the People’s Convoy and the increasingly right-wing Republican Party, it’s often been in terms of Donald Trump and the anger he harbors and feeds off. We see rallies with his supporters waving all sorts of flags that somehow symbolize rollbacks of civil rights or a vindication of patriotism as a conservative Christian value that the “libs” know nothing about.

A handful of truckers and driving circles around Washington, D.C., Beltway seem more boring than ominous, so it’s easy to dismiss much of it as extremism or comedic theater or both – a minority vein of senseless fear that is given oxygen only by our notice.

But that’s not counting the Donnys of the movement, and there are a lot of them. These are the foot soldiers who sincerely believe they are in a fight of good versus evil, isolated by their abilities to see the real dangers facing America and thus the only possible saviors of the nation.

Many truckers and their allies see themselves coming from a place of kindness, not discrimination or division. They seem firmly convinced of the lies that bind them together – the global cabal seeking world domination, the pedophile rings, the dangers of COVID-19 vaccines for a pandemic they say was nothing more than the flu.

This is the power of misinformation and disinformation. At worst, it undermines reality. If you believed what they believe, you’d probably be in the convoy too.

Danny lived in Santa Cruz and worked as a heavy equipment operator before the pandemic, he told me. Like many construction workers during the cold months, he was out of work in the winter of 2019. When lockdown hit, he became unemployed and started wondering what was going on. He just didn’t want to wear a mask, he said. The wives and girlfriends of some of his social media friends were irritated by his thoughts, he said. But he didn’t seem to care much and never went back to work.

Instead, he returned home to his parents’ farm in Ohio for a time. It’s 300 acres, and when he was a kid he had a choice between working on Sundays or going to Sunday school. He chose the job, he laughs. He took off his hat and closed his eyes at the rally when the crowd made a coy verse of “Amazing Grace,” but religion isn’t really his thing.

But neither was Butler, the town where he grew up. Too many of his old friends never left, he says. He couldn’t fit in with them anymore. “I was the Cali boy now,” he said. It lasted less than a year, then returned to Santa Cruz.

As the convoy of Canadian truckers harangued the streets of Ottawa in January, Thomas was ready for action. He has no mortgage, no children, no ties to hold him down.

When he heard about the American version of the protest north of the border, he packed up the BMW, which he had just finished rebuilding and which had driven nearly 200,000 miles, and set off to meet the like-minded people in Kingman. , Arizona, about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas on Route 66.

And there he found his tribe, although there were a few “bad actors” trying to derail the camaraderie, he said. He traveled with the convoy more than 12,000 miles in less than 60 days. Leaders reimburse him for gas and he sometimes shares a hotel room with other protesters. He usually sleeps in the car, or in a tent if they stop for a few days. The tent is not worth it for one night.

The convoy has had its ups and downs, and “it’s not just about sailing,” Thomas said. It has taken on the task of being the first car in line after the big rigs – causing interference if strangers try to cut them or get in their way, he said. He pulls up with his cell phone, letting drivers know they’re being filmed, license plates and all.

In DC, he got in trouble – literally. A woman accused him of hitting her with the BMW while stuck in traffic near Dupont Circle. He did the Daily Beast. Thomas said the woman lay down in front of her car. She told the media that he deliberately hit her and she broke her ankle. The police were called. I received the report and it states that Thomas and the woman refused medical services when the doctors arrived, and the case is now “pending/inactive”.

In Sacramento, Thomas handed out flyers warning of the dangers of 10 bills the convoy deems tyrannical. He pointed to Senate Bill 1390 by Dr. Richard Pan, a much-hated figure in anti-vaxxer circles, which the pamphlet said would prohibit “any person/entity from making statements that the government deems to be false or misleading. by any means, including internet/advertisements.”

I suggested that he look at the bill itself, because that’s not what it says. He shrugged, clearly not convinced by my point of view.

I gave up because, well, Donny isn’t the first Donny I’ve talked to. I have met many people with his mistaken conviction and determination over the past two years. What I have learned is that there is no common ground to be found when it comes to big issues. We may agree on community gardens, but ultimately Thomas believes he’s been freed from the “matrix,” as he puts it, and sees truths I can’t see.

I believe it was lied to and manipulated by those seeking political and financial gain. It’s not that I think he’s a bad person or has bad intentions. I really liked Donny. I just think he doesn’t work in reality, the same way he thinks I don’t.

But I don’t think there’s anything I can say that will make him reconsider these false “truths” that are now dear to him. I spoke to families desperate to remove their loved ones from conspiracies such as QAnon, and documented the complexities and extremes that took ordinary people like Thomas and made them feel like they were in a moment extraordinary.

It is the energy of this alternative belief system that should concern us all. Trump is no longer the center that unites these believers. While many still love Trump and will rally behind a 2024 campaign, they are also focused on school boards, election offices, and health services, even if the rest of us pay little attention to the institutions of the everyday life that they are trying to transform.

Roe’s protections against Wade will certainly end in a few months. Laws against LGBTQ+ rights are sadly common across the country, erasing civil rights for people who only recently won them. Such malicious laws will encourage more rollbacks if left unchallenged. Teachers are attacked, pilloried for any comment that touches on race or gender identity. Books are prohibited. Elections are approaching and those overseeing them are being thrown out of office.

My daughter is reading “Fahrenheit 451” for school, and last night we came across this passage about how her authoritarian rule began: “It didn’t come from the government,” Ray Bradbury wrote 70 years ago . “There was no saying, no statement, no censorship, to begin with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure did the trick.”

This trinity of forces is more relevant than ever, but in the United States Bradbury’s dystopian vision has not materialized.

But he understood how easy it could be, if the greater number ignored a few powerful ones.

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