GoFundMe has frozen access to more than $ 160,000 in funds raised by supporters of a convoy of trucks and cars gathering on Canberra to protest COVID-19 vaccines and public health measures.
After vehicles began arriving in the national capital this morning, Australian federal police were forced to defend the front doors of Parliament House as hundreds of people who were part of the larger protest moved towards the public entrance.
The convoy for the Canberra Rally is led by groups opposed to mandatory vaccinations and includes the so-called Sovereign Citizens movement, with many trucks, vans and cars traveling thousands of miles from interstate to participate in the demonstration.
Many protesters were seen waving the Australian and red ensign flags on their heads, which is largely seen as an emergency signal, while some held signs with the message “Make Australia Great Again”.
Members of the crowd shouted “freedom” and “fire them all” and also threw interpretations of Amazing Grace and John Farnham’s You’re the Voice.
The Last Post was also played.
Parliament does not sit until next week, but protesters demanded that a “representative” come and speak to the people who had traveled to be in Canberra and took to social media to declare that the protests would take place over several days.
The protest reflects similar protests abroad, including a convoy of thousands of Canadian truck drivers and other protesters who showed up in Ottawa over the weekend to protest the government’s vaccine mandate.
But a crowdfunding effort by protesters has run into problems as funding site GoFundMe has frozen access to money.
GoFundMe wants details on how the money will be spent
A GoFundMe affiliated with the Australian convoy has been widely circulated among followers on social media, raising more than $ 160,000 from over 2,500 donations in four days.
But the anonymous organizer, who calls himself the Ironbark Thunderbolt, is not able to access the funds until they are able to detail how the money will be spent, according to GoFundMe.
“The funds will be stored securely until the organizer completes the verification process and is able to provide documentation to our team on how the funds will be distributed,” said a spokesman for the funding website.
On the convoy’s GoFundMe description, the person calling himself Ironbark Thunderbolt says the money will be given to the Western Australian doomsday preparer, James Greer, who has declared his intention to drive his motorhome to Canberra to protest against vaccine mandates.
“Money will be drawn into James’ account and the team will collect receipts and information from those in need of a refund or transfer,” reads the convoy’s GoFundMe description.
“Transfers will then be made directly to those in need. Our legal team is happy to deal with any discrepancies.”
Ironbark Thunderbolt, Mr. Greer and other organizers of the convoy have not responded to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, GoFundMe is still being promoted, and supporters and donors have not been informed that the funds have been frozen.
Canadian convoy hit the same roadblock
A crowdfunding site for the Canadian convoy had exactly the same problem last week, with GoFundMe freezing access to CAD 4.5 million ($ 5 million).
On that occasion, the organizer had initially also failed to give GoFundMe a clear plan on how the money would be spent.
They later presented such a plan and withdrew $ 1 million ($ 3.36 million) three days ago to cover participants’ fuel costs.
On the Australian convoy’s Facebook page, members have expressed confusion and frustration over the process of claiming that the expenses they had been told would be covered by the GoFundMe money.
Some drivers have traveled thousands of miles to take part in the protest and expect to be reimbursed for fuel costs.
On Sunday, two drivers on their way to the rally crashed into an accumulation near the Hawkesbury River.
GoFundMe said it worked with the organizer.
“We continue to work directly with the organizer to gather information on how funds are being distributed, this is part of our standard process to ensure the protection of all donors,” the spokesman said.
“Once a withdrawal plan is provided by the organizer, our team is on standby to deliver the money safely and quickly.”
Police have urged motorists in Canberra to avoid roads around the parliament building and have blocked vehicles from accessing some entrances to the building.
Last month, the main entrance to the Old Parliament House was set on fire when protests took place outside the building.
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