Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter, USA TODAY
Only a few dozen independent truckers were spotted on rain-swept highways around the nation's capital Friday morning at the beginning of a purported three-day "Ride for the Constitution" rolling protest seeking to impeach President Obama and pressure Congress.
There were no signs that the trucks were slowing down traffic any more than normal on the congested capital area highway, particularly during steady rain.
Video cams on I-495, which circles the city, and I-95, which runs north and south through the region, showed normal traffic at mid-morning.
There were reports of scattered groups of trucks making their way toward Washington, D.C. About 15 pickup trucks bearing the official Twitter hashtag of the ride -- #T2SDA (Truckers to Shut Down America) -- were spotted early Friday near Doswell, about 85 miles south of the capital.
By about 8:45 a.m., Virginia State Police officials said that about 30 tractor trailers left the Dumfries truckers' scales, about 30 miles south of Washington, heading north in the right lane with their hazard lights on, WUSA-TV reports.
The Virginia State Police reports that at 8:50 a.m., four commercial vehicles began driving side-by-side across all four northbound lanes of I-495 on the Inner Loop in Virginia, slowing traffic to 15 mph. The police says the drivers of the four tractor-trailers were warned not to impede traffic.
"No summons/ticket was issued," police said in a statement. "The tractor-trailers were then allowed to proceed on their way," officials said in a news release.
The planned protest was beset by confusion over message and tactics as the holiday weekend approached.
Organizers said sympathetic demonstrations by veterans and Tea Party supporters were also planned in various state capitals and on highway overpasses during the three-day "Ride for the Constitution."
A "few thousand" tractor-trailer drivers were expected to converge on the Capital Beltway on Friday afternoon from staging areas on Interstate 95 in Virginia and Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania, co-organizer and conservative activist Zeeda Andrews told The Washington Post.
Drivers planned to occupy three lanes of Interstate 495, driving 55 mph, with the fourth lane kept clear for emergency vehicles and supporters. Only motorists displaying the group's Twitter hashtag on their vehicles will be allowed to pass, Andrews and other organizers say, adding that the protest would be peaceful and lawful.
On Monday, a Georgia trucker handling logistics for Truckers Ride for the Constitution indicated otherwise, telling U.S. News that some of the anticipated 3,000 big rigs might grind to a halt if police intervened and that a trucker "grand jury" would attempt to arrest members of Congress. The group disavowed the comments by Earl Conlon and said he was not an official spokesman.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post declared that the truckers' plan was actually a "hoax," with Conlon telling the paper his comments were "designed to do one thing and one thing only: stir the feather of the mainstream media."
Andrews and supporters quickly denied that claim, but confusion persisted and trucker representatives criticized the ride.
"The individuals leading this particular effort have no direct affiliation with trucking and appear to be using truckers in order to gain media attention and air other political grievances," the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in a statement. "We do not support assembling in an unlawful, unpermitted manner, committing crimes, making threats on our lawmakers, or behaving in such a way to cast safe, professional truck drivers in a negative light."
A spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union told the Washington Times that the union has no involvement in or position on the protest.
The Virginia State Police said in a statement Thursday that it is "preparing accordingly with the region's law enforcement agencies and the Virginia Department of Transportation." Extra patrols will be on duty in Northern Virginia.
State police in Maryland and Pennsylvania did not respond to queries about their plans.
Trucker Earl Lee, a coordinator, told Fox News on Thursday that 10,000 truckers were headed to Washington.
Three, eight-hour driving shifts are planned, with a possibility that the protest would continue Monday, the Columbus Day holiday.
Lee cautioned drivers to obey all traffic laws.
"You got to stay legal; we don't want any illegal activity," he said, adding that "none of you guys want tickets or points on your CDL (commercial driver's license) either.
"We don't want any incidents, and no accidents," Lee said. "We want no negative coverage whatsoever."
Launched in September as "Truckers to Shut Down America" (T2SDA), the protest envisioned that "potentially hundreds of thousands of truckers and millions of citizens" would come to Washington in a "very symbolic display of solidarity" to "restore our Constitutional Republic." As word spread through Twitter and Facebook, the group changed the event's name but kept the hashtag.
The truckers have a long list of grievances and outrages. Most are political with some focused on trucking issues, including wages, fuel costs and regulations. On Friday, they will present a list of "U.S. Citizens demands" to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, at the National World War II Memorial.
Andrews, the co-organizer, is a Tennessean, former country music singer and conservative patriot who lives in Jacksonville. She has actively called for Obama to be impeached.
On Tuesday night, she promoted the event on Fox News and Glen Beck's The Blaze.
"We want the president of the United States removed from office," she told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "He's a threat to our national security, he's a threat to our way of life, he's a threat to our future generations."
A fundamentalist Christian, Andrews has said she opposes Islam and believes the president is a Muslim and "the Antichrist." She also disputes official explanations for the Sept. 11 and Boston Marathon terror attacks.
The liberal group Media Matters for America has more on Andrews and some of her views.
USA TODAY attempted to interview Andrews on Thursday but could not reach her as she headed to Washington.
The official spokesman for the trucker's ride is Pete Santilli, an Internet broadcaster and conspiracy theorist. He gained some notoriety in May when he said on the Guerilla Media Network that "we need to try, convict and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina" for what he claims was the "fake hunt down" of Osama bin Laden during which all the Navy SEALs involved allegedly were killed.
TRUCKERS RIDE FOR THE CONSTITUTION ON FACEBOOK: http://on.fb.me/186Fm4U