For two weeks this past February, Benjamin Dichter was thrust into the absurdist spotlight of modern political celebrity. A trucker-led convoy opposed to Canada’s digital COVID vaccine passport system had paralyzed downtown Ottawa, inspired the wildcat occupation and shutdown of several U.S.-Canadian border crossings, and provoked a quasi-authoritarian response from the Canadian government, which forcibly dispersed the protesters’ encampment, jailed the movement’s leaders, summarily froze their bank accounts, and seized, blocked, or escrowed nearly all of the estimated $20 million in non-bitcoin-based funds they’d raised. As chief media spokesman for the so-called Freedom Convoy, Dichter was the public face of one side of a shocking Canadian civic crackup. Depending on your point of view, the Freedom Convoy was either the unexpected culmination of the developed world’s COVID-era class war and a dark vision of the technocratic liberal state’s oppressive game plan, or an event that showed how easily marching hordes of ignorant and hateful populists could rise from the fringes to hijack a modern democracy. Dichter became the face of the former camp; the latter belonged to Justin Trudeau, dreamboat liberal champion and head of government of a country of 38 million people.
As the Ottawa police cleared the trucker protests in late February, convoy organizers like Tamara Lich were taken into custody and Dichter’s lawyers advised him to leave the Canadian capital—even a criminal mischief charge might subject Dichter to a gag order, they told him, making it illegal for him to speak about the aggressive law enforcement tactics he’d witnessed. “There were checkpoints every two blocks, police looking at people in cars,” he told me of his escape from downtown Ottawa by Uber. “And I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll put my hood up.’”
The Canadian government used a loose interpretation of terrorism financing rules to neutralize the convoy and its leadership…