A once murky alliance forged in a world of internet conspiracy theories appears to have ended in murder this past Sunday, with an infamous QAnon mom accused of having shot a fringe legal theorist.
Neely Petrie-Blanchard, a Kentucky resident, had long ago lost custody of her daughters for reasons that are unclear. And to help in the task of getting them back, she turned to Chris Hallett, an amateur legal expert who offered bogus court services through a company called “E-Clause,” and who promised Petrie-Blanchard she could win her daughters back through ludicrous courtroom tactics he borrowed from the anti-government sovereign citizen’s movement.
Petrie-Blanchard went all-in on Hallett’s promises. When she did see her daughters, she dressed them in “E-Clause” shirts and put a vanity “ECLAUSE” license plate on her car.
But, along the way, something went wrong. On Sunday night, Hallett was found face down in the kitchen of his central Florida home, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds to his back.
Deputies from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said they found him dead when they arrived at the scene. They put out a multi-state arrest order for Petrie-Blanchard, who was arrested hours later in Georgia as the only named suspect in Hallett’s murder.
A witness who was in the house when the shooting happened told police that Petrie-Blanchard had become convinced that Hallett himself was involved in a plot to keep her children away from her. Hallett had been working on Petrie-Blanchard’s custody case at the time of his death, according to the witnesses.
“It was speculated that the victim was shot by [Petrie-Blanchard], due to her belief that the victim might have been working against her, or working to assist the government, in keeping her children away from her,” the police report reads.
Hallett’s murder marks what appears to be the latest killing tied to the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory. QAnon believers have also been charged with murders in New York and Washington, including an incident in which a QAnon supporter allegedly murdered a reputed Mafia boss in an attempt to bring him to an imagined QAnon tribunal. The FBI reportedly considers QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism.
And it sheds a disturbing new light on a faction of QAnon that includes Hallett’s fake legal theories and a nationwide network of other conspiracy theorists that has harbored fugitives and inspired multiple alleged child abduction plots, including one involving Petrie-Blanchard.
Petrie-Blanchard didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In March, Petrie-Blanchard allegedly kidnapped her twin daughters from their grandmother’s court-ordered custody in Kentucky, vanishing with them after delivering letters to baffled local officials. The letters featured strange legal language borrowed from Hallett’s group to “claim” custody of her children.
“I am now not ‘deemed dead lost at sea,’” Petrie-Blanchard wrote.
After days on the run, Petrie-Blanchard was eventually discovered in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, with her daughters, hiding out with a group of sovereign citizens.
Both Petrie-Blanchard and Hallett belonged to a clandestine network of QAnon believers and fringe legal theorists focused on child custody battles. As The Daily Beast reported in August, the group has incited mothers who have lost custody of their children to plot to kidnap them from relatives or foster homes, egging them on with fictitious QAnon tales about a nefarious “cabal” that teams up with child protective services to abuse children.
Petrie-Blanchard, 33, had emphatically embraced QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement that relies on anonymous online clues from a figure named “Q” to imagine a world where Donald Trump is secretly at war with cannibal-pedophiles in the Democratic Party. On Facebook, she posted pictures of herself at a Trump rally in a “Q” T-shirt that referenced the fringe QAnon belief that John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive. After being released on bail on the kidnapping charge, Petrie-Blanchard filmed herself taking the QAnon oath, while her daughters were returned to their grandmother’s care.
Hallett, 50, had become a key part of the YouTube QAnon network, streaming his fake legal claims with his on-and-off business partner Kirk Pendergrass. While neither man is registered as a lawyer in their home states or appears to have any legitimate legal education, they promoted their services on QAnon YouTube shows to build a following among a community of desperate mothers who had lost their children, and solicited donations for their services.
Hallett’s legal services appear to have universally failed when they managed to reach the courts. He claimed that Donald Trump had authorized him to create a separate legal system, a notion that a federal judge found risible in a January opinion, calling Hallett’s legal work “rambling.”
“The Court declines to entertain Plaintiff’s fantasy that he is acting at the behest of the President,” the opinion reads.
Often, women who used Hallett’s legal tactics ended up in even worse situations, as family-court judges began to question the sanity of anyone who was convinced Trump had appointed a random Florida man to run a separate legal system.
Still, Hallett’s reputation in the world of aggrieved QAnon mothers grew large enough that a fugitive on the run from the FBI traveled to his home in Ocala, Florida, to get his help on her custody case. Like Petrie-Blanchard, Colorado mother Cyndie Abcug had fallen under the sway of Hallett and his YouTube allies, convinced that QAnon believers could help win her son back from a foster home. According to a police report, Abcug was plotting an armed assault on the foster home with fellow armed QAnon supporters, convinced by QAnon claims that the foster parents were “pedophiles.”
Abcug’s teenage daughter allegedly tipped off the police to the plot. But Abcug fled the state ahead of her arrest and became a cross-country fugitive with help from QAnon supporters. She eventually made her way to Hallett, convinced that he could help her regain custody of her son. But Abcug eventually grew disillusioned with Hallett’s supposed legal abilities, according to one of her traveling companions, and was later arrested by the FBI in Montana while still on the run.
Petrie-Blanchard, by comparison, appears to have remained convinced that E-Clause could help her win back custody of her daughters. On her Facebook page, she even described herself as an “E-Clause agent.”
But their relationship appears to have turned fatal, allegedly fueled by Petrie-Blanchard’s imagining of a QAnon-style government conspiracy.
According to a police report, an unnamed female witness and her daughter were in Hallett’s house when the incident occurred on Sunday. When the witness heard what sounded like a firecracker go off in the kitchen, both she and her daughter investigated the noise. They saw Hallett standing with a “pained look on his face,” and Petrie-Blanchard standing behind him holding a pistol that appeared to have been fired and jammed, according to a witness statement.
“Oh shit, oh God, please, no,” Hallett said, according to the witness.
“You’re hurting my children, you bastard,” Petrie-Blanchard said, according to the witness’s daughter’s statement to police, before allegedly aiming the gun at the witness and her daughter.
As the witness and her daughter fled to the back of the house, they heard more shots fired into Hallett. When sheriff’s deputies investigating the gunshots arrived on the scene, they found Hallett “obviously deceased from numerous gunshot wounds,” and shell cases and live bullets scattered around the house.
Petrie-Blanchard was arrested a few hours after the shooting in Lowndes County, Georgia. She has currently only been charged as a fugitive but is expected to be charged with murder when she’s extradited to Florida, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.
Hallett’s murder upended the E-Clause internet community, which has more than 2,000 fans on Facebook. As Hallett’s Facebook fans expressed their shock, Pendergrass predictably blamed Hallett’s death on the deep-state in a Monday night YouTube livestream.
“You know how the deep state doesn’t like to be exposed,” he said.