Part One of Two Parts:
QAnon conspiracy theorist Alpalus Slyman pushed his Honda Odyssey past 110 mph while his five children screamed in the back of the minivan and police officers from two states pursued him down the highway.
“Donald Trump, I need a miracle or something,” Slyman, a 29-year-old Boston man, said during his June 11 chase across Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in remarks captured on a livestream.
“QAnon, help me. QAnon, help me!”
It’s not clear what set off the police chase, but Slyman appears to have been convinced by QAnon theories that the government was out to kidnap his children. Inspired by videos he had watched online, Slyman warned his children during the chase that the police were coming to abduct them—or maybe just shoot them in a staged killing. In return, they begged him to pull over. His daughter even tried to grab the wheel of the minivan and drive it off the road after he accused her and his wife, who had dived out of the vehicle at the start of the chase, of being agents of the nefarious cabal that QAnon believers say controls the world.
“They want to make us crazy,” Slyman said, “but I’m not crazy. My wife and my daughter were a part of it.”
Desperate, Slyman’s daughter told her father she was working for the mythical cabal in a failed attempt to scare him into stopping the minivan. Then Slyman told his children, who ranged from 8 months to 13 years old, about the QAnon belief that a video of Hillary Clinton and aide Huma Abedin eating childrens’ brains was discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
Days earlier, Slyman had watched a video pushing exactly that claim on a YouTube channel operated by Timothy Charles Holmseth, a QAnon promoter who claims to work for a secretive government agency called the Pentagon Pedophile Task Force.
There is no Pentagon Pedophile Task Force. But there in the middle of a high-speed chase, Slyman spouted that baseless claim to his children anyway.
“Hillary’s demonic,” Slyman said. “I know about Hillary cutting open a 10-year-old. And Huma Abedin.”
New Hampshire police blew out Slyman’s tires, but he kept going. The chase only ended when Slyman crashed into a police cruiser, then drove his minivan into a tree. Slyman was arrested, and now faces three felony counts in New Hampshire. His five children were unharmed.
At first glance, Slyman appears to be just the latest loony loner allegedly driven to crime by QAnon—a list that already includes an armed man who blocked a bridge near the Hoover Dam with an armored truck in a terrorist incident and two alleged murderers.
But the video that Slyman viewed before his police chase came from a more specific, organized campaign.
In short, QAnon has upped its game. No longer content to promulgate nutjob conspiracy theories about famous politicians and government officials who kill and eat children, a group of QAnon believers are now actively encouraging parents estranged from their children to steal those children back from child protective services. And the campaign is alarmingly successful.
Police and court records have lately revealed a previously unreported clandestine network comprising QAnon conspiracy theorists, fringe legal figures who draw on far-right sovereign citizen dogma and tactics, and even Republican politicians and officials. This network has allegedly encouraged and inspired other QAnon believers, especially parents, to commit crimes, including kidnapping. While QAnon violence and other criminal acts have previously appeared to be the work of random “lone wolf” actors, this network suggests that QAnon law-breaking has now moved into a new, more sophisticated phase.
Heretofore QAnon believers have positioned themselves as the defenders of children everywhere against a phantom cabal. But this QAnon organization—which aligns itself with a shadowy group called the Children’s Crusade and a bizarre legal services company called E-Clause—increasingly places children themselves at risk, often by targeting parents who have lost custody of their children or fear they will.
QAnon launched in 2017 with a series of anonymous message board clues from an anonymous figure called “Q,” who claimed that Donald Trump is secretly at war with a global cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles and cannibals. Since then, QAnon has swelled in size and influence. The movement once considered too ridiculous even for most 4Chan users to stomach has become an increasingly large faction within the Republican Party. Donald Trump frequently retweets QAnon believers and has even invited some to the White House.
QAnon believers have won several Republican congressional nominations in this election cycle, most notably Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is almost certain to win a House seat in a conservative Georgia district.
But even as it edges into the mainstream, QAnon has allegedly inspired a series of violent crimes, including the murder of a reputed Mafia boss. The FBI calls QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism.
It is hard to say what precisely QAnon believes or stands for. In its nearly three years of existence, it has become a noisy clubhouse willing to entertain every harebrained alt-right conspiracy theory imaginable: Lizard people are running the world; John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to become Q.
But one of QAnon’s most explosive, and successful, allegations has been that Hollywood celebrities and top Democrats sexually abuse and torture children, often to drain “adrenochrome,” a substance QAnon believers claim keeps the powerful alive. An echo of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which inspired a shooting and an attempted arson attack at a Washington pizzeria, the claim has gotten considerable traction. Earlier this month, hundreds of people walked in a Los Angeles rally to “Save The Children,” a usefully vague slogan that QAnon believers have adopted as a more respectable way to inject their ideas about global pedophile cults into the mainstream.
No one has seized on these vaporous conspiracy theories about government and elite sex trafficking more than the set of fringe activists and legal cranks orbiting around Timothy Charles Holmseth, the 52-year-old Minnesota YouTube personality Alpalus Slyman watched just days before he piled his family into the minivan.
Holmseth is the self-proclaimed face of the “Pentagon Pedophile Task Force,” a government group, according to Holmseth, that is sanctioned by the president. “Timothy Holmseth is the only reporter authorized to report original content for the PPTF,” he writes on his website. “There is ONE MAN between Timothy Holmseth and President Trump.”
A Defense Department spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast that there is no such thing as a “Pentagon Pedophile Task Force.” Still, Holmseth’s profile grew this spring, when he became the leading “source” for viral claims that tens of thousands of abused “mole children” had been rescued from underground prisons underneath New York City. Even as the claim circulated on social media, none of the supposed “mole children” or their parents ever appeared.
“There’s not one of them out there who said, ‘Yeah, we’re glad our child was rescued from this giant underground war,’” said Craig Sawyer, a former Navy SEAL and anti-sex-trafficking activist who has also been targeted by Holmseth with baseless sex trafficking allegations.
Holmseth, who drives a car with “Q” written on the windows, has kept up his video and writing output even though he’s currently a fugitive himself, wanted on an arrest warrant for violating a restraining order. He continues to make his slanderous video uploads, often shot within his car—critics have accused him of relying on free WiFi networks in fast food restaurant parking lots as he stays off law enforcement’s radar.
“He’s on a WiFi at McDonald’s telling people to donate to the Pentagon Pedophile Task Force,” said Meko Haze, an independent journalist who has tracked Holmseth’s activities.
While on the run, Holmseth recorded a video urging his fans to shoot child protective services staffers who come to their homes.
“If somebody comes for your children, you’ve got a Second Amendment—use it,” Holmseth said in a video.
One of Holmseth’s principal allies is Field McConnell, a 70-year-old former Navy pilot who has become a leading promoter of the QAnon idea that CPS agents are stealing children.
McConnell, a Wisconsin man prone to wearing baseball caps and loudly munching on snacks during his livestreams, hardly looks like the face of a far-right conspiracy theory movement. But he sits at the center of a web of QAnon believers in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, several of whom have been charged with crimes.
After leaving the Navy, McConnell worked as a commercial airline pilot. He retired from Northwest Airlines after refusing to take a mandatory neurological exam to keep his job, while alleging that Boeing had rigged planes to explode in 9/11-style attacks, according to court records. Thanks to that claim, which McConnell pressed in a series of lawsuits, he soon built a following on the far-right “patriot” circuit as a 9/11 conspiracy theorist under the handle “Abel Danger”—a reference to the “Able Danger” intelligence community effort to uncover al Qaeda cells before the 9/11 attacks.
As QAnon fueled new phantom allegations of child sexual abuse and trafficking, however, McConnell pivoted to promoting QAnon and panic about government sex trafficking networks.
“If he was ever a seasoned professional, he’s losing his damn mind now,” said Sawyer.
In lengthy, rambling videos, filmed in front of a backdrop of Bible verses, McConnell and his associates began to lay out QAnon theories, proffering lunatic legal schemes to mothers who had lost custody of their children and threatening specific individuals with violence. The videos soon became a hit with fringe conspiracy theorists.
McConnell and his allies also urged viewers to donate to their various causes and legal fights. And he talked about his dream of a McConnell Veterans Ranch, a bizarre plan where military veterans and rescued victims of child sex abuse would live at a Texas ranch under McConnell’s guidance.
“It’s just insane how quick they can get stuff out there,” said the journalist Meko Haze. “It’s not like a couple hundred people are sharing this. They post a video, and there’s half a million views under 12 hours.”
The pivotal drama for McConnell’s show centers on his hunt for deep-state pedophiles. In 2019, McConnell and his allies organized themselves in a conference in Wales under the banner of the “Children’s Crusade,” a group that’s devoted to fighting these imagined government pedophile networks.
Holmseth and his supposed access to the White House has proved to be the perfect tool for McConnell. In an August 2019 broadcast, McConnell urged a woman who was convinced her son had been abducted by Child Protective Services not to get a lawyer. Instead, McConnell said, he would just have Holmseth tell Trump about her problem.
“If it has enough sizzle, and yours certainly does, in my estimation — it’ll get to Trump and Melania,” McConnell said.
The conspiracy theories postulating that Child Protective Services are abducting children for sex-crime networks raises the risks for agency workers, the families, and the children involved in the cases.
“Something like this is extraordinarily dangerous,” said Christine James-Brown, the president of the Child Welfare League of America.
For mothers who have lost custody of their children, McConnell and Holmseth lay out a world where children in the custody of a relative or foster parent are instead headed toward an abuse-and-torture network run by global elites. But when it comes to the solution to those mothers’ problems, two other McConnell associates—fringe legal theorists Chris Hallett and Kirk Pendergrass—step in.
Hallett and Pendergrass run E-Clause, a fringe Florida-based legal outfit that draws on unorthodox and legally ineffectual tactics that have echoes of the anti-government sovereign citizen movement. Hallett has claimed Trump inspired him to create E-Clause.
Neither Hallett, who lives in Florida, nor Pendergrass, who lives in Idaho, are registered attorneys in their states, nor do they appear to have legal degrees. But that hasn’t stopped them from soliciting donations to fund E-Clause, a for-profit company.
“I live predominantly off of donations,” Pendergrass said in a November livestream.
McConnell, Holmseth, Hallett, and Pendergrass didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In an echo of the oddball legal tactics that anti-government sovereign citizens use to attempt to wriggle out of their legal issues, E-Clause filings are filled with quotations, strange phrasing, and even mathematical formulas like “[Negative Nexus] [(-1 x -1) = 1].” Those unorthodox tactics appear to have universally failed to sway judges at either the federal or state level.
In January, ruling on a lawsuit Hallett filed in his own child custody case, a baffled federal judge called Hallett’s filings “rambling” and “patently frivolous,” and claimed that Hallett believed Trump wanted him to create “a private, legal-system alternative.”
“The Court declines to entertain Plaintiff’s fantasy that he is acting at the behest of the President,” the opinion reads.
But E-Clause’s bizarre legal theories don’t stay in the courtroom.
In March, Kentucky mother and E-Clause enthusiast Neely Blanchard allegedly kidnapped her twin daughters, who were in the court-ordered custody of Blanchard’s mother. Before the alleged abduction, Blanchard was an outspoken E-Clause fan, posting pictures on Facebook of her and her twins wearing custom E-Clause shirts.
Days before she vanished with her twins, she delivered letters filled with E-Clause legal theories to Logan County, Kentucky, Sheriff Stephen Stratton and other county officials, declaring they had “no legal jurisdiction against me.” The Amber Alert issued during her twins’ alleged abduction noted that Blanchard’s car had the vanity license plate “ECLAUSE.”
Blanchard was arrested in another county a few days later, allegedly hiding out with what a sheriff described to The Daily Beast as a group of sovereign citizens. Her twins were recovered unharmed.
“She’s actually a member of the E-Clause thing in Florida,” Stratton told The Daily Beast, noting that Blanchard networked with other QAnon believers on Facebook.
Blanchard now faces two kidnapping charges. A motion for habeas corpus filed on her behalf by an E-Clause ally was quickly thrown out of court.
But the utter failure of E-Clause and the Children’s Crusade to rescue Blanchard from her legal charges hasn’t soured her on QAnon. She recently posted a video on Facebook showing herself taking the QAnon oath.
In April, Jessica Prim, an Illinois exotic dancer and QAnon believer, was arrested in New York City with more than a dozen illegal knives on a road trip for what she describes as a plan to “take out” former Vice President Joe Biden.
Before her arrest, Prim had posted positively on Facebook about Holmseth’s “mole children” claim. She claimed to be looking for the USNS Comfort, the Navy hospital ship docked in New York that Holmseth’s supporters have claimed is involved in the fictitious mole children rescue.
After she was released from custody in New York, Prim reappeared at the White House, filming herself as she demanded to speak to someone there about child protective services taking her child.
Both Holmseth and McConnell face serious legal issues of their own over their harassment and threats towards Kim Picazio, a Florida attorney who once represented a party in a missing-child case that Holmseth claims to have investigated. For years, Holmseth leveled threats and baseless allegations of sex-trafficking against Picazio, and after Holmseth incurred criminal charges related to the harassment, McConnell took up the cause. Picazio obtained restraining orders against both men, which they continued to flout.
“You’re on my radar and you’re gonna die,” McConnell said in an October broadcast of his YouTube show, warning Picazio that her “days are numbered.”
McConnell was arrested in November for violating the restraining order, and now faces three counts of aggravated stalking, written threats to kill or do bodily injury, and written threats to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism. Holmseth remains a fugitive on his own harassment charges.
McConnell’s arrest sent shockwaves through the Children’s Crusade, with a GoFundMe page for McConnell’s legal defense raising more than $44,000. But the laughable legal tactics of the E-Clause crew—and the fact that they aren’t actually lawyers—failed to spring him from a jail in Wisconsin, or the Florida jail that he was ultimately extradited to.
While McConnell was in jail, a Children’s Crusade associate named Trace Remington filmed a welcome sign for the town where the jail is located—Ellsworth, Wisconsin, the “cheese curd capital” of the state—ominously noting nearby signs for a local cheese curd festival and claiming that they were satanic symbols.
“Ellsworth Cheese curd festival,” Remington said. “What’s in the codeword ‘cheese,’ people? If you know anything about anything, ‘cheese’ is little girls in the world of pedophilia.”
McConnell was eventually released on bond after hiring a real lawyer, but his arrest has scrambled the operations of his organization, with Pendergrass taking over McConnell’s YouTube channel after a judge banned McConnell in March from using social media.
But while he may have lost his online megaphone, McConnell has not been idle. Indeed, the tale of alleged QAnon kidnapper Cyndie Abcug—revealed in part two of this two-part series—suggests that McConnell’s network, which once merely incited QAnon crimes, has started actively harboring fugitive QAnon believers in an interstate network.