MANILA, Philippines – Romana Didulo is a female Filipino immigrant in Canada possibly in her 50s, who has declared herself as the queen of Canada, with a loyal cult-like following obeying her “decrees” to stop paying taxes and utilities, and to arrest police for enforcing COVID-19 policies, among other outrageous acts.
Why is she making the news?
While she built her following online primarily through the messaging app Telegram where she has about tens of thousands of followers, her actions have translated into harm in the physical world.
According to Vice, back in August, she had about 40 of her followers march to the Peterborough Police Station in Ontario to arrest all of the police officers for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions and stepping on their freedoms. Her followers were not able to enter the police department, and three of them were arrested, with two being charged with assault of a police officer.
Her speech is hateful, threatening to execute those who oppose her. One former follower said Didulo threatened them with being shot in the head or being thrown off a helicopter.
Didulo had once ordered on Telegram to kill those who facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations, Vice reported. “Shoot to kill anyone who tries to inject Children under the age of 19 years old with Coronavirus19 vaccines/ bioweapons or any other Vaccines,” she wrote on Telegram, according to Vice. “This order is effective immediately.”
Like a cult, some leave their family to join Didulo on trips to meet their online followers physically.
Vice also reported that some have gotten into financial and emotional trouble after following her “decree” to stop paying utilities, with those who followed being slapped with late fees and mounting interest. In the province of Alberta, for example, some local property owners decided not to pay property taxes, according to Red Deer Advocate, a local newspaper.
She has also been able to raise at least $140,000 from her followers, Vice said.
In a separate story, the Guardian said Didulo immigrated to Canada from the Philippines when she was 15. She put up a recruiting and consulting agency in 2007, the Guardian added.
What danger does she present?
While Vice has been able to talk to former followers who grew tired of Didulo’s demands and threats, Didulo’s case shows once again how cult-like behavior can be harnessed through online communication, in this case, through Telegram.
Through her violent rhetoric, and outlandish claims of having access to secret healing technology due to her not being from this world, she has been able to amass a dangerously sizeable following. And that following has shown its willingness to follow her orders, no matter how crazy they may seem.
One of her followers had been arrested for threatening to shoot up his daughter’s school for offering vaccinations.
QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that believes there is a cabal of elites operating a global child sex trafficking ring, was found to have a Philippine connection in 2020.
Fredrick Brennan, the founder of 8chan – the forum where a figure called “Q” would post information fueling the conspiracy theory – accused former 8chan partner Jim Watkins of being “Q” himself or at least know who “Q” is. Watkins lived in Manila from 2001 to September 2020, when he left after being labeled an undesirable alien by the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration.
Brennan also offered digital forensics to ABC News that tied the 8chan site to a QAnon site and another neo-Nazi site.
In October 2020, sites such as Facebook and Instagram banned QAnon-linked accounts, while YouTube tightened rules on content that contain QAnon conspiracy. Later in January 2021, Amazon also removed QAnon products from its platform.
Didulo in 2020 put up a “political party” called “Canada 1st Party of Canada” which Vice noted is reminiscent of Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan.
There is fear that her following would grow, as Didulo and her followers tour and network around Canada. Didulo’s case shows how certain personalities, with QAnon providing what is almost like a framework, can amass support online through an enclosed chat group with even the most bogus of claims, stir fervor, and translate that fervor into real-world harm. – Rappler.com