NEW YORK – Several conservative media figures in the U.S. have taken up the cause of Canadian truckers who have occupied parts of Ottawa and blocked border crossings to protest COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity cheered the truckers on while showing four live reports from Ottawa this week. Tucker Carlson's online store is selling “I (heart) Tucker” T-shirts edited to say “I (heart) Truckers.”
“Send our solidarity, love and support to all of the brave people who are there,” Hannity told Fox reporter Sara Carter, who was with the protesters in Ottawa, on his show Thursday. “Don't give up.”
The Canadian protesters are protesting vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions and are railing against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though many of the country’s infection measures are already rapidly being lifted as the omicron surge levels off. The five-day blockade has disrupted the flow of goods between the U.S. and Canada and forced the auto industry on both sides to roll back production.
In a bulletin to local and state law enforcement officers, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that it has received reports of similar protests being planned in the United States.
The agency said the protests could begin in Southern California as early as this weekend and potentially spread to Washington around the State of the Union address in March.
Between Jan. 18 through Thursday, Fox News Channel had devoted 10 hours and 8 minutes of airtime to the story, according to the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America, which frequently criticizes the network.
A senior Canadian government official said Friday that the Fox coverage has “fanned the flames and contributed to misinformation” about the protests in Canada.
“The right-wing media in America have really gone in for totally inaccurate claims,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. “The Canadian media doesn’t repeat that misinformation the way the U.S. media does.”
Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire said on his show, sitting in front of a headline that said Canadians were “fed up” with Trudeau, that mandates had to stop. The protesters are particularly upset about a requirement that all truck drivers entering the country be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. An estimated 90 percent of Canadian truckers already are.
“Nobody wants giant bridges shut down,” Shapiro said. “Obstructing traffic is bad no matter what you are protesting for. However, the cause of this protest happens to be righteous.”
The lead story on the Red State website for a time Thursday was headlined, “East Bound and Down: US Truck Convoy is Being Planned, Could Be Headed to DC.” Reporter Sarah Lee mocked a “very silly” piece in Politico that included a quote from an analyst who works for a think tank that tracks extremism, who noted worrying parallels to the buildup before the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Hannity's support for what Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford has called an occupation comes after months where he decried violence and destruction of property at some Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.
The difference, Hannity asserted, is the Canadian “Freedom Convoy” is peaceful. On Monday, Hannity interviewed a reporter from the conservative website Rebel News, who described the Ottawa protest site as a “family environment” and “like a Canada Day festival every day.”
The protests have been largely peaceful, although some residents have complained of harassment and there is an arson investigation tied to one incident. Shapiro said critics of the truckers are guilty of “nutpacking,” or focusing on a crazed person and linking them to the entire protest movement.
It's a familiar tactic in politics: pointing to a more extreme position held by a member of an opposition party and saying it represents everyone.
Lara Trump, the former U.S. president's daughter-in-law and a Fox News contributor, offered her support for the truckers on Hannity's show Tuesday.
“Right here in America, people are cheering them on, because this is about freedom,” she said.
In a lengthy monologue on his show this week, Carlson suggested that it was inconsistent for the “intellectual elite” to largely support protest movements started by workers yet oppose this one. He said that many times trends start in the United States and move to Canada, but this time the opposite could happen.
“The trucker convoy in Canada is pretty cool,” he said. “People getting together to promote human rights. Who's against that?”
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.