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The trucks appeared on Capitol Hill early Saturday morning.
Not 18-wheeler rigs, barreling down across the Canadian border from Ottawa. But perhaps in anticipation of those vehicles arriving.
They were big trucks. Dump trucks. Garbage trucks. Snow plows with salt spreaders. Some emblazoned with the Architect of the Capitol stenciling on the side. The trucks blocked off portions of Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues on the west end of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Capitol Police then stationed some other cruisers with lights in other locations around the Capitol complex.
“Due to the Truckers Convoy, the following road closures are in effect until further notice,” read an advisory from U.S. Capitol Police (USCP).
There had been rumors of an Ottawa-style trucker protest descending on Washington, D.C., at some point. But a couple of hours later, the USCP sent out another advisory:
“All road closures associated with the anticipated Truckers Convoy have concluded. Enhanced truck restrictions are in place at the following locations until further notice,” read the statement.
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Only the restrictions weren’t lifted.
Fox was later told by multiple sources that the messages weren’t completely approved by the Capitol Police. But, nonetheless, the array of garbage trucks and dump trucks were in place.
Congressional security officials saw what happened in Ottawa when truckers took over Parliament Hill directly in front of the Canadian legislature. It’s not surprising that those who work in and around Capitol Hill would be a little jumpy about a massive demonstration descending on the U.S. Capitol – especially after Jan. 6. That’s why authorities preemptively blocked some roadways near the Capitol – even though officials have banned trucks near the buildings since 9/11. Police even permanently closed off some streets around the Capitol after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Congressional security officials usually only put those big trucks in place for the inauguration, State of the Union, which is coming next week, and other major protests.
Some Republican lawmakers goaded the truckers to come to Washington to make their case about vaccine mandates and mask requirements.
“I absolutely welcome a similar pronouncement of protest in our nation’s capital by truckers and anyone who wants their freedoms back. People are fed up with these overbearing, overburdening regulations that are not based in science,” said Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, on Fox.
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Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., told Fox News colleague Aishah Hasnie a trucker convoy in D.C. “would be an interesting thing.”
“People are sick of the lockdowns. The mandates. The restrictions. And people have the right to peacefully protest,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on Fox.
Of course, people may disagree on what constitutes a peaceful protest. Many see tying up streets in front of the Canadian Parliament and shutting down much of the downtown area of a major North American city for weeks as a lot different from unfurling a few banners and signs on a Saturday afternoon in a park.
“If we let the government get away with (crushing the Canadian protest), this is coming to a country near you,” warned Rep. Yvette Harrell, R-N.M., on Fox. “We have to stand for freedom at this point.”
That said, the Canadian protest was about vaccine mandates for truckers. In the U.S., many state and local governments are lifting restrictions on masks and capacity. There aren’t many “lockdowns” left in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean that some lawmakers may not stoke the embers for political advantage.
One convoy plans to hit Washington, D.C., on March 5. Another caravan could come this week. But it may not roll near the Capitol.
It could just snarl traffic on the Capital Beltwa,y which encircles Washington, D.C.
“I’ll give you an analogy of a giant, boa constrictor,” said convoy organizer Bob Bolus to Lindsay Watts of Fox station WTTG in Washington. “It basically squeezes you. It chokes you. And then it swallows you. And that’s what we’re going to do to DC.”
Lawmakers who represent the Washington, D.C., region weren’t impressed with these plans.
“I think (it) would be a disaster and very unwelcome,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who represents a district inside the Beltway, just across from the nation’s capital. “I don’t know anybody who lives in metropolitan Washington who would want to be part of something like this.”
As Beyer sees it, the problem is bringing not just Washington, D.C., but the entire eastern seaboard to a standstill. A big snowstorm stranded motorists – and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. – for more than a day on I-95 near Washington just last month.
“If the Beltway gets jammed up, everything stops in this region. But not only in this region. This is also the main north-south route from Boston to Maine, all the way to Florida,” said Beyer. “It would shut down half the country.”
Washington, D.C., is used to big protests. That was certainly the case when the farmers took over parts of the National Mall and camped out for months in the 1970s. The Million Man March in 1995. The anti-gun violence demonstration near the Capitol and along Pennsylvania Ave., NW, after the Parkland shooting in 2018. In fact, Washington is supposed to be a place where big protests unfold. People are supposed to exercise their First Amendment rights here, in Washington, at the Capitol and the White House.
The riot at the Capitol last year didn’t change that. But it recalibrated how everyone on Capitol Hill – from police officers to junior staff assistants to custodians – views these conclaves. And after last year, there are questions whether officials can keep the Capitol safe.
The fence that encircled the Capitol after the riot is appearing again before next week’s State of the Union.
“Please. Please. No more fences and no more walls around our Capitol,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., on FOX Business. “Let freedom ring. For far too long our Capitol has had these artificial barriers set up. It was great to see them come down. They need to stay down.”
But one can only imagine what would happen if Capitol security wasn’t as tight as it could be for potential truckers or the State of the Union. Nothing can be left to chance after last year’s riot.
Members of the House Administration Committee recently quizzed U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton about improvements – and potential problems – with the department more than a year after the riot.
“Are you confident that the Capitol Police (are) prepared for an attack, similar to what happened on Jan. 6?” asked Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M. “Is the planning sufficient at this time?”
Bolton told the congresswoman that “planning is sufficient,” adding “They are in a much better position than they were over a year ago.”
But Bolton noted that the USCP had still not implemented many security recommendations. Deficiencies with training remain. Intelligence is improved. But there are still unresolved issues. And, it’s a challenge for the force to balance enhanced training with day-to-day activities.
Federal authorities are now in the process of asking for the National Guard to assist in the region should truckers descend on Washington. This move reflects the lack of preparedness by security officials ahead of last year’s riot.
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just completed a study of how the Capitol Police prepared for the riot. The GAO says the plan the force did have “did not reflect the potential for extreme violence.” However, the final intelligence assessment presented to the force on Jan. 3 of last year declared that those loyal to former President Trump had a “last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election. This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent.”
So maybe the trucks pour into Washington. Maybe they don’t. Even preparing for a potential caravan or two may discourage some truckers from visiting Washington.
Congressional security officials weren’t ready for Jan. 6. Authorities in Ottawa weren’t ready for the trucker protest on Parliament Hill. But D.C. officials have the advantage now of seeing what happened in Ottawa and preparing for it well in advance.
Source URL: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/capitol-hill-trucker-protests-security-preparation