Weird Activism: How the Media Got Played, Maybe, by the D.C. “Trucker Shutdown”

House Republicans aren't the only ones making strange threats.


As if Washington didn’t have enough to worry about right now, with a government shutdown more than a week old, a debt ceiling confrontation looming and no solution in sight for either, there’s suddenly another complication: A group of angry truck drivers is threatening to shut down the city.


Yes, the “Truckers Ride For the Constitution” is headed to our nation’s capital this weekend, although exactly what they’ll be doing once they get there has been the subject of debate, depending on which news article you read and Facebook page you visit.

The saga of what was and wasn’t reported about the truckers’ plans is an instructive cautionary tale that maybe the media shouldn’t believe everything people tell them—a lesson with applications to the Washington showdown that actually is happening this week.

This strange episode began with an interview, in the surprisingly not defunct U.S. News and World Report Monday with organizer Earl Conlon.

In the interview, Conlon stated that thousands of truckers were making a trek to Washington, D.C., this weekend, with plans to  “intentionally clog the inner loop of the Washington, D.C., beltway,” in order to “seek the arrest of congressmen for allegedly disregarding the Constitution.” He also threatened, “if cops decide to give us a hard time, we’re going to lock the brakes up, we’re going to stop right there, we’re going to be a three lane roadblock.”

The effort is not a protest against the government shutdown; rather, it’s a general strike both about issues important to truckers, and more traditional Tea Party-style grievances. Another participant quoted in the U.S. News story, “a former country music singer,” added that the truckers would submit a list of demands that includes the impeachment of President Obama.

The story set off a brief, minor panic. Until, that is, Conlon admitted to the Washington Post that, uh, he didn’t exactly mean it.

“The comments to U.S. News were designed to do one thing and one thing only: stir the feather of the mainstream media,” Conlon said. “Nothing gets the attention of the mainstream media like some sort of disastrous threat. I knew it was going to ruffle some feathers.”

He added that the ride really is happening, but that none of that arrest or traffic shutdown stuff will take place.

It’s unclear if Conlon was bluffing all along, or if the group originally planned the Congressional arrests but backed off in face of backlash or legal liability.

A post on the event’s official Facebook page claimed Conlon was not authorized to speak for them, while a YouTube video posted to the Facebook page Tuesday implores participants to do nothing illegal and draw no negative attention. At any rate, it appears any attempt to reenact the movies Duel or Convoy on the capital’s highways will wait for another day.

Making wild threats to do wanton destruction, threats that seem to change by the day, and may or may not be followed through upon? This campaign is way too similar to the elected Republicans’ actual strategy for comfort.

Conlon, clearly, violated the first rule of trolling: Don’t admit you’re trolling, especially not on Day 2 of the story.

Even so, there’s a big audience for this stuff. The group’s Facebook page has 85,000 likes. Read the comments on that U.S. News story—the one in which it looked like the traffic shutdown was real. There were more than 2,000 as of Tuesday night, most of which are along the lines of “go truckers go,” “the seeds of Revolution are planted,” and references to “Barry Soetoro” and “Ovomit.”

An official press release for the event says nothing about arresting officials or shutting down highways, although it does state that “all Americans now see through [Obama’s] message of tyranny and socialism in the same way Nazi Germany was exposed before World War 2,” while also praising recently fired Pennsylvania police chief Mark Kessler. 

Not that the traffic shutdown plan, had it been real, would have had any chance of success. For one thing, Congress isn’t in session on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays, so the Congressmen wouldn’t have been around to arrest–many of them are already safely back in their districts by then.

Continuing the theme of the right stealing protesting tools from the playbook of the ’60s-style left, the D.C. ride has an unexpected precedent: a similar protest in which truckers slowed down traffic took place in 1996—in France, as a strike for higher wages. We all know how much the American right wing loves the French—Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), in a widely circulated quote about the shutdown standoff a few days ago, said “we’re not French—we don’t surrender.”

Because when Republicans in Congress take cheap shots at France, they’re always vindicated by history.