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Truckers protesting virus mandates are encircling Washington, D.C., on the Beltway.


A group of truckers protesting Covid-19 mandates had originally planned to enter Washington, but the convoy has stayed in Maryland after organizers said they did not intend to drive into the nation’s capital.CreditCredit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A group of truckers protesting Covid-19 mandates started to encircle the nation’s capital on Sunday morning, aiming to garner attention from lawmakers by driving the minimum speed limit and slowing traffic outside of the city.

The convoy of truckers had planned to loop Interstate 495, a 64-mile highway known as the Capital Beltway, two times on Sunday before returning to a staging area in Maryland, with plans to potentially ramp up the demonstration in the coming days.

Although it was unclear whether the convoy, consisting overall of hundreds of vehicles, would ultimately enter Washington, D.C., organizers said they did not intend to drive into the capital on Sunday out of fears that “bad actors” may turn it into a chaotic event reminiscent of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. They also wanted to avoid confrontation with police.

The main caravan of truckers, the People’s Convoy, first departed from Adelanto, Calif., more than a week ago with plans to end their demonstration in the Washington area. For the past two days, the truckers have been rallying at a racetrack in nearby Hagerstown, Md., about 70 miles northwest of the capital, converging with other drivers and their supporters.

The People’s Convoy was one of several groups inspired by the Canadian protests against pandemic measures that disrupted the capital of Ottawa for three weeks. The American groups said they, too, would drive to Washington to lead a nonpartisan, grassroots protest of government Covid policies, but many appeared to be aligned with far-right organizations and activists.

Their demands have been undercut by the reality that many U.S. states have already started rolling back restrictions as virus cases and deaths have ebbed. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance in late February suggesting that the vast majority of Americans could stop wearing masks. Many medical experts say vaccine mandates are effective in persuading more people to get their shots, which they say is essential to helping prevent the spread of the virus.

As the convoy made its way from the Hagerstown Speedway to the highway on Sunday, a winding road that was approximately five miles was lined with people waving flags.

By late morning, the convoy, traveling east on Interstate 70 between Hagerstown and Frederick, had caused significant traffic slowdowns. There was a wreck, though it was unclear what caused it. At other points, drivers pulled over to stop and wave flags. As the convoy slowly progressed toward I-495, a handful of state troopers could be seen, in some cases helping to clear flags from the road. Many overpasses were crowded with onlookers waving flags, though some motorists passing the convoy appeared frustrated at the congestion.

The D.C. city government said it was “monitoring demonstration activity that will begin to disrupt travel on roadways in and around” the capital region. Although officials said they expected the demonstration to mainly affect the Beltway, they urged people to consider using alternate modes of transportation since disruptions could extend to other areas. The demonstration could also result in the closure of certain roads, officials said.

Ron Dimaline, 67, a pastor and retired coal industry worker from Pike County, Ky., started riding in his dump truck with the convoy two days ago. On Sunday morning, he said he had grown frustrated with the rising cost of gas and feared that the United States was drifting toward communism. But anti-Covid measures particularly irritated him.

“Let people alone. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask,” he said. “I’ll stay away from you.”

With the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, still fresh on the minds of many, officials had ramped up security around the Capitol in recent days ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Another group called the Freedom Convoy that quit its journey to Washington last week after only five trucks remained claimed to have a permit to demonstrate at the Washington Monument on Tuesday afternoon before the president’s speech. City officials said only a few protesters showed up.

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