Paris, Oct. 5 (US): An old music box factory has been abandoned for years on the outskirts of the Swiss mountain town, with paint curling on the edges of its taupe and yellow walls.
The perfect hiding place for a young French mother and her 8-year-old daughter was at the center of Operation Lima, an international child abduction plot planned and financed by a French group echoing the far-right movement QAnon, AP. reports.
Lola Montemaggi lost custody of her daughter Mia to her mother months ago because the French government’s child protection services feared the young woman was unstable. Montemaggi found people online who share QAnon’s belief that government employees themselves run a child trafficking ring. Then she turns to her network to do what she wants to do: extract Mia.
The girl’s April 13 abduction from her grandmother’s home marked the first time that conspiracy theorists in Europe had committed a crime linked to the QAnon-style network of misbeliefs that prompted hundreds to storm the US Capitol on January 3. 6. It shows how a US crackdown has spread around the world, with Europol, the pan-European police agency, adding QAnon to its list of threats in June. QAnon’s influence has now been traced in 85 countries, and his beliefs have been adapted to local contexts and languages from Hindi to Hebrew.
This summer, federal authorities said, a California father took his two children to Mexico and killed them under the influence of “QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories.” QAnon supporters have also been linked to at least six kidnapping attempts in the United States, convinced that children are falling victim to child sexual abuse, according to Mia Bloom, who documented the kidnappings for her book on QAnon published this summer.
“If someone tries to get their child back and says they are with this gang, there is now a support network that didn’t exist before QAnon,” Bloom said.
Part of QAnon’s loose body of beliefs is specific to the United States, where the conspiracy theory began. But the conviction that there is a deep state conspiracy and that groups of government-sponsored child smugglers are crossing the border, as has anti-vaccine rhetoric since the beginning of the pandemic.
Mia’s kidnapping was inspired by a former politician who promised to rescue child trafficking victims and restore France to its former greatness. The Associated Press has put the story together from interviews with investigators and lawyers, as well as thousands of online messages, that show how QAnon-style beliefs attract and connect vulnerable people in often dangerous ways.
Two men were charged in the kidnapping last week in an unrelated far-right plot against vaccine centers. Montemagi was released on Monday after nearly six months in prison, but she remains under judicial supervision until her trial.
Montemaggi is a 28-year-old woman with shiny chestnut hair, pale eyes, a hoarse voice and a smile arched edges upwards. Two stars tattooed on the fragile skin of her wrist.
Mia gave birth when she was 20, but she and the baby’s father handed her over to his parents days after the birth, according to their lawyer, who publicly described her as “social, professional and financial.”
fragility. Perhaps not much immaturity.” Montemaggi would turn up for afternoons from time to time.
One day, when Mia was five years old, her mother took her to play. Attorney Guillaume Fort said the two never returned. Fort said it was a year before Montemaggi sent word about the baby.
By then, Montimag had joined the anti-government yellow vest movement in France in 2018, according to people who had spent time with her at the protests, all wearing the group’s infamous fluorescent safety vests.
In November 2019, Montemagi turned 27 years old. You weren’t celebrating.
“Today, on my birthday, I am disgusted,” she wrote in a Facebook post on November 12, 2019. Politicians are hiding all these lies from us, it’s not easy.”
Over the next year, as France entered one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world, the world of Montemagne got progressively darker. She believed that 5G towers were hiding population control devices, Bill Gates was plotting to spread the Corona virus, and governments everywhere were trading children either to molest them or to extract the essence of eternal youth. Mia pulled out of school.
In the month of her 28th birthday, she concluded that the French government is illegitimate and that its laws no longer apply to it, basic beliefs of what is known as the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Like QAnon, it started the Sovereign Citizens Movement in the United States, and its adherents are anti-government extremists who believe they do not have to be accountable to government authorities, including courts and law enforcement.
She urged others to join her and register in the Telegram group for sovereign citizens of the Lorraine region. Montemaggi tended to leave short audio messages interspersed with a gentle laugh, or to try to organize meetings, to wish people a Happy New Year, or to reprimand those whom he thought were insufficiently devoted to the cause.
She told those around her that she would empty her apartment, sell her furniture, and “go under the radar with her daughter.” Montemagi had been losing weight for months and had been arguing so violently with her boyfriend that her family feared Mia was in danger.
To her new acquaintance on Telegram, she casually mentioned a court subpoena on January 11 that would prevent her from joining a proposed meeting, a “personal thing”. She refused a judge’s authority to interfere with her life or the life of her child.
The judge thought otherwise. Montemaggi lost custody of her daughter to her mother.
She could see Mia twice a month, not alone, at her grandmother’s house in Les Poulières, a village about a 30-minute drive from Montemaggi’s apartment. She could not speak to her on the phone.
Montemaggi had no plan, but her beliefs were hardening.
“There are no laws above us except for universal law,” she said in a message over the winter to a Telegram reporter. There are no government laws. You have to understand that.”