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A California man admitted to killing his two young children out of fear they’d grow up to become snake-like “monsters” in what prosecutors say was a double murder inspired by the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Matthew Taylor Coleman, a 40-year-old surf instructor from Santa Barbara, has been charged with the foreign murder of two U.S. nationals in the case, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, which filed the charges on Wednesday. He also faces aggravated murder charges in Mexico.
Coleman took his two-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter to Mexico and killed them with a “spear-fishing gun,” according to an affidavit filed by the FBI in the case. He was later stopped at the border on his way back into the U.S., where he allegedly told an FBI agent there that he had been “enlightened” by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracies.
Prosecutors say he confessed to killing the children because he thought they had inherited “serpent DNA” from his wife, whom he had left behind in California. He said he was afraid they’d turn into “monsters” so he killed them, according to the court documents.
The harrowing case began on Saturday, when Coleman and his wife were packing up the family van for a camping trip with their young children.
Coleman’s wife told investigators that he suddenly put the kids in the van and drove off without telling her where he was going. She was identified in court documents by her initials A.C.
A.C. contacted Santa Barbara police to say that she was concerned about her family because her husband wasn’t responding to text messages, her kids didn’t have their car seats, and she had no idea where they were going. She added that she and her husband had not had any arguments before his departure, and that she didn’t think they were in danger.
Authorities treated the case as a parental kidnapping and used Apple’s Find My iPhone feature to trace Coleman to Rosarito, Mexico, where he checked into a hotel later on Saturday, according to court documents.
Video footage showed Coleman leaving the hotel with the children before dawn on Monday and then returning alone later that morning, Mexican authorities said.
Coleman allegedly took the children out and shot them with a spear-fishing gun, according to the criminal complaint. A farm worker later found their bodies in a ditch near Rosarito.
Mexican authorities say the children had each been stabbed at least a dozen times, and that a blood-stained wooden stake was also found at the scene. The spear-fishing gun was also found nearby.
The FBI intercepted Coleman at a border checkpoint near San Ysidro, where he allegedly confessed to the killings in an interview.
“He explained that he was enlightened by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories and was receiving visions and signs revealing that his wife, A.C., possessed serpent DNA and had passed it on to his children,” the FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
She added that Coleman admitted to cutting his hand with the spear that he used to kill his children.
“Coleman stated that he knew it was wrong, but it was the only course of action that would save the world,” the agent wrote.
Coleman’s serpent DNA claim appears to be a reference to so-called “lizard people,” a baseless decades-old conspiracy theory about reptilian aliens who have supposedly infiltrated Earth and taken control of various governments.
The lizard people theory has since been folded into the newer, wide-ranging fantasy universe of QAnon, a mega-conspiracy theory rooted in the false belief that cannibal pedophiles secretly run Hollywood and the U.S. government. The pseudo-religious movement revolves around the notion that former U.S. president Donald Trump is a warrior for God who was secretly working to root out these cannibal pedophiles within the government. It has since ballooned to encompass a wide range of smaller conspiracy theories about shadowy cabals, vaccines and even lizard people.
A Seattle man was accused of killing his brother with a sword in 2019, in another act of violence linked to the lizard people conspiracy.
“God told me he was a lizard,” the man, Buckey Wolfe, allegedly told 911 dispatchers at the time. The Daily Beast later uncovered a trove of posts about QAnon and the Proud Boys on his social media accounts.
QAnon has inspired several acts of violence and terrorism in recent years, including the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that sought to overturn a democratic election result. Among those killed that day was Ashli Babbitt, a former U.S. Air Force vet who appeared to have been radicalized by QAnon beliefs on social media. Babbitt was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer while trying to breach an area where lawmakers were taking shelter from the mob.
The conspiracy theory has also spread to other countries, including Canada. Canadian Rangers reservist Corey Hurren, who pleaded guilty to ramming his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall last year, had a history of posting about QAnon online, Vice News reports.
Elsewhere, a U.K. man reportedly attacked his pregnant wife in the bathtub because of the QAnon-inspired fear that the U.S. and Chinese governments were coming for him.
The FBI first identified QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat in 2019, and it warned earlier this summer that believers might carry out more acts of real-world violence after their long-promised reckoning, called The Storm, failed to materialize.
Mainstream social media companies have tried to boot the movement off their platforms, but the QAnon community has continued to thrive through coded language and chat groups on the dark web.
Coleman ran a surfing school, called Lovewater, in Santa Barbara, officials said.
Coleman, his wife and his children are featured prominently in photos on the site and on its various social media pages. His personal and professional social media accounts did not feature any posts about QAnon.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. It’s also not publicly known if Coleman has a history of mental illness.
— With files from The Associated Press