Updated February 24, 2022 - 8:46 pm
KINGMAN, Ariz. — A cross-country truck convoy protesting pandemic mandates and emergency measures slowly came to life Thursday morning as the sun rose over western Arizona.
Idle engines hummed and frost dotted a dusty lot behind a pizza restaurant in Golden Valley, Arizona, where truckers settled in for a night’s rest after completing the first leg of a trip toward Washington, D.C.
Art Pflughoeft, a trucker from Jump River, Wisconsin, was one of the first drivers standing in the lot Thursday. He said he joined the convoy to protest what he considers overreaching mandates.
“The government needs to get out of our private lives,” he said, standing next to the pink Peterbilt that he named Lucille to honor his grandmother. “They’ve had their foot on our throats for too long.”
The number of truckers in the convoy has grown, but the number of drivers in other vehicles appeared to have dropped off since the group departed late Wednesday morning from Adelanto, California, about 85 miles east of Los Angeles.
About 35 trucks were in the lot behind Great American Pizza and Subs, a restaurant that serves pizza in cardboard boxes that say “Make America Great Again.”
Truckers in the spotlight
On the roughly 280-mile drive to Golden Valley, the convoy passed hundreds of people who had taken to overpasses — even in the most remote stretches of desert — to wave flags and cheer the protest on. Rolling into the restaurant lot Wednesday night, hundreds of cars lined the route, some with amber hazard lights flashing in the darkness.
Onlookers chanted and waved flags as they welcomed the convoy to a desert outpost just outside Kingman, Arizona.
“I was speechless,” Pflughoeft said. “It was humbling.”
Travis Bevelheimer, a trucker from Oberlin, Kansas, said the amount of support he saw for the demonstration was overwhelming.
“Man, the only way I could describe it was that I was very proud to be an American, very proud to be part of this,” he said of the atmosphere driving into Golden Valley.
Organizers of “The People’s Convoy” say the demonstration is seeking an end to pandemic-related mandates and the federal COVID-19 emergency. The group is heading toward Washington, D.C., but says it is not planning to enter the city.
Organizers have stressed that they are not associated with other convoys that are heading toward Washington and have tried to distance themselves from those that have alluded to being disruptive in the nation’s capital.
They’ve preached a peaceful, lawful demonstration.
Supporters and organizers insist the demonstration is not about political affiliation. Patriotic imagery dominates the convoy, but those expressing political beliefs along the route with flags, banners and apparel were anti-Joe Biden and pro-Donald Trump.
The People’s Convoy follows a similar convoy in Canada that led to protests, disruptions and arrests.
It also comes as California, Nevada and other states have started eliminating or easing pandemic restrictions. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a Biden administration vaccine mandate for large employers.
But organizers for the convoy say they are focused on ending the federal emergency declaration for COVID-19, something President Joe Biden extended last week.
Convoy heads east
Before leaving Great American Pizza and Subs to top off the diesel-fueled rigs, co-organizer Brian Brase, a trucker from Ohio, called a meeting with the other drivers, sharing information about departure plans and telling them to pick up whatever supplies they need from the piles of donations spread out near the restaurant.
At the meeting, a singer belted a rendition of the national anthem and the participants bowed their heads in prayer.
After fueling up at Crazy Fred’s Truck Stop next to Interstate 40, the convoy continued its journey east, passing through Kingman about noon.
The convoy is scheduled to continue its journey toward Washington through next week, concluding on March 5. Participants will spend Thursday night in Lupton, Arizona.