Some see a racist double standard in Republicans’ support of trucker protests
Former President Trump, who repeatedly called Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs” and “anarchists,” said there’s “a lot of respect” for the overwhelmingly white truckers who have blocked streets in Canada’s capital and shut down border crossings with the U.S. to oppose COVID-19 restrictions.
To Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the truckers who have parked bumper to bumper are “heroes” fighting for a righteous cause. Fox News’ Sean Hannity sent “solidarity, love and support” to the drivers, who have defied police orders to clear Ottawa’s streets and ignored a court order forbidding them from blaring their horns. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) encouraged them to head south to “clog” streets in the United States as well.
The embrace of the truckers by some of the nation’s most prominent conservative voices has drawn new accusations of hypocrisy and allegations that GOP leaders apply a racist double standard to large protests, including the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol involving a mostly white crowd of Trump supporters.
Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee suggested the Jan. 6 attack was “legitimate political discourse.” But only months before the insurrection, Trump, Cruz and other conservatives excoriated protests against police brutality and racial injustice that were largely peaceful, with some instances of thefts and unrest.
“This shows again that there is just an unequal right to express dissent in the United States,” said Karen Pita Loor, a professor at Boston University’s School of Law. She called conservatives’ support “two-faced,” saying that conservatives appear to support a white, conservative rights movement, but “when you have Black Lives Matter protesters on the street that are ‘thugs,’ they scare you.”
Ottawa has become the center of a global populist backlash against vaccine mandates and, more broadly, liberal governments.
Conservatives counter that there’s a double standard on the other side — that liberals support the idea of protesting, until they disagree with the cause.
The Canadian protests, known as the Freedom Convoy, have been declared a national emergency and an illegal occupation of the nation’s capital. For weeks, the drivers blocked streets to oppose pandemic measures including vaccine mandates for truckers. They also blocked U.S. border crossings, inflicting economic damage on both countries.
On Thursday, hundreds of truckers in Ottawa stood their ground as police poured in, threatening to break up the demonstration. Workers put up extra fences around government buildings, and officers began sealing off much of the downtown area to outsiders to prevent them from coming to the aid of the protesters.
Conservatives say there is a clear distinction between the Canadian protests and instances of violence during protests over the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white officer in Minneapolis, including buildings set on fire in that city and Portland, Ore.
“All Americans have the right to peacefully protest. But there’s a stark contrast between civil disobedience — which has been a time-honored tradition in our country — and burning down buildings, looting businesses, and violently attacking actual peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders,” Paul said. The Kentucky Republican was surrounded and confronted in Washington in 2020 by people protesting the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Ky., home.
A Cruz spokesperson echoed those comments, saying that the Texas Republican had “been very clear” about the right to nonviolent protest, and that “what people don’t have the right to do is assault another person, loot and firebomb buildings — those actions are not exercising a constitutional right no matter the circumstance.”
Hannity said this week that the difference between the Black Lives Matter protests and the truckers is that the demonstrations in Canada have been peaceful.
Truck drivers are getting smeared by circumstances beyond their control. They need your support.
However, police arrested 13 people and seized guns and ammunition earlier this week in the Alberta border town of Coutts, across from Montana, where a blockade disrupted trade for more than two weeks. Four men also face a charge of conspiracy on allegations that they plotted to kill Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers.
Some of the protesters have displayed Confederate and swastika flags and other symbols of violence.
The support from American conservatives goes beyond the words of politicians and Fox News hosts: Right-wing activists in the U.S. who oppose pandemic mandates and Canada’s prime minster, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, have donated money to the demonstrations, hoping the protests will help motivate conservative voters in the U.S. ahead of this year’s midterm congressional elections.
Mario Morrow, a Black political consultant who has served both GOP and Democratic governors in Michigan, called Republicans’ support for the Canadian protests “hypocrisy at its highest level.”
The protests included a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Canada, and Detroit and carries 25% of all trade between the two countries. The demonstrations also forced the shutdown of a Canadian Ford plant last week. Shortages due to the blockade forced General Motors to cancel a shift last week at its midsize-SUV factory near Lansing, Mich.
Last weekend, police broke the blockade at the bridge — the border’s busiest and most important crossing — arresting dozens of demonstrators.
Canada deals with images of truckers and others protesting against COVID-19 mandates and leveling other grievances, sometimes with vulgarity and incivility.
“There is no way that the supporters, especially Republicans, can justify the funding support, the moral support and the political statements they are making by supporting these tactics,” Morrow said. He also said the protesters would not get the same support if they were “anything other than conservative white individuals.”
“They would have been locked up — Day One,” he said.
Cruz praised the truckers last week for standing up against lawmakers who imposed mandates they “have no right to impose.” He said the protesters spoke not just for Canadians, but also for Americans.
“I think it is powerful to watch,” he said.
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