We spoke to Silverman, who covers protests and activism as part of his beat, the convoy and the acquaintance of some of his members. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
How did you come into contact with the People’s Convoy?
Elijah: I spoke with Brian Brase, one of the organizers, on the phone in February. I wanted to know more about what he was planning, what his goals were and his hopes for this band. They arrived in Hagerstown, Maryland on March 4, and since then I’ve been on the Hagerstown highway every day, walking around, talking to people about where they came from and what motivated them to protest during such a long time. .
Tell me about some of those interactions. Who are some of the people you have met?
Elijah: At the Hagerstown Highway, there are large trucks, RVs, vans, as well as people in passenger vehicles. There were so many trucks that even the gravel entering the fast lane started to make potholes. Sometimes it feels like a festival – on the weekends there was a funnel cake stand, people hanging around a fire pit and setting off fireworks. Then, other times, there are rallies where they talk about the vaccination mandates and their demands. Despite the fact that many pandemic-related restrictions have been rolled back at the local and federal levels, they are still unhappy with the vaccination mandates. Brase called for an end to the national state of emergency for the coronavirus, which [President] Trump declared first in 2020, and that [President] Biden got bigger. These demands are specific to the pandemic, but when people take the stage, other things come up: people bring up the election and believe the election was rigged or stolen and that Trump really won. They raise broad concerns about what they call government overreach.
How do you approach people and present yourself, especially in a large crowd?
Elijah: If I just walk up to someone chatting with friends or listening to a speech, I just say, “Hey, how are you? My name is Ellie Silverman. I’m a reporter for the Washington Post. I have been on the circuit since Friday evening and I would like to explain to you why you are here. For the most part, people have been very receptive to this, and they’re more than willing to share where they’re coming from and why they feel the way they feel, right?
In one of your stories, you mention that some of the motivations have been a little murky. For example, one person said they weren’t here to do anything political. How do you try to dig deeper into those motivations?
Elijah: Something that the organizers have said a lot is that it is not a question of right or left. This is a question of the American people and it is for Republicans and Democrats. But on the circuit there are a ton of Trump flags, from Trump 2020 to Trump 2024. I’ve seen signs that say “Let’s go Brandon”, calls for the arrest of Dr. Fauci or the arrest by a citizen of Biden and [Vice President] Harris. I’ve spoken to the organizers about it, and the responses I’ve gotten are that while the organizers want to portray it as bipartisan, they won’t tell anyone what to do either. They feel like it contradicts their message.
I spoke to a man who said he saw someone waving a Confederate flag and thought, “This isn’t the place for that,” but then again, it’s still there, n ‘is this not ?
I think it’s really interesting to cover activism and protests. Often you just see a large mass of people, but there are so many individuals within it. What surprised you about the convoy that people might not realize when seeing it from afar?
Elijah: Convoy organizers stressed they were working with law enforcement to disrupt traffic as little as possible and that the ring road loop was meant to show lawmakers they were there and weren’t going anywhere. People I’ve spoken to are a bit surprised that their goal isn’t to clog the Beltway, at least not yet. It’s also just that it really evolves every day. I don’t know what they will do tomorrow. I don’t know what they will do the next day. I don’t know what this movement and this protest will look like and how it will end – and I’m not sure the people there will know how it will end either.
Another thing that I found surprising – the other day this woman came on stage wearing a red, white and blue costume full of American flags. It had Trump written on it and the letter Q, for the QAnon conspiracy theory. She got on stage and she started talking about the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol and saying she was there that day and that was what she called the day the most patriotic of his life. And then she started sharing more about her thoughts, about conspiracies and QAnon, and eventually someone cut her off. I don’t know why they cut her off and she was upset about it.
But it seems that this movement attracts a lot of people with extreme views, and when these people speak out, the organizers also try to get back to their message that it’s not about right or left and that it’s This is an excess of government power. This is something that I will continue to pay attention to – the ways in which this large group of people interact, who has power within this movement and the direction in which it is going.
I want to step back and talk about your beat, which is protests and activism. What do you think about when covering these protests – what do you think is most important to focus on and what do you see as your role?
Elijah: I think my favorite part of being a journalist is how we meet new people and learn about perspectives that are different from our own. I always try to connect with people on a more human level and ask supporters of a movement what life experiences led them to it.
I’ve covered everything from suffrage protests to police shootings. In 2017, I covered the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Last fall, I covered the federal civil lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs who were emotionally or physically injured that day against some of these white supremacist organizers. This beat takes me from the streets covering criminal justice issues to speaking with local DC residents covering the March for Life. It’s a whole range. I see my job as covering social movements, the people who make them up, and what motivates them to keep trying to bring about change. I also think it’s important to hold people accountable for the effects of the movement.
We spoke to Ellie on March 9. Read some of his reporting on the convoy as well as his previous reporting on the protests: