Nate Hochman is on the ground in Canada reporting on the unfolding situation with the “Freedom Convoy” protests.
National Review’s Hochman joins this bonus episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to paint a picture of what’s really going on, regardless of what the corporate media says.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Douglas Blair: My guest today is Nate Hochman, an ISI fellow at National Review, currently in Canada covering the protests. Nate, welcome to the show.
Nate Hochman: Thanks so much for having me, it’s good to be here.
Blair: This has been such a wild story and I’m so curious because you’re on the ground right now with the truckers. And I want to know, when did you arrive and what surprised you the most about what you’ve seen so far?
Hochman: I got here late Sunday afternoon, got into Ottawa and settled Sunday evening. And I went out and just checked out the convoy that night.
And things are a lot more crowded on the weekends than they are during the week, so I only caught the back end of the really crazy weekend, which is when you have thousands and thousands of protesters streaming into the city. But I’ve been there since then and I’ve been talking to a lot of the folks on the ground and it’s just the core group of truckers, which is still hundreds and hundreds of people.
And it’s amazing, these people are, I think, patriots in the most authentic sense of the term. They’re weathering not just insane cold temperatures and sleeping in their trucks to fight for their freedoms, but also now a full-on frontal assault from their federal and provincial governments.
So I have nothing but respect for these guys. They’re some of the kindest people that I’ve ever met. And I don’t say that just because of my ideological priors. I went into this supporting the cause, but thinking that maybe a lot of these guys were going to be kooks and crazies, and that’s not the case. These are really decent, fundamentally good people who are fighting for their basic freedoms and their rights and their way of life. And it’s a really wonderful thing.
Blair: What do these people look like? I mean, we’re getting one image from the mainstream media, but what are these people actually like?
Hochman: Well, the core group is truckers, so they look more or less like what your stereotypical trucker—what you’d expect them to look like. These are blue-collar working-class guys. They work with their hands. The group has expanded from the initial sort of trucker groups to a lot of different blue-collar professionals who are all getting battered by the vaccine mandates.
I’ve talked to a lot of folks who got fired, volunteer firefighter, trash cleaners, all the really manual laborers who make their society run, who have lost their jobs for refusing to show their vaccine cards. Some of them are vaccinated actually and just refuse to show their vaccine cards on principle, which is, I think, even more impressive.
And now that it’s gaining momentum, you’re getting protesters flocking in from all across Canada, taking three-, four-day trips, hitching multiple rides with different truckers to get here. And so it’s expanding to be this larger and larger and more diverse group of people from all across the massive country.
And it’s really beautiful because it’s these people from all different walks of life, it’s true diversity, not the progressive sense of diversity where it’s skin color but everyone thinks the same. But they have different ways of life, different backgrounds. And they’re all unified by a shared love of their country and their way of life and a desire to save it from what people like [Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau are trying to do.
Blair: Could you give us a picture of what downtown Ottawa looks like right now? Are the trucks right in the middle? Are they off to the side? Can people still move around the trucks? What does it look like in downtown Ottawa right now?
Hochman: Yeah, they’re smack in the middle. Tough to miss a bunch of 18-wheelers posted up around Parliament Hill, which is where they settled.
So Ottawa, for folks who don’t know, it’s where the Canadian capital is. And the parliament building, which is actually a really beautiful building, is where they’ve set up these little mini communities. They’re sort of little encampments. They’re organized around the big 18-wheelers that have settled along these blocks around Parliament Hill. But those have sort of flowered into these spontaneous communities where people have built tents. People have built makeshift plywood houses on the back of their 18-wheelers.
One encampment built an outdoor gym with a barbell looped through two fuel cans to use as weight in the bench press. And they all have separate DJ booths and music and free food. It almost is this weird intersection of a music festival and a Christian worship service.
That’s the other thing, is it’s a very Christian movement. There’s a lot of prayer, spontaneous prayers. They say the Lord’s Prayer in French and English every night at 7 p.m. And it is this sort of intentional community that has come together without really being organized in a hierarchical structure.
It’s all spontaneous, but it’s remarkably clean. They’re cleaning up after themselves. You have truckers out there shoveling the streets to keep the snow off of it. You’ve got designated trash cans all around.
This is pretty much the polar opposite of what we’re used to seeing from watching left-wing protests the last couple years where people are burning buildings down. These people are actually trying to build something up, which is one of the reasons I think they’re so successful.
Blair: Now, what are the truckers saying to you? You’re out there talking to them, what are they saying about this protest—what it means to them, why they’re still here? What are they saying?
Hochman: Well, they’re really saying that they’re fighting for the Canadian way of life. That’s the language that you hear a lot.
There’s thousands of signs that have been plastered up all around these different encampments and on the fences alongside Parliament Hill. And what you see time and time again and what you hear from these folks is that they’re fighting for the freedoms that are supposedly given to them in the Canadian charter.
The Canadian system of government, they don’t have quite the same robust civil liberties protections that our constitutional Bill of Rights gives us, but they have something similar. They share a British inheritance, which means that they’re supposed to have this wide sphere of liberties.
And those liberties, just like ours, have been crucial for dictating what it means to be a Canadian. And a large part of the Canadian pride that you can feel emanating from these protests has to do with their rights and their freedoms.
So when Trudeau, and all these provincial governments, too, are waging war on those freedoms with things like mandates, school closures, continued lockdowns—Canada’s had much worse lockdowns than we have, they’ve persisted well into the end of 2021—that’s not just an assault on some abstract liberty or freedom. For a lot of these guys, it’s a real assault on the core, the heart of Canadian identity, which is why they’re so righteously, in my opinion, upset about everything.
Blair: Now, you do elaborate on that in your National Review piece, you say that the truckers themselves aren’t anti-vax, but they’re anti-mandate. Is that something that they’re still really pushing hard on … or has it kind of expanded past that?
Hochman: So, it’s because it’s decentralized protest, you’re going to get all kinds of people, right? So to be totally clear and honest about what’s happening here, of course, with all of these movements, when you’re bringing in thousands and thousands of people, you get some wing nuts.
I think I mentioned in my National Review piece, I was in a coffee shop the other day and there’s a woman earnestly telling a bunch of very skeptical-looking truckers about how Justin Trudeau is a Satan worshiper who drinks children’s blood or something like that. But those people are few and far between.
What the mainstream media coverage has been doing is going in there and finding the three people carrying like a Nazi flag or something. They found one person who was carrying a Nazi flag in the mass of thousands and thousands of people. And that’s the story, right? Because that’s what they want to depict it as.
But anyone who actually spends time on the ground there in good faith realizes that that is not the ethos of this movement. The truckers are really there because they’re standing up for freedom and rights and consent, and being able to live their life as they choose. They’re not anti-vaxxers.
In fact, another thing that I mentioned in my National Review piece was that something you hear a lot from left-wing politicians like Trudeau is that 90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated. And he is touting that number as if to say that the convoy is not representative of trucker opinion. But actually, it’s the opposite, which means that most of the truckers here are vaccinated.
They’re not anti-vaxxers. They are just really infuriated at the fact that Trudeau is trying to force them and their colleagues to be vaccinated. That’s unacceptable to them. And that’s why I think it’s so noble that vaccinated and unvaccinated Canadians are linking arms here to stand up for their rights.
Blair: What has the response from the truckers been to Trudeau invoking the Emergencies Act?
Hochman: Oh, it’s really hilarious, they just laugh at him. I’m actually a little more worried about it than I think the guys on the ground are.
I remember after he invoked the emergency order, I went out to talk to these guys and asked them, “Are you worried? He seems like he’s really going to start cracking down.” And they said, “Let him try.”
Everyone here is so determined to be here until every single pandemic mandate is lifted. There is just an absolute 100% confidence that there’s nothing that Trudeau can do to get these guys out of there. And they’re probably right. He can wage financial warfare on them, which could be effective, which is what he’s doing now with freezing bank accounts and going after donors. But as far as actually trying to move in and physically remove these guys, it’s next to impossible.
I was talking to one of the truckers the other day and he was pointing out that to actually get a bunch of 18-wheelers out of these relatively narrow streets by Parliament Hill, they would need heavy-duty military equipment that, first of all, local law enforcement doesn’t have, but also the Canadian military probably doesn’t have. It’s the kind of equipment that the U.S. military has. So they’d have to call in U.S. military to get these guys out. And you can imagine what that would look like as far as a public relations special?
So as long as they can keep managing to keep the funding rolling in—which is the real threat to what they’re doing—the threat, the idle saber rattling of cops coming in and moving these guys out, I think is probably not going to materialize, knock on wood.
Blair: As we’ve been watching this protest unfold, there have been some fascinating moments of Canadians coming together to support these truckers. One of them that comes to mind for me is when there was the ban on providing supplies to the truckers. And there was this imagery of Canadians walking across the streets with all these gas cans, bringing them to the truckers to keep them supported. Have you been around for any of those moments? And what was the mood like during those moments?
Hochman: I haven’t been around for the big moments where they’re moving in the fuel. But I have been around for various small showings of solidarity.
It’s interesting, Ottawa is a city, it’s the capital. And like America, the geographic divide between rural and urban also breaks down ideological lines. So it’s a very blue—or I guess blue is their Conservative Party. So it’s a very left-wing, liberal city, which means that you do have a lot of local residents who are really upset about the truckers and think they’re all far-right conspiracy theorists. And you’ve seen some smaller counterprotests pop up.
There is a left-wing counterprotest where they blockaded the blockade for a day on Sunday. But they’re not really making a dent. And part of why they’re not making a dent is because, even though a lot of the native population in Ottawa isn’t on the truckers’ side, you have people streaming in from across Canada who are on their side, who are bringing them everything they have. They’re sending money if they can’t get there or they’re coming in to help out if they can get there.
And that kind of support is also shared on the ground, very quietly, by a lot of the working-class cops. One of the reasons that you have seen the cops be really reluctant to enforce a lot of the orders they’re getting about confiscating fuel and not letting fuel through is because they’re quietly on—I don’t want to get the truckers in trouble by saying this, but something that is very clear if you spend time here is they’re quietly on the trucker side because they’re working-class blue-collar guys, too.
And these guys are fighting for them and they have a lot more solidarity with the guys on the ground than they do with the chief law enforcement officers who are aligned with Trudeau, who are telling them to go in and get these guys.
Blair: You mentioned in your piece and you mentioned a little bit earlier in this interview that there’s a strong religious component to this protest. Could you expand maybe on how that’s playing out?
Hochman: Yeah. That’s one of the really interesting more recent developments. The convoy descended on Ottawa Jan. 28 and it started as this core group of truckers. But since then, because of the momentum, it’s expanded to become this anti-mandate, pro-freedom protest that has drawn people from across Canada. And one of the main constituencies, who aren’t truckers, who have come in to help out and aid and really provide a lot of the legwork for building this up is Christian groups.
And I was talking to some of the guys, it’s not even Christian groups. A lot of the guys were telling me there’s no churches that are organizing this. It’s just Christians. It’s just individual Christian, Canadian patriots who saw what these guys were doing and felt like they needed to be there, felt like they were called to be there.
So there’s this thing that I reported on called the Jericho March that they’re doing at 9 a.m. every single morning and 7 a.m. on Thursdays, which is when they do a lap around Parliament Hill on Thursdays, when it’s 7 a.m., they do seven laps.
And what that refers to, anyone who’s familiar with the Bible knows the story of Jericho and marching around and God bringing down the walls when they blew a horn. So they’re bringing these horns with them and they’re marching around Parliament Hill and they’re praying the whole time, they’re singing hymns.
This Christian ethos that has been injected into the convoy has taken on this really powerful, spiritual feel. And the whole convoy now, the whole protest movement, if you walk around there, you see Christian imagery everywhere. You see bits of Scripture written onto the sides of trucks and on signs. People are constantly praying. They’re constantly talking about Christ. It’s taking on this real Christian feel.
And one of the beautiful things about that is, you sort of feel like you’re at a worship service. There are people hugging each other spontaneously. I’ve been hugged by strangers, 15 or 20 times unprompted. Which was a little weird at first, but I’ve sort of gotten into it because you realize that all these people are really acting in good faith. And it has imbued this with a sense of spiritual purpose as well as its initial political aim.
Blair: The jubilant atmosphere that you’re describing is so diametrically opposed to what the corporate media has been reporting on this. Are there any other instances where you can say, “Hey, you’re telling me it’s this way, but my experiences on the ground are showing me that it’s the complete opposite”?
Hochman: The more easy question to answer would be, what am I seeing that is being reported honestly by the media? Because pretty much every aspect of it is being represented dishonestly. But again, I think just the general tone that the media is taking.
If you read any of the media coverage, you’d think that this was a hot bed of frothing at the mouth, right-wing extremism with a bunch of violent radicals at the helm, which could not be further from the truth. I think it’s not hyperbolic to just call that lying because it’s just not what’s happening here.
And a lot of what you’ve seen in the media coverage is they bring in these so-called experts, national security experts or extremism experts, kind of like the Canadian version of what we have here with the Southern Poverty Law Center, where they’re just left-wing activists who are brought in, who haven’t actually spent any time on the ground.
A lot of them aren’t even in Ottawa to talk in the abstract about how they found one Twitter post from someone who’s at the convoy that said something racist and that’s proof that really this is galvanizing the far right or something like that.
It’s all just nonsense and the truckers are actually taking it in stride. I find that I’m more upset about it than they are. The atmosphere here is so positive that they sort of just brush it off. They just smile and sort of take it in stride. I’m in my hotel room reading media coverage and my blood’s boiling and I’m getting really frustrated about it. But the guys out here, one of their great strengths is the positivity and being able to brush off all the threats and the saber rattling and the dishonest coverage.
Blair: One final question for you, as you mentioned, your blood is boiling in your hotel room, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the weather is boiling out there. It looks like it’s real cold. Do you think that the truckers are going to be able to stay out in the cold and push through this? Or do you think that maybe this is going to dissipate soon?
Hochman: Yeah, I don’t think—at least as far as the cold goes, these guys are Canadians through and through. So my fair American disposition has not necessarily fared well in the negative 6 weather out here in Ottawa. But these guys, this is their life. This is what they’ve been doing. They’re sleeping in their trucks and they’re perfectly happy to do so. So the cold isn’t an issue at all.
And one thing that they’re saying is that, depending how much longer this goes on for, it’s going to get warmer and warmer. And as it gets warmer and warmer, that actually gives it momentum in and of itself. Because on weekends, particularly when thousands of people flock in, it really takes on this feeling of being like a music festival. There’s parties, everyone is out there dancing. And that becomes even more attractive as the weather gets more tolerable.
So the cold isn’t going to stop them. The thing that would stop them would be if Trudeau and the federal government working with these big corporations and payment processors and banks was actually able to just cut off their supply of money and backing and funding. That’s the really worrying thing for me. Because obviously if they do that, and Trudeau is smart enough to know that that’s what they need to target, that could really cripple these guys. But until they manage to do that, I think these guys are here to stay.
Blair: Thank you so much. That was Nate Hochman, an ISI fellow at National Review, currently on the ground in Ottawa, Canada, covering the trucker protest. Nate, I really appreciate your time.
Hochman: Yeah. Thanks for having me, guys.
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