Pauline Hanson has pledged to pay any fines issued to truck drivers who blocked a major highway in a COVID protest that anti-vaxxer groups had hoped would become a nationwide movement.
After the protest fizzled out on Monday, more anti-vaccine protests – organised by an infamous conspiracy theorist based in New Zealand – are being considered for Tuesday around the nation.
“Only two trucks showed up and the truckies caved after one hour,” an anti-COVID commentator complained to his 16,000 followers on Telegram on Monday.
“I cannot f–king believe it … so disappointed … gutted.”
It came after a planned ‘blockade’ of Queensland’s Pacific Motorway – which had trended across Twitter and Facebook for days, and even won attention from federal politicians and Sky News – ended up attracting just two trucks.
For days across social media, truck drivers and supporters had claimed they were “going to bring this country down” by blocking major roads and refusing to deliver essential goods.
Across Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and even TikTok, the hashtag #IStandWithTruckies was everywhere, with numerous drivers posting videos from inside their trucks and pledging they would “pull this country down” in protest about the vaccine mandate.
Talk of the protests lit up large groups dedicated to anti-vaxxer sentiment, but also Facebook groups used by the trucking community with up to 100,000 followers.
One group specifically dedicated to the truck protest gained 70,000 followers within a week of launching.
A clip from a Sky News panel discussion, posted to Facebook by Senator Hanson, was the second-most popular post of any politician in the nation last week, according to social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle.
It racked up 16,000 likes and 6000 shares, with the One Nation leader saying the planned protest had her “full support” and claiming truck drivers had “been smashed by lockdown laws, border restrictions, vaccine passports” and more.
The Sky News discussion included part of a viral TikTok video from an Australian man supporting the protest.
Sky did not broadcast the second half of the video, where the man aired false COVID conspiracy claims about Dr Anthony Fauci, the public face of the United States’ virus response.
“Block every highway entering into every state all at the same time & take back Australia,” read one poster for the planned protest, which was seeded into countless social media groups.
“Every truck driver across Australia and New Zealand.”
‘Operation Servo Blockade’
In private Telegram chats seen by The New Daily, some groups laid out detailed proposals for what they referred to as “Operation Servo Blockade”, using aerial satellite maps to show which key highways should be blocked.
Initially the protest was planned for Tuesday, in line with calls from prominent conspiracy theory groups for protests across Australia and NZ at key political buildings like council chambers and federal Parliament House.
At the last minute, some truckies’ supporters decided to shift it to Monday.
Organisers claimed they had arranged ahead of time for Senator Hanson and select media outlets to attend the location.
Monday’s protest had only two trucks in Queensland, which were moved on within two hours. The drivers later parked their trucks at a service station and laid out banners in the car park.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the truckies decided 1 hour was enough. Fuming, actually,” one prominent supporter of the protest told Facebook followers on Monday.
“My deepest apologies, that this didn’t turn out the way it was planned to.”
Senator Hanson, who attended the protest, said she would pay any fines the drivers received over the demonstration.
Her One Nation colleague, Malcolm Roberts, posted photos on social media showing the traffic banked up from the protest.
In Canberra, former Liberal MP and now United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly also supported the truckies’ demonstration.
In a video posted to his Telegram channel, Mr Kelly pretended to hitch a ride with a truck driver to federal Parliament, holding a home-made cardboard sign reading “Parliament House”.
“Love the truckies,” Mr Kelly said to the camera, brandishing a thumbs up.
Later in the morning, the Member for Hughes proposed his own bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, calling for the outlawing of so-called ‘vaccine passports’ in Australia.
Speaking on the bill, he said he dedicated his speech to those truckies, and said “God bless the truck drivers of Australia”.
It is unclear whether more truck protests will occur on Tuesday, as originally planned, but many prominent anti-lockdown and vaccine sceptic groups that promoted Monday’s “blockade” expressed their disappointment at the small turnout.
Parliament House protest
However, separate protests at Parliament House and other political buildings may still occur.
Those had been promoted online by an Australian woman living in NZ, who was last year ordered to pay nearly $900,000 in compensation to a federal MP she had accused of being involved in a QAnon-style sex trafficking ring.
The New Daily has chosen not to name the woman.
She has called for her 20,000 social media followers, who she calls “Anzacs”, to protest around Australia and NZ on Tuesday.
“The time to stand up has come,” the woman wrote, in posts which have been seeded into countless other anti-lockdown and conspiracy groups.
Many members of these groups have shared plans to take part in demonstrations on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether they will be better attended than Monday’s truckies’ protest.