Across the country, caravans of Donald Trump supporters have taken over highways, bridges and city streets in recent days in aggressive displays of support for the president.
One convoy drove through Marin City, California, the only part of Marin County where white residents are in the minority, and shouted racial epithets at children. Another in Fort Worth cruised through a polling station in a predominantly Black neighborhood, provoking an altercation with residents. In Temecula, California, a caravan blocked access to a voting center. A group in New York shut down the Mario Cuomo bridge. In Louisville, Kentucky, a “Trump Train” member directed traffic with a gun at a high school. And in Texas, near Austin, trucks adorned with “Make America great again” flags swarmed a Joe Biden campaign bus in an incident that is now under FBI investigation.
These events, and dozens more in nearly every state in the U.S., were coordinated online by “MAGA Drag the Interstate,” a self-described “grassroots assemblage of patriots” who organize the “rolling rallies” in a purported effort to remind people “that traditional American values matter.”
“It’s time to stand up and take our Country back!” the group declares on its website.
At least 18 of the listed event organizers in 14 states have openly supported the far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon on social media, HuffPost found. Many of the events were planned in Facebook groups listed on the website, including some with several thousand members. Newly posted videos and photos there show long lineups of honking trucks and cars decked out in Trump gear, in many cases snarling traffic to a halt.
MAGA Drag the Interstate has been organizing caravans since at least early September, but the events of the past few days, dubbed “MAGA Weekend,” appear to be the largest coordinated effort. Several of the vehicle rallies seem to have targeted voting centers and racially diverse neighborhoods, actions that are in line with the pattern of voter intimidation encouraged by the Trump campaign. The presence of QAnon-affiliated organizers raises the specter of violence: In the past two years, bombing plots, kidnapping schemes, car chases and a murder have been linked to the belief in an anti-Semitic, pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has urged his supporters to help him fight back against what he falsely describes as a Democratic plot to steal the election through voter fraud. He has urged his supporters to go to polling locations “and watch very carefully,” a directive that is likely illegal. His campaign has spent months recruiting poll watchers to join the so-called Army for Trump. Asked at a debate to condemn white supremacists and militias who support him, Trump instead told the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist street gang, to “stand back and stand by.” A nonprofit organization that monitors political violence determined last month that militia groups “pose a serious threat” to American voters.
MAGA Drag the Interstate did not respond to HuffPost’s emailed list of questions. The group’s founder, Keith Lee, has been a vocal QAnon supporter on social media. On his now-suspended Twitter account, he has used popular QAnon hashtags and posted videos of himself reciting the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” often styled as WWG1WGA. He has also issued online certificates to fellow Twitter users, labeling each one a “deputized digital warrior” along with the WWG1WGA tag.
QAnon followers are “good people” who “want this country back,” Lee said in a YouTube video about MAGA Drag the Interstate, while ranting about the mainstream media, lockdown protocols, “antifa” and Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
“It’s strength in numbers,” Lee added, urging viewers to join the caravans. “It’s fight or flight, and by God, we gotta fight.”
At one North Carolina MAGA caravan in September, members of the Alamance County Trump Convoy screamed “White power!” and “Go back home, cunt!” at Megan Squire, an Elon University computer science professor who researches far-right extremism, while she held a “Black lives matter” sign on the sidewalk. At another event in Texas last month, 44-year-old Jason Lata was arrested after punching a man in the face, breaking his tooth, as the YG and Nipsey Hussle song “Fuck Donald Trump” played in the background.
Trump and other Republican officials have praised the caravans at rallies and on social media, with the president giving his explicit endorsement to their intimidation of the Biden campaign bus. On Saturday, the president tweeted a video of the Texas caravan surrounding the Biden bus set to rapper Tech N9ne’s song “Red Kingdom.” When the FBI confirmed it was investigating the incident, Trump tweeted, “these patriots did nothing wrong” and encouraged the FBI to instead investigate the right-wing bogeyman of “antifa.”
The Republican Party of Texas issued a bizarre statement in response to a Texas Tribune inquiry about the caravan, invoking numerous pro-Trump conspiracy theories, including mention of billionaire philanthropist George Soros controlling the media ― a common anti-Semitic trope.
“It is more fake news and propaganda,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West said in the statement.
“Prepare to lose…stop bothering me. Maybe Soros can cut y’all another check in 2022.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also cheered on the convoys during a speech at a Trump rally Sunday in Miami-Dade County, Florida, specifically mentioning the footage of the caravan in Texas.
“I saw yesterday a video of these people in Texas. Did you see it? All the cars on the road,” Rubio said. “We love what they did, but here’s what they don’t know: We do that in Florida every day!”
One of the MAGA Drag the Interstate group’s rallies lists a GOP candidate for Connecticut state representative, Erin M. Domenech, as its leader and links to her official websites. Domenech did not respond to questions from HuffPost about her listed involvement in the event.
And on Sunday, former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka tweeted videos of himself driving alongside a caravan in Washington, D.C., while exclaiming “This is amazing” and “Absolutely incredible.”
Facebook has long been a key platform for far-right extremists to coordinate their efforts. After failing to remove a page used by a militia to encourage members to bring weapons to a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, until after a 17-year-old vigilante shot and killed two protesters, Facebook updated its policies to prohibit militarized social movements and QAnon from organizing on the platform. Facebook has also pledged to remove coordinated efforts to intimidate voters. But the social media giant’s enforcement has been inconsistent, and events that can be used to coordinate political violence or voter intimidation can evade Facebook’s moderators by refraining from explicitly discussing those plans on the platform.
Facebook announced on Monday night that its Election Operation Center would be tracking content related to voter suppression, as well as other issues including “the potentially dangerous activity we saw with the swarming of Biden campaign buses this weekend.” At the time of its statement, pages connected to the MAGA Drag the Interstate operation remained active.
We want to know what you’re hearing on the ground from the candidates. If you get any interesting ― or suspicious! ― campaign mailers, robocalls or hear anything else you think we should know about, email us at email@example.com.