(The Center Square) – A Canadian movement of truckers protesting the country’s vaccine mandate has inspired a similar protest in the U.S., with a convoy expected to arrive at the nation’s capital next month. That movement, though, sparked controversy beyond its protest this weekend after a run-in with the popular online fundraiser, GoFundMe.
GoFundMe announced it would refund more than $10 million in donations to donors of the “Freedom Convoy” online fundraiser after threats of a fraud investigation from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis threatened the investigation after GoFundMe reportedly froze the fundraising account Friday and said they would give the funds to another charity of Freedom Convoy’s choice.
The decision sparked outrage online and the pushback from DeSantis.
“It is a fraud for [GoFundMe] to commandeer $9M in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing,” DeSantis said. “I will work with [Attorney General Ashley Moody] to investigate these deceptive practices – these donors should be given a refund.”
GoFundMe said the protest had become violent, though media from Ottawa reports few violent outbreaks.
“GoFundMe supports peaceful protests and we believe that was the intention of the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser when it was first created,” the company said. “We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”
Texas’ attorney general also threatened an investigation Saturday.
“Patriotic Texans donated to Canadian truckers’ worthy cause using GoFundMe,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote on Twitter. “This BLM-backing company went woke, froze the funds, & failed to deliver Texans’ money. Today, I assembled a team to investigate their potential fraud & deception. Texas donors will get Justice!”
Like Paxton, other critics pointed out that other groups are still allowed on GoFundMe’s site, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, which was linked to a string of violent riots in cities around the country in 2020.
“If only the truckers looted and burned down businesses in Ottawa, rather than lawfully protest a draconian mandate,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. “Then [GoFundMe] would have no problem with people sending them donations.”
GoFundMe has faced criticism in the past for de-platforming conservative causes, with this latest controversy only adding fuel to the fire. After the pushback over its announcement that donations would be given to another group, GoFundMe released a statement saying all donors would receive a refund.
“The update we issued earlier…enabled all donors to get a refund and outlined a plan to distribute remaining funds to verified charities selected by the Freedom Convoy organizers,” GoFundMe said. “However, due to donor feedback, we are simplifying the process. We will automatically refund all contributions directly – donors do not need to submit a request.”
The Freedom Convoy began when a caravan of truckers departed from Vancouver, Canada, last month with some estimates at 50,000 truck drivers heading for Ottawa, the nation’s capital. The convoy demonstration was to protest new vaccine mandates to cross the U.S-Canada border. Canada implemented their mandate Jan. 15.
Trucking groups estimate the mandates will affect about 16,000 Canadian truckers. When crossing the border, those drivers would be required to get tested and quarantine, further exacerbating supply chain issues.
The Freedom Convoy Fundraiser called on Canadians to stand up to the government’s mandate.
“Our current government is implementing rules and mandates that are destroying the foundation of our businesses, industries and livelihoods. Money raised will be dispersed to our Truckers to aid them with the cost of the journey,” the page said. “Funds will be spent to help cover the cost of fuel for our Truckers first and foremost, will be used to assist with food if needed and contribute to shelter if needed.”
The rallies have sparked a flurry of online support in the U.S. and controversy with pictures and video of the drivers populating social media.
“My wife Val and I honked and waved on Sunday to show our support for our local truckers as they took to the road to protest the newly-imposed truckers mandate by Justin Trudeau,” said Canadian MP Bob Zimmer. “Imposed at a time when we are already seeing supply chain shortages and skyrocketing inflation, the Prime Minister is implementing a mandate that will leave tens of thousands of truckers unable to work and puts our food security at risk. Conservatives have always supported Canadians’ right to determine their own health choices. For those who are unvaccinated, we continue to believe in reasonable measures, such as rapid testing, to help protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable.”
The group has also run into trouble on social media though. Meta removed a Facebook group for the Freedom Convoy Wednesday for reportedly violating the company’s policies around QAnon.
The opposition from GoFundMe and Meta, though, have only emboldened some of the group’s supporters.
“GoFundMe promoted the ANTIFA-occupied CHOP zone in Seattle,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “But they shut down fundraisers for truckers protesting [COVID] mandates. We’ve got questions.”