The Cult Around the Corner
Conspiracy movements are splitting off into smaller, local, more isolated units. Uh oh.
“We are all normal sexuals. They call us heterosexuals — I tried Googleing that, but I couldn’t find nothing.”
Standing on a makeshift stage — wooden pallets stacked ontop of each other, with a flashing neon boombox in the middle — the man in the gray sweater explained that the “abnormal sexuals” were trying to confuse the country.
The political class couldn’t be trusted to stop this. They’re all globalists, he explained: They serve the devil. But, he insisted, “I believe that 95% of Canada is on our side.” To win them over, they just had to make new structures. That’s why they had assembled.
On a private farm outside Ottawa, the convoy to “Save the Children” has been camped out for weeks. They have set up there, outside the range of any wi-fi and 5G, to create an unvaccinated commune deadset on fighting the globalist plot to indoctrinate and inject their kids. They have been making occasional field trips into Canada’s capital, pursuing a harebrained scheme to have the country’s elected politicians arrested. Dozens of the camp’s inhabitants, many of whom occupied the city during last year’s Freedom Convoy, say they have more planned.1
Two months earlier, about 500 kilometers east as the crow flies, outside of Maine’s capital, about two dozen men dressed up their little uniforms — khakis, black shirts, masks pulled up over their months — to raise a banner outside the governor’s home. “KEEP NEW ENGLAND WHITE,” it read. One of them, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the Schutzstaffel, took a selfie as his pals raised their flat palms in a seig heil.
It was just one of many field trips led by Christopher Pohlhaus, a.k.a THE HAMMER, a gun-toting face-tattoo-having ex-marine neo-Nazi who spent the past few years buying up property in rural Maine to serve as a home base for his crew of national socialists. It would be a training camp for his neo-Nazi army, he hoped.
In recent months they have travelled the country: Waving swastikas at a drag queen storytime in Ohio, picketing outside Disney World, and discovering that the real race war were the friends they made along the way.2
“There's nothing like being with the guys,” one disciple said on a recent podcast. “Being with everybody that you know is a National Socialists — nothing like that.” Another groupie agreed: “There's like a sense of comfort.”
On the other side of the country, in the small Washington town of Sequim, nestled on a small bay off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, locals are gearing up for this year’s municipal elections. With a population of just over 8,000, politics in the town is normally convivial and relatively small stakes. But this year, like the last election cycle two years ago, the race has gotten contentious. “Good Governance builds community. Irresponsible governance divides community,” the Sequim Good Governance League warns on its website.
That little axiom comes to you from “QAnon, USA.”
The mayor of little Sequim was, until recently, William Armacost. QAnon, he explained in a virtual town gathering in 2020, consists of “patriots from all over the world fighting for humanity, truth, freedom and saving children and others from human trafficking.”
Plenty of local residents were horrified. But his allies on council and local Republican organizations stood behind Armacost (including one coincidently-named Councillor Mike Pence.) Maybe his most important backers, though, were in a Facebook group: Save Our Sequim. Online, they fumed over an Indigenous-led drug treatment centre, celebrated Armacost’s opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and organized anti-mask rallies.3
Armacost’s tenure as mayor was, in the end, relatively brief. He served two years before council replaced him with a less controversial figure. But, now, Armacost is running for re-election on city council, which has pitted the Sequim Good Governance League against Save Our Sequim in a battle for the soul of the town. [Update: Between drafting this dispatch and hitting publish, the election in Sequim was actually held. Armacost lost by a 3-to-1 margin.]
Back across the northern border, in the tiny town of Richmound, Saskatchewan, a winnebago brought the chaos. Inside the RV was Romana Didulo, the self-professed queen of Canada. Her posse, which included locals of the town, seized an unused school and quickly erected “NO TRESPASSING” signs. “It is now a private property,” Didulo proclaimed last month.
Didulo has made it clear that she will not vacate her seat of power, and will resist the paid protesters, the corrupt city council, and the radical-left journalists keen on tearing down the kingdom. Richmound, her followers suspect, may even become the capital of this new Canada.4
The erecting of the Queen’s permanent location — after years on the road — is exciting, her followers gushed, because it will mean a home for the children of the movement. The first generation to live under Queen Didulo’s benevolent reign. (Apart from all the promised executions for treason.)
Even amid a new global renaissance for conspiracy theories, it’s been a tough few years to be a paranoid weirdo. With publicity comes attention, and it’s getting to be that you can’t warn of the coming race war or fly your WWG1WGA Pepe The Frog flag in public anywhere.
So some conspiracy theorists are hitting the road and heading for the country. Whether they’re converging on an empty field outside Ottawa, setting up a neo-Nazi training camp in Maine, taking over a city council in Washington, or seizing an empty school in Saskatchewan: These movements are looking to create their own communities. That might be bad news for the rest of us.
This week, on a very special and paying-subscribers-only Bug-eyed and Shameless, we follow some attempts to build conspiracy cults in god’s own country.
Bug-eyed and Shameless is coming to a small town near you.
It’s an old story. A movement rises, rises, rises: And sharply plateaus. Its adherents, once convinced of their own universal appeal, suddenly find that their particular brand of politics, spiritualism, moralism, or paranoia is of limited interest to the rest of the world. Many blame some combination of the media, government, deep state, and/or the public’s innate stupidity.
A conspiracy movement has a few options from that point on.
They can become a conspiracy in their own right, trying to influence policy at high levels through money and subtly; they may simple collapse, or schism into a network of new groups. Or they can opt for some modesty, and start thinking local.
Generally, that falls into three categories of conspiracy-minded carpetbaggers, which we’re going to talk about in turn.
The Democratic Invaders
“Libertarian activists need to face a somber reality: nothing's working,” Jason Sorens wrote in July 2001.
Freedom, as they saw it, kept losing at the polls. The dreaded welfare state had won. And globalists were running amok — “one doesn't have to see black helicopters everywhere to note that ad hoc world governance structures are already in place,” Sorens wrote.
And so he proposed an idea: The Free State Project. Sorens, a Yale PhD student, called upon his fellow libertarians to join him in uprooting their lives and decamping to a state, chosen democratically and for its ample space and small population, to take over.
They did the math and figured their best bet was New Hampshire. If enough libertarians moved to the state, en masse, they could flip the legislature and become a freedom enclave. With time, the free state project hoped it could decimate state taxes and push out the federal government. And, if not, they’d secede.
It worked, kinda. At least 6,000 people flocked to New Hampshire over the subsequent two decades: A far-cry from the 20,000 who had pledged their support to the project, but not bad. They have successfully elected dozens of Free Staters to the New Hampshire House of Representatives — less impressive when you realize the chamber comprises 400 elected representatives. (Fun fact: It is the fourth-largest lower house in the world, with a citizen-to-legislator ratio of 1:3,300.) An offshoot, the Free Town Project, tried to colonize a single town, Grafton, to middling effect.
While it began with some clearly-communicated and bog standard libertarian ideals, once it was whittled down to just those dogmatic enough to uproot their lives, the Free State Project began to look more radical. They hijacked town meetings and successfully slashed one town’s education budget by half. They hold an annual festival with more AK-47s than a Taliban wedding. They invited Naomi Wolf (not to be confused with Naomi Klein) to their 2014 forum, where she delivered a truly deranged endorsement of the second amendment as she warned “our government is at war with us and now they're killing us.”
While it may not have started out as a conspiracy movement per se, the Free State Project moved its followers into small likeminded pockets: That has a powerful radicalizing effect (Dispatch #65).
The Free State Project is probably the biggest example yet of a marginal political movement trying to stage a democratic takeover. And it’s a clear sign of just how hard that is. Many of the colonists had to abandon their dreams, and yurt settlements, after a series of bear attacks.5 The libertarian colonists have become an irritant for the already-freedom-loving granite staters, particularly the influx of cannabis activists, registered sex offenders, and survivalists. Such is the backlash that even Sorens, the original Free Stater, lost his race
for local dog catcher to the planning board.
But it’s possible that the Free State Project just came a little too soon. In our current era of paranoid populism, local governments are beginning to flip across America.
In Ottawa County, Michigan, a group calling itself Ottawa Impact managed to oust the moderate Republican county leadership and install their own brand of anti-LGBTQ, anti-public health, and critical-race-theory-obsessed politics. They’ve imported a Trump-era far-right minor official to run the county, to great calamity. As journalists and locals have begun asking tough questions of this new far-right government, the Ottawa Impact regime has refused to engage with local media. Instead, Joe Moss — the Impact leader — started his own propaganda outlet, instructing locals to read that instead.
It’s a similar story in Odessa, Texas, Shasta County, California, Greenwich, Connecticut, and no doubt in towns across North America. Some of this is effective grassroots organizing prompted by Trump’s resurgence, some of it is the byproduct of COVID-induced internal migration, and some of it is the result of well-organized and well-financed organizations and movements that have stood up in recent years to enable exactly this kind of local-level organizing. This kind of local polarization, in fora that used to be relatively immune from it, is definitely a worrying trend.
The Sovereign Citizens
For years, a little ramshackle bungalow in Victoria, British Columbia was the headquarters for a multinational corporate empire. Painted pale yellow with peeling red trimming, it sat next to a self-storage facility. Out front, a rusted pickup truck sat unmoved next to an aging sedan with a decal of a green alien in the back window.
This was Romana Didulo’s home based for years. She registered no fewer than a dozen businesses there, in Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom: Each one, eventually, deregistered for failing to submit the requisite paperwork. She still owes Delaware $525 in back taxes.
Didulo had tried really hard to be an entrepreneur. Earlier in her career she dabbled in recruiting, cleaning, consulting, investment — even, at one point, getting involved in a plan to found a new airline to serve Senegal.
And every single endeavour failed.
In 2020, some eight months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America, Didulo registered another business: Canada1st Party of Canada Incorporated.