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People on the side of the road watch as trucks and other vehicles with the People Convoy of Truckers, protesting mandates and other issues, head south on Interstate I-270 Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Frederick, Md., toward the Washington Beltway.

People on the side of the road watch as trucks and other vehicles with the People Convoy of Truckers, protesting mandates and other issues, head south on Interstate I-270 Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Frederick, Md., toward the Washington Beltway. (Jon Elswick/AP)

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday extended the deployment of National Guard troops throughout the Washington, D.C., area as a caravan of anti-mask and anti-vaccination truckers and others vowed to stall traffic along the Capital Beltway that encircles the city.

Austin extended the deployment of about 700 troops through Wednesday, after the mission initially approved Feb. 23 was set to expire Monday, said John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman. The troops — some 400 from the District of Columbia National Guard and another about 300 from neighboring states — have been assisting local law enforcement largely with traffic control, according to the Pentagon.

Austin’s decision followed a request from U.S. Capitol Police and the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency to extend the deployment. The so-called “People’s Convoy” arrived in the D.C. region during the weekend after driving from California. They have vowed to slow traffic on I-495, the interstate in Virginia and Maryland that encircles the national capital, in an attempt to convince officials to end pandemic-related health measures.

The group vowed in a statement posted on its website that the convoy will not enter Washington. It describes itself as a “peaceful movement” meant to protest coronavirus mitigation directives, including government mandated mask usage and vaccinations.

On Sunday, the convoy drove about 45 mph along the Beltway in a single-file line, according to The Washington Post. The newspaper reported Sunday that it caused few disruptions, as the convoy vehicles spread out — at times in lines stretching 35 miles — allowing other vehicles to move easily in between and around the protestors.

The group said in a statement Sunday night that it drove around the Beltway twice. It vowed to continue its protest through the coming days, including plans to drive around the Beltway again Monday.

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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