A prominent QAnon figure from Victoria greeted some of her 60,000 online followers with cucumbers and sardines before an Aug. 13 event aiming to arrest Peterborough police officers, but ended with four protesters charged with assault.
Romana Didulo, who claims she’s the commander in chief and queen of the “Kingdom of Canada,” promoted the “citizens arrest” event multiple times on her conspiracy-laden Telegram account.
Didulo has called for violence against anyone who allows for the vaccination of children and encouraged her “forces” to “shoot to kill” health-care workers. The rhetoric led to the RCMP searching her Victoria address last year. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network said Didulo has one of the largest followings among the country’s fringe figures.
In an Aug. 10 post viewed 12,500 times, she ordered her “forces” to the Ontario rally and said officers would be handed over to the military.
About 30 protesters gathered at the police station on Aug. 13 looking to arrest officers for COVID-related “crimes against humanity.” The protesters, according to police and video, accosted officers arriving for work and tried to access the station’s secure entrance. One video shows a man telling officers “you guys are going to hang.”
Peterborough police arrested three protesters on the weekend, with charges including assaulting a peace officer with a weapon and assaulting police. On Thursday, police charged another man for ripping a counterprotester’s sign and the department is investigating a woman videoed tearing off the counterprotester’s face mask.
Ontario’s special investigations unit is looking into officer actions during one of the arrests, which followed an interaction with police, after a man was injured. Protesters swarmed police and were videoed trying to intervene during the arrest.
“Be peaceful. But stand your ground …,” Didulo posted on Telegram during the event.
Edwin Hodge, a University of Victoria expert in radicalization and extremist ideologies, is familiar with Didulo and said while her reach is clearly influential, it’s always the smallest minority that actually engages in real-world actions. She wouldn’t have any influence 20 years ago, but social media has changed that, Hodge said.
Didulo and her followers reflect a pattern of radicalization seen in the Jan. 6, anti-vaccine and Freedom Convoy movements, Hodge said, noting those sucked into conspiracy theories are usually looking for a sense of purpose or community.
“It remains sort of an unpleasant surprise to see just how many people respond to these sorts of calls to action.”
Peterborough’s mayor was concise in her response to the protesters.
“Here is my comment: f—k off, you f—-wads,” Diane Therrien tweeted on Aug. 16.
The mayor defended the response on Thursday, telling CBC she’d do it again. Therrien said her community is tired and frustrated after a string of conspiracy theory-inspired events where participants have had the explicit intent to cause harm, disruption and pain.
“You can’t reason with unreasonable people so they need to be told directly in terms they understand how people feel about them,” she told CBC. “They’re just kind of showing up because they have nothing else better to do on a Saturday, they should go volunteer or help the community but they don’t.”
Conspiracy theorists will think anyone challenging their beliefs is part of the conspiracy, Hodge said.
“The idea is to ask them questions that direct them toward the holes in their logic so in their own minds they can start to see the problems.”
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