WASHINGTON – The movement of truckers protesting vaccine mandates in Canada has expanded south across the border and federal authorities warn a coast-to-coast convoy could disrupt the Super Bowl this weekend, President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address next month – and potentially anything in between.
“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has received reports of truck drivers planning to potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities in the United States in protest of, among other things, vaccine mandates for truck drivers,” the department warned in a Feb. 8 bulletin sent to state and local law enforcement partners and obtained by USA TODAY.
The “Internal Use Only” report was prepared by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis’s Current and Emerging Threats Center, or CETC. It said the convoy will potentially begin in California as early as mid-February, with designs on potentially disrupting the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for Sunday at SoFi Stadium in the Los Angeles area.
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After that, the convoy will make its way across the country, aiming to reach Washington, D.C. in time for the annual presidential address at the Capitol on March 1, the DHS memo sent to police officials nationwide said.
“While there are currently no indications of planned violence, if hundreds of trucks converge in a major metropolitan city, the potential exists to severely disrupt transportation, federal government operations, commercial facilities, and emergency services through gridlock and potential counterprotests,” according to the memo.
The protests began when drivers objected to a Canada government mandate requiring drivers entering the country to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. Last month, DHS began requiring all non-U.S. individuals seeking to enter the United States via land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination as well.
And while the protests started out small, they became a significant political problem for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as others in Canada rallied around the truckers and their rejection of vaccine mandates.
A DHS official confirmed that the document has been widely shared with the department’s thousands of local and state police departments, and said they are all working together to minimize disruption and plan for contingencies.
DHS is tracking reports of a potential convoy that may be planning to travel to several U.S. cities, and is working closely with federal, state, and local authorities to continuously assess potential physical and economic threats posed by it, the department official told USA TODAY, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation.
Citing unspecified law enforcement sources, the DHS memo warned that the protest group intends to start in California, including Los Angeles, where, it said, Super Bowl LVI and accompanying events “are expected to draw approximately 70,000 attendees to the game and millions of people to the Los Angeles area.”
“It has also been suggested that truckers from Canada may join the Washington DC event,” where Biden is expected to address a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on March 1, the report added.
So far, according to the DHS report, “We also have not seen any Domestic Violent Extremists call for violence related to the event, nor have we seen them attempt to exploit this 1st Amendment-protected activity.”
But, it added, DHS’s Current and Emerging Threats Center has noted a continued increase in social media accounts, pages, groups, channels and chats being created related to the U.S.-based convoy. And it noted that in recent days, Canadian truckers associated with the shutdown of parts of the capital of Ottawa have now blocked access on the Canadian side of two U.S.-Canada border crossings.
The Canada-based “Freedom Convoy” blocked off access to the Canadian side of the Sweet Grass Port of Entry in Montana, creating traffic jams and disrupting the flow of goods and services there, DHS said. The memo cited Canadian police as describing a “complete blockage” of Highway 4, which acts as a major artery for commercial goods into and out of the U.S.
The DHS memo also reported that the Canadian convoy continued to intermittently block the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge at the Detroit Windsor Crossing, one of the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossings, forcing traffic to be rerouted to other border crossings nearby.
The U.S. convoy is gathering steam, according to various social media posts, including a special Facebook site for “The People’s Convoy.” That site now has many references to a “DC Convoy.” Some participants have been featured in recent days on Fox News.
And state and local authorities told DHS they have discovered social media posts on various platforms referencing instructions on how an anonymous convoy could impact Super Bowl security operations. One user also instructs people to go to Washington, D.C. and state capitals, the DHS report said. “Additionally, posted information gave instructions on driving from LA to Washington DC, including screenshots of maps.”
State and local authorities also shared with DHS a flyer posted on Facebook for a “Shut Down the Super Bowl” medical freedom demonstration set for Sunday, that also mentions the truck convoy.
“Protests in connection with the Super Bowl are as American as the Super Bowl itself. The NFL has extensive plans to make sure protests don’t interfere with the game itself, and I’m confident they are activating those plans to deal with a truck convoy,” said Thomas S. Warrick, who until June 2019 was deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism Policy at DHS.
What concerns homeland security and law enforcement the most, Warrick said, is the possibility that even the most peaceful of planned protests could turn violent.
“Beyond that, the greatest concern is to the resilience of the U.S. economy,” said Warrick, who advised five secretaries of Homeland Security during his 12 years at DHS. He is now senior fellow and director of The Future of DHS Project at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
“The recent disruptions at U.S. seaports got the attention of the White House, DHS, Commerce, and other Cabinet departments, not to mention the state and local governments that were involved,” Warrick said.
And while those disruptions have been mostly resolved, “the trucks blocking the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit show the vulnerability of our just-in-time economy,” Warrick said. “It’ll be important for those responsible for ensuring the resilience of the American society and economy to make adjustments so the loss of a bridge, or trucker actions elsewhere, doesn’t disrupt crucial manufacturing in the United States.”
So far, DHS’s law enforcement partners in Washington have advised that there has not been an uptick in hotel reservations in the region that would indicate a large group planning to travel there. It is also possible, though, that truckers could sleep in their vehicles.
DHS, as always, has designated the Super Bowl and surrounding events as a National Special Security Event, or an event of national or international significance that could be a potential target for terrorism or other criminal activity. As such, DHS officials are working closely with the U.S. Secret Service federal coordinator for the event, said the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Over the past year, the official said, DHS has increased its efforts to share timely and actionable intelligence and information with state and local authorities, and to strengthen its operational coordination with partners across every level of government and the private sector.
Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas visited Los Angeles recently to get a long-planned briefing on security for the event, and DHS long ago dedicated more than 500 personnel to provide security support throughout the weekend.
The DHS official also said DHS has spent the past year working with federal, state, and local partners to strengthen security in and around Washington, D.C. That includes enhanced intelligence sharing, a Critical Incident Response Plan for the U.S. Capitol, a regional security assessment, and a simulation experiment that developed data-driven recommendations to bolster regional security, the official said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Truckers convoys may target Super Bowl, Biden's State of the Union