She claims to be the Queen of Canada, and now she’s holding court in an abandoned school.
Romana Didulo, a QAnon-inspired conspiracy theorist, leads a group of supporters who have spent the last few years traveling around Canada in motorhomes and other vehicles.
Recently, the group moved into Richmound, a village of around 150 people in south-western Saskatchewan, and settled in at a former school.
Ms Didulo and around 15 to 25 of her followers have been at the site for about a week, says Thomas Fougere of Community TV, a local independent news outlet based in nearby Medicine Hat.
Soon after their arrival, the neighbours began pushing them to leave.
Around 100 local residents drove around the school on Sunday in tractors, semi-trucks and other vehicles, trying to drive out the incomers, according to Mr Fougere.
“It’s the only place in the village where there’s a playground and where kids can safely ride their bikes away from the highway,” he said. “It’s become a high tension situation. The town doesn’t want them.”
A self-styled ‘Queen of Canada’
Ms Didulo, 48, emigrated from the Philippines to Canada as a teenager. She set up several businesses before forming a fringe political party in 2020.
Following endorsements from QAnon leaders, she built up a band of followers, declared that she had overthrown the legitimate government of Canada, and says her claim to the “Queen of Canada” title is backed by secret, powerful US military interests.
On her most popular Telegram channel she has issued “decrees” to absolve her more than 36,000 followers from bills and debts.
That has resulted in followers losing their homes, cars and possessions, says Christine Sarteschi, a professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh and an expert on extremism and the sovereign citizen movement – a broad collection of anti-government groups who dodge taxes and make up their own fake legal systems.
Ms Didulo and her followers spread a variety of different beliefs, including sovereign citizen, anti-vaccination conspiracies, and ideas related to QAnon – a wide-ranging, completely unfounded theory that says former US President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.
While QAnon’s spurious narratives revolve around US figures, the theory has taken hold in some parts of Canada and the rest of the world.
Ms Didulo’s group participated in the “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa in 2022, and last year attempted to arrest police officers in Peterborough, Ontario, accusing them of “crimes against humanity”.
Ms Didulo also frequently calls for violence against those administering Covid vaccines to children, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“She’s the ultimate anti-government person,” Ms Sarteschi said, noting that Ms Didulo regularly threatens to execute her opponents.
“This is not a harmless cult.”
Mr Fougere, the journalist, says he’s received threats since reporting on the group.
Messages to Ms Didulo and her supporters went unanswered on Tuesday.
Staying put in Richmound
The group has been in Saskatchewan for at least several weeks. Earlier this month they were chased out of Kamsack, a small town on the other side of the province, by hundreds of local residents.
Now it appears the group is making plans to stay put in Richmound.
It is seeking plumbers and tradespeople to come volunteer for building projects, Mr Fougere said. Followers not currently at the school are posting on Telegram about their plans to travel to the area in mid-October.
“The last few years they’ve just been traveling around Canada and stopping at campsites,” said the journalist “This is the first time they’ve been presented with access to a building like this.”
Richmound may not be able to do much officially about it.
The school and surrounding land were sold by the government and are now in the hands of a private owner, complicating efforts to move the group.
Brad Miller, the mayor of Richmound, told local news outlets that residents were monitoring the situation, and that it appears the group hasn’t done anything illegal in the village.
Richmound officials did not respond to interview requests from BBC News.
In a statement, Saskatchewan police said an investigation is ongoing into a reported assault at Sunday’s protest, but that no injuries or arrests were reported.
Ms Sarteschi, the extremism expert, said the group is much more serious than their outlandish beliefs make them appear.
“Too often, these kinds of things are ignored until something bad happens,” she said. “I don’t know how this ends… I don’t know if anything horrible will happen, but I pray that it doesn’t.”
Source : BBC