A Victoria resident falsely claiming to be the Queen of Canada has become cause for concern for the RCMP’s national security team and extremism researchers as she continues to incite violence from her thousands-strong following online.
With close to 73,000 QAnon-linked followers on the messaging service Telegram and thousands more on various social media sites, Romana Didulo uses her platforms to amplify conspiracy theories across the world. In recent months, many of those theories have focused on COVID-19 in Canada, with Didulo’s messages calling for violent action against anyone who allows for the vaccination of children.
“Please, use airports, hospitals, schools, stadiums, and other public venues to hold and detain all traitors. They will stay there until military tribunal is held for each one of them until the day they are executed via firing squad or hanging,” a Telegram message from Nov. 21 reads.
Other messages claim Didulo has ordered “special forces” to “clean up Canada” with a “shoot to kill, don’t take POW order,” and that some politicians and health workers have already been executed at her command.
The ultra-violent rhetoric has sparked action by the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team which, on Nov. 27, obtained a search warrant for a Victoria address connected to Didulo, the Victoria court registry confirmed for Black Press Media.
Didulo detailed what she said occurred during the search in a 90-minute video posted to one of her YouTube channels.
In it, Didulo told her followers the RCMP team served her with a search warrant, seized her devices, and detained her under the Mental Health Act. She said she was taken to Royal Jubilee Hospital where she was assessed by a psychiatrist before being released.
“Aren’t you all glad to see that Queen Romana is not insane?” she said in the video.
Reading through Didulo’s Telegram messages about aliens populating the planet and her existing in a different dimension, it could be easy not to take it all seriously, but extremism experts said it is exactly this dismissive attitude that has allowed violent online movements to flourish.
Edwin Hodge, a University of Victoria research fellow who specializes in extremism, said it’s not important if some people think what Didulo is touting is mentally unbalanced. What matters is how many people are listening to her messages and how many are acting on them.
The answer is already concerning.
Over the summer, followers of Didulo issued fake cease-and-desist letters to vaccination clinics, police stations and businesses across Canada, demanding an immediate stop to vaccinations and COVID-19 measures.
On Dec. 2, one of Didulo’s followers was arrested by the Laval Police Department in Quebec after making threats against his daughter’s school for starting a vaccination campaign.
The number of followers Didulo has amassed on Telegram is also alarming, Hodge said. Telegram requires users to specifically seek out and add people as contacts in order to see their content.
Jaigris Hodson, a Royal Roads University professor who researches online misinformation, said a following of 72,700 on Telegram has as much power as double or triple that on Facebook, Twitter, or another social media site.
Both she and Hodge stressed that online rhetoric has real-world consequences. The Jan. 6 U.S. capitol riot and Christchurch mosque shootings are only two recent events that disprove digital dualism, in which the online world bleeds into the real one. Even the effigies of Premier John Horgan and various ministers hung at the B.C. Legislature on Dec. 9 are proof, Hodson said.
To tackle it, Hodge said police need to lay criminal charges when possible, but that online extremism needs to be treated as a broader societal issue. He said he and other researchers are now addressing it as a chronic health issue – one that can affect anyone and requires open conversation, therapy and psychological intervention before they become violent.
No charges have been laid against Didulo as of publication. She did not respond to requests for an interview.
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