Jeremy Rewoldt describes himself as a “disgruntled truck driver” who just wanted to create a platform where he and fellow like-minded truckers could vent about this year’s presidential election.
He also wanted to create a forum for drivers to share their concerns about President-elect Joe Biden’s stance on transitioning to cleaner energy sources and his position on hydraulic fracking.
He named the public Facebook group StopTheTires2020, shared it with a few trucker friends and went to bed on Nov 6. Rewoldt admits he wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
“I woke up Saturday morning and 10,000 people had joined the group,” Rewoldt, a 15-year company driver from rural Washington state, told FreightWaves. “I couldn’t believe it. I had no clue who any of these people were, but since it was a public page on Facebook, anybody could join the group without having to be approved for three days.”
Truck drivers, military veterans, and Trump supporters quickly pledged their support for Rewoldt’s group’s stance against any proposed restrictions on fracking by the Biden administration and the Green New Deal. Biden has clarified that he only opposed fracking on federal land.
“While all of this was happening, I was still trucking every day and wasn’t prepared for the thousands of people who reached out to the group in such a short time,” Rewoldt said.
Group infiltrated by ‘disruptors’
After creating the page, Rewoldt said he was puzzled by how quickly his group gained traction on social media overnight. And throughout the day, the numbers kept climbing.
Rewoldt admits he didn’t set out to start a trucker protest movement. Instead, he started the page as an emotional response to watching the election results.
Since setting up the page nearly two weeks ago, his group has more than 72,000 members.
Still confused as Rewoldt’s Facebook page continued to attract thousands of new members daily, his answer became more apparent after a member of the StopTheTires group, who goes by the alias “Lowe Frank,” contacted him.
He said she insisted on a one-day nationwide strike on Veterans Day. His original plan on the group’s page called for truckers to shut down on Nov. 26-29. He canceled the second strike Monday.
Member misuses platform to rally for Trump
Using a fake Facebook account, one group member, who goes by the alias “Lowe Frank,” said she picked Veterans Day to boycott delivery of nonessential supplies to major U.S. cities “as a way to show support for President Trump.” Trump has not conceded the presidential election.
He didn’t call for the one-day Veterans Day strike on Nov 11. However, Rewoldt said Lowe Frank pinned a post about the shutdown with all of the details on the group’s page without his permission.
“I knew then that some people had infiltrated the group and hijacked our message,” he said. “That makes me sad because that was never my intention.”
Lowe Frank confirmed to FreightWaves that she set the Veterans Day strike in motion. She is also involved in other pro-Trump groups, including Operation Flag Drop and Stop the Steal.
“Everyone in their hearts knows that Trump had [the election] stolen from him,” she told FreightWaves. “It is to honor our fallen military, our forgotten veterans and our truck driving veterans.”
Social media fuels anger, unrest
Social media gives groups like StopTheTires2020 a platform to gain widespread awareness of their plight.
However, it’s becoming harder for social media groups like Rewoldt’s to identify which members are there to support its efforts and which ones just want an outlet to spread misinformation or create chaos.
One group member claimed he owned a fleet of 178 trucks and planned to hold a “union meeting” to shut down all of his rigs. His post on the StopTheTires Facebook page and a TikTok he recorded fired up thousands of group members who pledged support for the planned strike.
However, the Colorado native doesn’t own a fleet of trucks, isn’t a truck driver and didn’t participate in the strike. A few days he recorded a TikTok as local law enforcement and U.S. Secret Service agents stopped by his house to ask him a few questions. He later removed that TikTok, among others.
Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs and communications for the Western States Trucking Association, said he was surprised that more than 70,000 people, including truckers, joined the StopTheTires2020 group in such a short period.
“Social media is allowing people to have an outplaced influence on issues and processes,” Rajkovacz told FreightWaves. “A call for a strike by one individual or one group that nobody’s ever heard of before is a prime example of how today’s social media manipulated this trucker and his group.”
Founder says some members used group’s platform to disrupt, cause chaos
As the group approached nearly 73,000 members just days before the planned shutdown, Rewoldt said he depended on volunteers who offered to moderate hundreds or thousands of posts and comments to the page daily.
Looking back, he didn’t have a vetting process in place to ensure the moderators and members shared the trucking group’s mission.
Lowe Frank was one of the group’s moderators that had no ties to trucking, but was willing to step up and help.
“I feel like this storm is coming and it’s brewing,” Lowe Frank told FreightWaves. “Americans need answers and we just need to show the president our support. For me, it is a political campaign and making a statement for freedom and our constitution.”
Another group member, Cara, quickly jumped in to moderate the page as thousands asked to join the StopTheTires page each day.
Again, Rewoldt said he felt betrayed by another group administrator after questioning her motives for joining StopTheTires2020.
Rewoldt claims he was forced to send a “cease and desist” letter to “Cara,” one of the group’s original moderators after some supporters offered to send her and the group money to fund the StopTheTires efforts. He’s not even sure Cara was her real name. Cara has since joined another trucking Facebook group, Rewoldt said.
“Cara gained my trust early as far as wanting to help me run the page and run everything else,” Rewoldt said. “I made it clear that our group was not going to accept money. It took me a while to see that she wasn’t in it for the right reasons.”
In fact, Lowe Frank claims Cara wasn’t a trucker either but a stay-at-home mom.
“She was elected by me to be [a] moderator,” she told FreightWaves.
Attempts to stay ‘on message’ causes infighting
Some seasoned trucking veterans were skeptical that a one-day strike would have any impact on the supply chain. Despite thousands of posts by members of a truckers’ group promising to turn off their rigs, few did. Industry sources said the protest appeared to be all talk as it had no impact on the supply chain.
Some group members criticized some company drivers who posted that they had to work because of family obligations. The group became fractured as the protestors failed to stay on message, which started heated arguments on the Facebook page. Some members left after the initial protest, while others joined only to find out the second shutdown was canceled.
Great Plains Transport of Mapleton, North Dakota, which runs more than 230 trucks, said none of its trucks participated in Wednesday’s strike.
“We did not get any reports from our customers of any service disruptions,” Joe Ritchey, employee engagement specialist at Great Plains Transport, told FreightWaves.
Some posting in the StopTheTires Facebook group claimed that massive shutdowns were occurring in their states, when in fact, they were sharing old photos from previous protests.
“Most of the posts are owner-operators on home time and just fanning the flames or using outdated pictures,” Ritchey said. “The people that may have gone on strike had no visual impact on the markets.”
With some loads paying over $3 per mile, some truckers say they had to set aside their political beliefs to feed their families.
Ritchey said he agreed with the truckers who chose to haul freight instead of parking.
“With the spot market and rates at a record high, who wants to go home and not collect the money?” he said.
Truckers dispute effectiveness of strikes
While members of StopTheTires dispute the effectiveness of short-term strikes, which have little impact on the supply chain, there is some common ground. Most say they can’t wait to see 2020 in their rearview mirrors.
2020 has been challenging for truckers as they navigate the nation’s highways amid a pandemic and massive protests in some of the major cities in the U.S.
Some are feeling additional pressure to keep their wheels turning as some say their spouses or family members have lost their jobs as the nation struggles with crippling unemployment because of COVID-19.
Some company drivers, who said they supported the group’s efforts, posted they asked their carriers to take off work on the day of the strike but were told no.
“With the holidays coming up, I just can’t afford to lose my job,” one company driver told FreightWaves. “My wife lost her job because of COVID, so I am the only one working.”
Others reflected back on previous protest efforts that largely imploded before the date of the event.
“Sometimes truckers are their own worst enemy,” one owner-operator, who didn’t want to be named, told FreightWaves. “The younger generation of truck drivers wasn’t alive back in the early 1970s when an oil embargo led to fuel rations for U.S. truck drivers. That strike wasn’t settled in one day or four days, but we were forced to work together to get the government’s attention.”
Truck driver Dan “Dusty Chrome” Porter of Florence, Kentucky, has seen a lot over his 52-year trucking career.
He didn’t support the StopTheTires2020 strike because previous efforts over the past 12 years to shut down over low rates like with the Black Smoke Matters slow rolls or protests over the electronic logging device mandate have mainly been unsuccessful.
“There just aren’t enough truckers that agree on everything to show up and make a stand that will hurt the economy,” Porter told FreightWaves.
Supply chain reported no disruption after protest
Within hours after the shutdown started, which mostly fell flat as most truck drivers didn’t participate, Rewoldt said Lowe Frank quietly slipped out of the group and he hasn’t heard from her since. She also moderates several other pro-Trump Facebook groups.
Some military veterans, who are also truckers, were not thrilled that Veterans Day was picked for truckers to shut down their rigs.
As the founder of the StopTheTires2020 group, Rewoldt said he was left behind to defend the group’s shutdown as he spent the day speaking to multiple media outlets about the failed strike.
“I didn’t even push for Nov. 11, but I had to defend what happened and put on a smile and try to calm the storm here, Rewoldt said. “My intentions were never to take from a day honoring our veterans.”
Perry Barger, a 17-year truck driver from Kentucky, did not participate in the StopTheTires protest.
“Very few of us did,” Barger told FreightWaves.
His father, J.D. Barger, served in the United States Air Force in the late 1950s. After his military service, he drove for Atlas Van Lines for many years.
“One of the most important things to my father was this country,” Perry Barger said. “Shutting down and hurting the country is the least patriotic thing someone could do. I know my father would have been outraged at the thought of me doing this.”
While Barger said he understands that some truck drivers are upset over the 2020 presidential election outcome, he said shutting down is not an option.
“The vast majority of us did not and will not shut down over this election,” he said. “We will settle our differences at the ballot box and let this play out in the courts.”
Protesting during a pandemic tarnishes trucking industry
Truckers became heroes during the coronavirus pandemic as they risked possible exposure to the deadly virus to ensure critical supplies made it to hospitals and grocery stores.
“All I could think of was how the nation has been suffering from shortages and how we just got back the respect that we once had in the 1970s and 1980s when country stars were writing songs about us,” Barger said. “Now, we are going to cause people to panic over an election?”
“As if 2020 hasn’t been hard enough on this country, it’s wrong,” he said. “We should never go against our own people to prove a point about politics — Republican or Democrat — we are all Americans.”
Although Rewoldt has more than 2 million miles under his belt, he admits he still has a lot to learn about the trucking industry.
He decided to cancel the second strike set for Nov. 26-29 because votes are still be counted. When he set up the Facebook page, Rewoldt said he “presumed that Biden and Harris were elected.”
Sixteen days after the election, President Donald Trump has yet to concede and has filed legal challenges in several states alleging election fraud.
“So my soapbox to stand on is illegitimate as we wait to see how the legislative process plays out,” he said. “So what’s the point of having a strike for no reason.”
Instead, Rewoldt said he plans to spend his time continuing to talk with other trucker groups and advocates to learn more about the industry.
“After I started this group, I realized I have a lot to learn from these experts and I yield to their expertise. I want to learn and I wanted to become educated about the trucking industry.”
This article originally appeared on Freight Waves