It’s hard to explain what exactly happened during the Truckers for the Constitution Beltway protest on Friday since, as far as I can tell, the organizers themselves didn’t have such a great handle on what the heck was going on. Over the course of reporting on this story, your correspondent has heard — from various purportedly credible sources — all of the following:
The fog of war, if you will, was a bit of a factor. But after a day of tailgating flatbed trailers around the Beltway, chatting up hitchhikers in the parking lot of a truck stop, listening to a Louie Gohmert encomium, chasing down a guy named General Lee to get a ride in his big rig, and railing McDonald’s coffee, here’s what I know for sure: Truckers for the Constitution is not so great at scheduling.
My incredibly long-suffering friend Derek Dye and I rolled into the Doswell truck stop at about 6:50 on Friday morning because I’d heard the truckers — maybe hundreds of them, maybe thousands! — would be rolling out at 7 a.m., so we figured we’d catch their magnificent departure and then chat up stragglers. It was a good plan. It was the kind of plan that always works. It was executed with surgical precision. And yet.
When we got to the enormous parking lot (a veritable wasteland of cement and oil grease, with a tiny chapel at one end and a odd-smelling gas station at the other), there was a grand total of, let’s say, six semis, as well as a handful of organizers, supporters, and baffled onlookers standing around in the lot and blinking in the half-light.
The rest of the day could have been scripted by a Coen Brother. It took about half an hour to ascertain that nobody in that parking lot had any sort of clue as to how many trucks had left, when they left, or where exactly they intended to go. And while I did have an interesting conversation with Ruth Saylor and Chip Jones, a pair who had hitchhiked to Doswell from North Carolina to show support for the truckers and who also thought America should do to Obama what a hiker does to a calf-affixed tick (their analogy, not mine), I didn’t learn many facts.
The first concrete information we got came sometime between 9 and 10 o’clock. Until then, we’d largely been standing around, watching an InfoWars cameraman conduct an hour-long interview with one Truckers for the Constitution advocate, and rubbing our hands together. But then Zeeda Andrews, the portly country singer turned freelance constitutional scholar who helped concoct the idea of clogging Beltway traffic to stick it to Obama, distributed a list of demands to reporters and onlookers.
The demands were supposed to be on the group’s website, she explained, but it crashed. So she had to borrow the printer in the truck stop to distribute the document.
The document kicks off by charging that, long before his election, “Barry Soetoro, aka Barack Obama, was already plotting with others, to overturn the Constitution of the United States.” Characterized by eccentric punctuation and InfoWars-friendly theories, the two-and-a-half-page manifesto listed a host of demands and charges, beginning with a statement on the “felony offense” the president committed by providing forged documents to show his eligibility for the presidency and ending with the expectation that the “current administration” stop “administering experimental, psychotropic, mind altering drugs for control over soldiers during secret, clandestine operations.”
The document also included a host of specific complaints about federal regulations on the trucking industry, as well as charges that the National Defense Authorization Act lets the military take over all private industry and that the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to go to war against the American People [capitalization sic].
Anyway, after distributing Truckers for the Constitution’s latter-day Declaration of Independence, Andrews announced that the remaining supporters who’d been standing around in the parking lot would now head for the World War II memorial, where they would meet with congressmen and present their “terms,” as she called them.
I hitched a ride with Andrews and Steve Gronka, another event organizer, and we zipped along overcast I-95, hailing members of the Overpass for Obama’s Impeachment movement — “There are some overpassers! Hey!” cried Andrews, waving, as Gronka tooted the horn — and chatting about militias.
“You should always have well-regulated militia,” Andrews said. “I think Ron Paul is in charge of the militia, as far as I know.”
“One of my former business partners is in the Michigan militia and they’re one of the best in the country,” Gronka added. “And he said, ‘Steve, if the government goes south, you come to Michigan.’ I said, ‘What do I bring?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, don’t bring anything.’”
“Oh, that’s awesome,” said Andrews.
We get to an appointed rendezvous location (a weigh station on I-95), but hardly anyone is there. So it’s on to the next designated meet-up place, yet another weigh station at Exit 27, and that’s where it starts to actually look like a movement, sort of, as around 45 semis, pick-up trucks, and other vehicles had assembled along the edge of the station, bedecked in American flags, stickers of the event’s official hashtag (#t2sda, standing for Truckers to Shut Down America), and other sundry bits of decor.
The plan was a touch hazy. Maybe the truckers would leave first, maybe just the cars would head to the WWII memorial, maybe they’d wait for an extra 200 trucks from Pennsylvania or Alaska or Lord knows where to arrive, maybe — who knows? At one point, another rain-soaked reporter tailing the convoy wandered up to our car (I was back with Derek by then), motioned for us to roll down the window, squinted a bit, and said, “Do you know how to spell clusterf**k? Does it have a hyphen?”
While trying to figure out the rest of the morning’s agenda, I talked a bit with a trucker named Kim Pridgin. She didn’t know much more than I did, but she was emphatic about one thing. “Be sure to put me down for, I want Obama out now,” she told me. “Not tomorrow, not next week. Arrested for treason. Now.”
Eventually the convoy got back on the move. It was supposed to go in shifts, I think — truckers would go around the Beltway, as you can’t drive a tractor trailer on Capitol Hill, and cars would head for the WWII memorial to deliver the “terms” to Gohmert — but, um, that didn’t happen. The Truckers for the Constitution unstated rule of scheduling — we’ll be there at the appointed time, plus/minus two hours — didn’t seem to work with Hill staffers. The meeting was not to be, at least on Friday.
When the order of ceremonies became totally indiscernible, Derek and I just singled out a pick-up with a flatbed trailer that sported a piece of plywood spray-painted “IMPEACH! #T2SDA” on it, intuiting its driver was part of the Truckers for the Constitution movement, and tailed him like he had a map to El Dorado.
Traffic moved smoothly, given that traffic in D.C. always moves smoothly. We finally ended up in the vicinity of the Tyson’s Corner mall. And there, we met up with Ernest Lee.
Let me tell you about Ernest Lee. Ernest Lee is a rotund, cheery, bearded 27-year-veteran of the truck-driving industry who sported an American flag T-shirt tucked into black cotton sweat pants and a cap that reads “If You Bought It, A Truck Brought It.” He’s originally from Memphis, he has a thick southern drawl, and he’s known as General Lee to members of Truckers for the Constitution because he’s helped corral the troops and also because he’s a direct descendant of the Confederate general (I haven’t checked Ancestry.com, but Lee said so himself and I’m taking his word for it, so now it’s PolitiFact’s problem).
In a parking lot across from a Target, Lee and his right-hand man, Tom Lacovara, chatted with Josh Barry, the Pennsylvania state leader of Overpasses for Obama’s Impeachment. Lee told Barry that driving under the protesters, who stand on highway overpasses and wave signs admonishing drivers to impeach the president, was the highlight of his day, and also deeply moving.
Then Lee was kind enough to take me on the first big-rig ride of my adulthood. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that we spent a lot of it discussing Louie Gohmert. Lee loves the outspoken Texan Republican, and says he’s one of his political heroes. And today, there was a bit of a Louie Gohmert miracle at the WWII memorial.
“Early this week I was talking to Louie on the phone,” Lee says, “and he told me to call him Louie, I’m not trying to be disrespectful, I was talking to Louie on the phone and I said, ‘Louie, those barricades are going to give you guys trouble. I’ve got 200 feet of chain in my truck and I can solve that problem for you.’ And Louie said, ‘You just stay in the truck and let me tie the chain to it, will you?’ It was meant lighthearted, etcetera.”
But today, Lee adds, the barricades — he uses the Twitter portmanteau “Barrycades” — were gone!
“I think somebody up there was like, ‘You know what? I think we might have gone one step too far, and we have just about pissed everybody off,’” Lee adds.
But they’re not resting with a few disappeared barricades. Lacovara says the Beltway adventurism of this weekend is just the start.
“This is the birth of something right here that, if they don’t straighten out — and I don’t think I need to finish that sentence,” he says from the back of the truck.
Their long-term goals are a lot bigger than adding 30 minutes to Washingtonians’ morning commutes, which is Lee’s estimation of the protest’s impact.
“I don’t know whether Obama’s documents are real, fake, whatever,” he says. “But I do feel like that he has been — that he has been an extremely poor president. I would call for his impeachment or resignation,” he concludes.
“You would?” I asked.
“I’ll just put it that way,” he says.
“Impeachment,” says Lacovara.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.