When three men turned up in the village of Poulières near France’s border with Switzerland last Tuesday, there was no reason to doubt they were who they said they were: child welfare officials.
Mia, the 8-year-old girl they were there to see, had been taken from her mother in January and placed in the care of her maternal grandmother, who assumed the men who knocked on her door were simply checking up on the child’s well-being. They even produced convincing identity documents to prove who they were.
But they weren’t child welfare officials. They were kidnappers who were part of an online group of QAnon survivalists and were planning other child abductions and discussing blowing up vaccination clinics.
The men have told prosecutors that they were contacted online by the child’s mother, Lola Montemaggi, who solicited them to abduct Mia. The plot, described by French prosecutors as a “military operation” run by “extremely well-prepared” kidnappers, worked as planned, and 20 minutes after kidnapping Mia, the men handed the child over to Montemaggi, who proceeded to walk across the border into Switzerland with her daughter.
The abduction triggered a nationwide alert similar to an Amber alert in the U.S.
And while the men involved in the kidnapping were quickly arrested, Mia was not found until Sunday, when she was discovered with her mother, who was squatting inside an abandoned factory in the Swiss municipality of Sainte-Croix.
Montemaggi lost custody of Mia in January after telling a judge she wanted to “live on the margins of society.” The judge then assigned custody to the girl’s maternal grandmother, and ruled visits between Montemaggi and her daughter could only be made twice a month and in the grandmother’s presence.
Prosecutors said that Montemaggi began plotting to kidnap her child soon after, and it didn’t take much effort to find the men who carried out the act last week.
Like Montemaggi, the men espoused anti-establishment ideas online, including anti-mask, anti-vaxx and anti-5G opinions. But they also shared QAnon-linked conspiracy theories about the existence of a group of elites around the world who are running a child sex trafficking network.
French television network BFMTV reported that the men were considering kidnapping other children who were in the care of social services because, according to them, these institutions posed a threat to the children’s safety.
Searches of the men’s homes found not only a script of what they were going to say to Mia’s grandmother, but also materials that could be used to make explosives.
BFMTV also reported that French investigators have uncovered online exchanges between the men in which they discussed detonating explosives at vaccination centers. A separate anti-terrorism investigation has been opened looking into the plot.
QAnon is seen as a primarily U.S. phenomenon, and there have been at least three QAnon-linked kidnapping attempts in the U.S. in recent years. But the movement has found followers in dozens of countries around the world, including major following in Germany, the U.K., Japan, and Italy.
QAnon activity has also been on the rise in France in recent months, and last week’s kidnapping highlights that the conspiracy movement is now a global threat, despite being based almost entirely on U.S. politics.
“This incident highlights the transnational violent extremist dimension of the QAnon movement,” Marc Andre Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University who studies QAnon and similar movements, tweeted. “The violent extremism threat is not limited to the U.S. but anywhere there are QAnon adherents.”