A QAnon conspiracy theorist, fascinated with the crackpot legal theories of the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, allegedly kidnapped her two daughters last week. It is just the latest example of the growing and increasingly dangerous overlap between right-wing conspiracy theories and real-life violent crime.
QAnon believers have been charged in the past with two murders, a terrorist incident near the Hoover Dam, and an incidence of church vandalism, all of which appear to have been motivated by their bizarre beliefs.
Kentucky resident Neely Blanchard, whose two daughters are legally in their grandmother’s sole custody, allegedly took the children from their grandmother’s house in Logan County, Ky., on March 20, according to police. An amber alert sent out after the alleged abduction warned that Blanchard was armed with a handgun.
Blanchard was eventually arrested early Thursday morning, and her two daughters were recovered unharmed. Blanchard now faces two kidnapping charges and two charges of custodial interference, according to Logan County Sheriff Stephen Stratton, who said that law enforcement officials traced her cellphone location to the home of a group of anti-government extremists known as sovereign citizens.
Sovereign citizens believe in an elaborate set of legal theories that holds that American citizens can unilaterally use certain code phrases to proclaim that the United States government has no jurisdiction over them — and thus get out of hot water with the justice system. While these ideas have no actual force in law, a series of Facebook groups and YouTube personalities have promoted sovereign citizen theories to parents desperate to regain custody of their children, drawing them into the fringe movement. The FBI considers sovereign citizens a potential source of domestic terrorism. A 2018 Southern Poverty Law Center report found that sovereign citizens had killed six law enforcement officials since 2005.
Blanchard, for example, is the moderator of a Facebook group called “E-Clause”—a hotbed for sovereign citizen legal discussion—and drives a car with an “ECLAUSE” license plate. While Blanchard avoided police, other sovereign citizen E-Clause supporters posted encouragingly on her Facebook page. E-Clause founder Kirk Pendergrass did not respond to a request for comment.
While on the run with her children, Blanchard posted a “non-consent” statement on Facebook that appeared to be a reference to sovereign citizen ideas.
“I do not consent, I do not contract, I do not acquiesce nor trade, or allow access or enquiry to my nor my children’s Cestui que vie trust,” Blanchard’s strange statement read. “All deemed authorities are now notified & therefore have no legal jurisdiction against me, I am now not ‘deemed dead lost at sea.’”
The letter appears to be a sovereign citizen tactic meant to help Blanchard regain custody of her children and avoid kidnapping charges. Copies of the letter were also delivered to baffled legal officials around Logan County, according to Stratton.
“She is claiming that she’s a sovereign citizen, and she had actually sent letters to myself and the county attorney here stating those things,” Stratton told The Daily Beast.
According to her Facebook posts, Blanchard is also an ardent promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a pro-Trump fringe movement that believes Trump is engaged in a shadowy war with a global cabal of pedophiles in the Democratic Party who eat children. Blanchard’s Facebook account includes a number of QAnon-related memes, as well as pictures of her at Trump rallies wearing QAnon shirts referencing the QAnon idea that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump defeat the deep state.
QAnon is popular on the sovereign citizen child custody groups, in part because its believers claim that the government and child protective agencies are abusing the children they take from their parents’ custody—an idea referenced in Blanchard’s sovereign citizen letter.
This isn’t the first time a child custody dispute has had the potential to turn violent over QAnon. In January, the FBI arrested QAnon believer Cynthia Abcug in Montana for allegedly plotting to kidnap her son, who was not in her custody, with the help of another armed QAnon supporter. Abcug allegedly discussed people “dying” in a “raid” on the home where her son lived. Abcug had been on the run before her arrest, and became a cause célèbre on the same sort of sovereign citizen child custody Facebook groups that Blanchard belonged to.
The hunt for Blanchard and her children was complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Stratton. When officers arrived at the sovereign citizen home where Blanchard was allegedly hiding out with her daughters, several people in the house claimed to have fevers, in an apparent attempt to scare off law enforcement.
“From what we’ve been reading, they’ve been using the coronavirus epidemic as a government conspiracy theory type thing,” Stratton said.
Blanchard had previously tried to take another one of her children out of custody in 2013, after allegedly paying a friend 20 Xanax tablets to make a false abuse report.
After Blanchard’s arrest in Kentucky, a woman claiming to be one of her friends posted on her Facebook account describing the arrest. The woman complained that the sheriff’s deputies ignored Blanchard’s sovereign citizen legal document and arrested her anyway—a predictable outcome, given that sovereign citizen arguments have no relation to actual laws.
“We gave them the non-consent paper, showed it to them, it didn’t matter,” the woman said.