A semi truck.

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New arrests, crypto copycats leave convoy donors worried truckers will never actually receive funds

Millions of dollars and cryptocurrency are flowing into the movement with little oversight or accountability.

 

Claire Goforth

Tech

Posted on Feb 18, 2022   Updated on Feb 19, 2022, 6:24 am CST

The trucker convoy protest in Canada has captivated the globe. And the fixation of it on COVID-19 restrictions has inspired those similarly angry, facilitating a steady flow of donations to a large and growing cast of characters. Though the actual amount raised is unknown, in a matter of weeks since the convoy became known to the public, two of the dozens of fundraisers have collected at least $10 million.

The fundraisers’ astonishing success and the enormity of the sums pouring in have given rise to questions about where exactly the money is going. The people behind Freedom Convoy 2022, the first and largest fundraiser, have launched a nonprofit and vowed to account for its spending, but even that hasn’t assuaged some critics, among them people who donated to the cause.

As money keeps coming in, some wonder if the truckers are being left out in the cold.

The trucker protest began in January as a convoy that converged in Ottawa, the Canadian capital. The original intent was to simply oppose requirements that truckers who crossed the United States border be vaccinated for COVID or test and quarantine. In the weeks that the protesters have occupied Ottawa, it’s spread across the country and the world. As its geographic footprint expanded, it’s become something of a catch-all movement for activists, many on the far-right, who oppose what they view as government overreach of any kind.

Prominent right-wing figures have heralded the protesters as patriotic freedom fighters. Most donors, though, are regular people who simply wanted to give cash to truckers who are risking their livelihoods to protest vaccine, quarantine, and testing requirements.

But numerous hurdles and concerns about the intentions of those starting the fundraisers have donors worried.

According to the Freedom Convoy’s fundraising page, the movement now needs lawyers, office staff, personnel, and “permanent infrastructure for continuing advocacy in whatever form that takes,” when people who were giving wanted their money to go to gas, food, and blankets.

The organizers of Freedom Convoy insist there’s nothing nefarious afoot. They face hurdles regardless of their distribution plans, unable to access much of the money as the Canadian government froze their accounts and seized some funds.

Theirs, though, is just one of many fundraisers. And as more sprout up, more questions grow. Some have even turned to cryptocurrency to get around the banking system, which can circumvent government intervention. That, though, reduces or eliminates accountability.

Now, no matter how many promises that money is going to truckers, people don’t believe them.

The GoFundMe for Freedom Convoy 2022 took off as soon as it launched in January. As donations reached $10 million, GoFundMe abruptly pulled the plug on Feb. 4. The company released a statement saying that the movement had become violent and “unlawful,” which Freedom Convoy denied. GoFundMe released $1 million to them before it halted the fundraiser. It’s refunding the remaining funds.

Tamara Lich, who created the GoFundMe, and some other organizers swiftly launched a Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser on GiveSendGo, which exploded. Even GiveSendGo getting hacked and temporarily going offline hasn’t slowed it down. As of this writing, they’ve raised over $10 million—$9.5 million in one campaign and at least a half-million dollars in another called “Adopt a Trucker.”

The Canadian government froze the fundraisers’ bank accounts on Feb. 10. Lich, according to reports, was arrested last night, as authorities pledged a crackdown on the protests.

Still the donations have kept coming.

Their success has inspired numerous copycat fundraisers of undetermined legitimacy.

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GiveSendGo

It’s also inspired questions about where exactly the money is going. Some say that the truckers aren’t getting it and accuse the organizers of enriching themselves.

Jessica Simpson is one of Freedom Convoy 2022’s donors who now feels jilted. She donated on GiveSendGo earlier this month. Then she saw a post by someone claiming to be one of the truckers in Ottawa complaining that they hadn’t received any funds or communications from the fundraisers.

Simpson posted a screenshot of the post on Freedom Convoy’s Facebook page.

“I know a lot of you have donated to convoy’s [GoFundMe] or [GiveSendGo], but I have a need to say that 17 days after none of us received any kind of assistance from them or have any kind of physical interaction,” the post says. The person said that the only assistance they’d received had come from friends, family, and random strangers.

“NONE of it came from organizers collecting funds,” the post alleged.

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Jessica Simpson/Facebook

“Why are the truckers not getting the money?” Simpson asked. Freedom Convoy didn’t respond.

Now Simpson wants a refund. Via Facebook messenger, she told the Daily Dot that she hasn’t been able to get her money back. Worse, she inadvertently donated much more than she intended.

“I meant to donate $215 [Canadian] and accidentally donated that amount 3x when their website was slow,” she said. Hacked materials from GiveSendGo show that someone with her name donated the same amount—which converts to $165 in American dollars ($150 for the fundraiser and $15 for GiveSendGo)—three times, each time writing the same message.

Tom Stares said that two truckers he knows who were at the protest in Ottawa “haven’t received a penny” from the fundraiser, either. On Freedom Convoy’s Facebook page, he said that the donations were going to legal fees instead.

Responding on a comment thread on Freedom Convoy’s Facebook page, Stares told the Daily Dot, “It seems the distribution was very spotty, some getting none, others getting more than needed. My friends got money handed to them directly by some supporters but nothing paid yet for the receipts they handed in.”

He said that there were rumors and inconsistent information being provided by various leaders. Stares says his friends have since left Ottawa.

On Facebook Live on Feb. 16, Lich and Chad Eros, an accountant who’s on the nonprofit’s board of directors, insisted that they haven’t been able to hand out money because they can’t access it themselves. They also claimed that the Ontario government had taken the $1 million GoFundMe gave them.

“Just so you know we haven’t skipped the country with your money,” Lich said.

In the hopes of eliminating any questions about where money was actually going, one woman created a platform for truckers to register and people to sponsor them directly via Venmo. Just a day in, she doubted that it was going to be successful.

“I guess this funding site won’t work,” the woman, who identified herself only as Christy, told the Daily Dot via email. “Getting too much hate mail and scammers.”

The site now appears to be down.

The funding saga has recently expanded to include cryptocurrency. There are at least three cryptocurrency fundraisers, two run by people who’ve been involved with the Freedom Convoy.

Chris Garrah, the organizer of the Adopt a Trucker GiveSendGo and a member of the board of directors of Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms, which is the organizer of the Freedom Convoy GiveSendGo, appears to be soliciting bitcoin donations. A bitcoin fundraiser that names him as the organizer has thus far collected bitcoin worth $3,000 towards his $10,000 goal. The fundraiser includes the exact language from the Adopt a Trucker GiveSendGo.

Others commenting on the Freedom Convoy Facebook page have expressed similar concerns over the parallel fundraisers.

“They are traitors to the Freedom Convoy,” wrote one. “They are misusing their trust to sell Bitcoin and they are NOT being transparent about their use of the GiveSendGo funds, nor did anyone make them the ‘official spokespersons’ of this movement.”

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Freedom Convoy/Facebook

Representatives for Freedom Convoy didn’t respond to the Daily Dot’s inquiry seeking to confirm that Garrah is soliciting bitcoin. They also didn’t comment on concerns funds are being used to enrich the organizers. The groups have continued to insist the freezing of funds by the government is the main hurdle to distribution.

Patrick “Pat” King has created his own cryptocurrency, which he’s calling the “Freedom Convoy Token.” King was initially involved with the Freedom Convoy, but the organization distanced itself from him after reports emerged of his history of making racist statements and urging violence to end pandemic restrictions.

On Feb. 12, King told the 350,000 people who follow his Facebook page, the Real Pat King, to stop donating to GoFundMe and GiveSendGo and to buy his crypto instead. “This is going straight to you guys .. to invest in yourselves” and to the truckers, he said. He promised that they’d receive “residual income” from the crypto.

The website for King’s cryptocurrency instructs people to buy a different type of crypto then swap it for Freedom Convoy Tokens, or $FCTs. The site tells “truckers and supporters” they may be eligible to receive free $FCTs out of their supply, which they say is 111 billion coins.

It is possible to create or “mint” your own cryptocurrency, typically by hiring experienced blockchain developers, as it takes time, money, and advanced technical knowledge. “Making a cryptocurrency is the easy part—maintaining and growing it over time is usually more challenging,” Investopedia warns. Freedom Convoy Tokens’ website says they have three developers.

The website also promises that “another 4%” of the funds will be donated to the Freedom Convoy Foundation. Canada has no record of an organization by that name.

King said that $FCTs will be available on Binance Smart Chain, a decentralized blockchain ecosystem. Binance Smart Chain, which recently rebranded to BNB Chain, doesn’t currently have $FCT listed.

King didn’t respond to an email sent Thursday afternoon to an address he posted on Facebook.

During the Facebook announcement for King’s cryptocurrency, one of his comrades disparagingly referred to another bitcoin fundraiser for the truckers: HonkHonkHodl.

On Feb. 11, HonkHonkHodl announced on Twitter that it’s raised 21 Bitcoin valued at nearly $1 million. The campaign said it would pass the Bitcoin off to Twitter user NobodyCaribou, a self-described “professional orangepiller” whom Vice reports has lately been going on shows to discuss Bitcoin and the protests. NobodyCaribou is working with a Twitter user who goes by JW Weatherman.

Their plan, NobodyCaribou tweeted, is to distribute the Bitcoin to 200 truckers “in a verifiable way.” The mind-numbingly complicated plan detailed in a 25-page paper explains how each transaction is to occur. It says that distributing the Bitcoin to (currently unidentified) recipients will require two smartphones, a printer, tools for destroying the printer and phones (destroying the phones is “optional”), three USB drives, 10 DVDs, a laptop, a minimum of eight volunteers, and a “private and secure space” such as a hotel room.

Volunteers are to create Bitcoin wallets, record the seed phrase that gives access to it, transfer a small amount of Bitcoin into it, delete the wallet, then the next volunteer will restore it, confirm there are funds inside, transfer the rest of the Bitcoin to be allocated into it, then delete it. The seed phrases are to be printed and put into envelopes along with instructions for accessing the wallet. Volunteers are instructed to write random squiggly lines on the envelopes, take a photo, and post it to social media. “The purpose of this is to allow recipients to complain on social media with reasonable evidence if they do not receive the funds,” the instructions state.

The electronics must be destroyed or, in the case of the phones, restored to factory settings—twice—because record of the seed phrases is preserved in the devices’ memory.

Despite the elaborate process, the duo said the money had been distributed last night.

https://twitter.com/NobodyCaribou/status/1494524997515292673?s=20&t=V8tQ6AUAtnW3OELGYYArbQ

Earlier, Weatherman sent Daily Dot a link to a tweet in which he said, “We’ve engaged with a credible dolphin trainer that as confirmed we can put seed words in a dolphin suppository and send them up the coast to avoid border crossing interception of the #bitcoin headed to truckers. Trial run Monday.”

“Very excited about this. Solves many technical hurdles,” Weatherman added.

Canada and the United States inadvertently sparked the trucker protests by implementing vaccine, testing and quarantine mandates on cross-border truckers while the omicron variant ravaged North America. Their demands to be free and unencumbered by masks and PCR tests resonated with people around the world who are also weary of COVID restrictions and long to a return to pre-pandemic normalcy.

But where there’s a massive amount of money involved, there can often be problems that swiftly crop up, as people’s concerns have shown. The people soliciting donations don’t want you to worry.

“The wrong people don’t have your money and the right people do,” Eros of the Freedom Convoy said.


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*First Published: Feb 18, 2022, 9:07 am CST