It was the ideal hiding place for the mother of a young French girl and her daughter of 8 years, at the heart Operation Lima. This international child abduction plot was planned and funded in France by a group that has echoes of the far right extremist movement QAnon.
Lola Montemaggi lost custody of Mia to her mother, Lola Montemaggi, months before because the French child protective services believed that the young woman was unstable. Montemaggi discovered people online who believed that government workers were involved in child trafficking. She then turned to her network for the help she needed: Extract Mia.
The kidnapping of the girl by her grandmother on April 13th was believed to have been the first European conspiracy theorists to commit a crime related to the QAnon-style web false beliefs that led hundreds of people to storm the U.S. Capitol in January. It shows how what was once a U.S.-only movement has spread around the globe with Europol, Europe's umbrella policing agency adding QAnon in June to its list. The influence of QAnon has been traced to 85 countries and its beliefs have been modified to fit local contexts and languages, from Hindi to Hebrew.
Federal authorities claim that a father from California took his children to Mexico this summer and murdered them with the help of Illuminati conspiracy theories and "QAnon." Mia Bloom, who documented six kidnapping attempts in the United States by QAnon supporters, said that they believed children were being raped.
Bloom stated that "If someone is trying get back their child, and they claim they're with the cabal," Bloom said.
Part of QAnon’s loose collection beliefs is specific to the United States where the conspiracy theory originated. However, the conviction that there is an organized deep state conspiracy and government-sponsored child traffickers transcends borders. Anti-Vaccine rhetoric has been in use since the outbreak of the pandemic.
A former politician promised to help child trafficking victims and bring France back to its former glory days. Mia's abduction was inspired by him. The AP gathered the story from interviews with investigators, lawyers, and thousands of messages online. It shows how QAnon-style beliefs attract the vulnerable and often connect them in dangerous ways.
Two other men were also accused in the abduction, but they were also arrested last week for a separate far-right plot to attack vaccine centers. Montemaggi was released Monday, after spending nearly six months in prison. However, she remains under judicial surveillance until her trial.
Montemaggi, a 28-year old woman, has glossy chestnut hair and pale eyes. She also has a soft voice and a smile that curves upwards. The delicate skin of her wrist is adorned with two stars.
When she was 20 years old, she had Mia. However, she and her baby's father handed her over to their parents within days of her birth, according to their lawyer. He publicly described the baby's "social, professional, and financial precariousness; maybe too many immaturity." Montemaggi would occasionally drop by for a afternoon.
Mia was 5 years old when her mother took her to play. Guillaume Fort, a lawyer, stated that the two never returned to each other. Fort stated that Montemaggi did not inform Fort about the child for a year.
According to those who were with Montemaggi at protests, they had all been wearing the iconic fluorescent safety vests.
In November 2019, Montemaggi turned 27. She wasn't celebrating.
In a Nov. 12 Facebook post, she stated that "Today, my birthday, is disgusted." "Since my awaking, this famous awakening’ is hard. It's difficult to digest all that I have learned, all the politicians and TV hide from us, all the lies.
As France entered one the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world, Montemaggi's world became darker over the next year. She believed 5G towers were hiding population control device, Bill Gates was planning to spread the coronavirus and that governments around the world were trafficking children to either molest them, or extract an essence for eternal youthfulness. She took Mia out from school.
She concluded that the French government was unlegitimate, and that its laws did not apply to her in the month she turned 28. This belief is central to the so-called sovereign citizen movement. The sovereign citizen movement, like QAnon in France, was started in the U.S. by anti-government extremists. They believe they don't need to answer to the government, including the courts and law enforcement.
She encouraged others to join her, and she enlisted in a Telegram Group for sovereign citizens in Lorraine. Montemaggi was known for leaving short voice messages punctuated with a gentle smile, to wish people a happy new year, and to admonish those who were not sufficiently dedicated to the cause.
She told everyone around her that she was going to sell her apartment and her furniture, and "go underthe radar with her daughter." Montemaggi was losing weight, and her boyfriend was so violent with her, her family was afraid for Mia's safety.
Telegram acquaintances made casual mention of Jan. 11 court summons that would prohibit her from attending a meeting.
Judge disagreed. Montemaggi lost custody to her daughter to her mother.
She was able to see Mia once a month at her grandmother's house in Les Poulieres. It is about a 30 minute drive from Montemaggi’s apartment. She could not even speak to her over the phone.
Montemaggi didn't have a plan, but her beliefs were firm.
She said, in a Telegram message to a Telegram correspondent that "there are no laws above our heads except for universal law" "There are no laws from the government. That is what you need to know."
The US Capitol Insurrection is perhaps the most well-known example of violence linked to QAnon. However, it is not the only one. According to research by the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 27 people have been implicated in QAnon violence that was not related to the riot. Eight of these individuals also had ties to the sovereign citizens movement. Women accounted for 25% of the QAnon offenders, which is an unusually high number of alleged crimes.
A Kentucky mother, who adhered to QAnon and an American sovereign citizen movement, kidnapped her grandchildren from their grandmother in March 2020. A Florida woman lost custody of her children in November 2018 after she discovered that her legal advisor had been a member of a group of child-stealing Satanists.
QAnon had already established a strong foothold in Europe by the time that the mob stormed U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. It was initially on the margins protesting against the coronavirus lockdowns that were taking place in Britain and Germany. During the lockdowns, QAnon hosted a variety of conspiracies, and became darker, first in the United States, then across the Atlantic.
Around this time, the name of a disgraced French politician began to circulate in French QAnon chats via Telegram.
Remy DailletWiedemann was looking for new audiences to support his calls to overthrow France’s government, resist coronavirus restrictions, and protect children from government-linked pedophiles.
Andreas Onnerfors, who is a Swedish researcher studying conspiracy theories, said that Europe saw a tipping point when everything was wrapped up "under the banner "Save our Children".
From October to April, Daillet-Wiedemann was mentioned 271 times on a QAnon Telegram Group. Its chat history was then scrubbed. According to data shared by Jordan Wildon (extremism researcher) who archived the material prior to the chat history being erased, most of these mentions occurred during a debate among "digital soldiers" regarding whether Daillet-Wiedemann's movement to overthrow government.
His audience grew as more of Daillet-Wiedemann’s theories were aligned to the QAnon conspiracy. A group of his supporters were placed under surveillance by French antiterrorism officers in the spring. A friend of Montemaggi's on Telegram advised her to contact Daillet Widdemann regarding her custody problems.
Francois Perain, the prosecutor for the main city of Nancy, said that Daillet-Wiedemann had been in self-imposed exile in Malaysia since years. He had a small network of about 100 supporters. Perain stated that he instructed one of his supporters, to create a plan for Mia, and another French child, in a similar situation. He wired 3,000 euro for equipment and transportation.
Five men between the ages of 23 and 60 joined forces in a plot they called "Operation Lima", an anagram for Lola's and Mia’s names. They also gave themselves codes names: Jeannot and Pitchoun, Bruno, Bruno, the Crow, Bouga. Sixth man, a former lieutenant-general of the French military, created government paperwork for the mission to France's Vosges, near Switzerland.
Randall Schwerdorffer, Randall Schwerdorffer's lawyer, said that the main planner was known as Bouga. He was also an educator. The lawyer stated that he vetted Montemaggi using an online questionnaire, before organizing what he considered a "legitimate intervention". For privacy reasons, he declined to reveal the real name of his client.
The men concluded that Mia was psychologically in danger and created a script to extract her. Anti-terrorism investigators listening to Daillet-Wiedemann’s supporters overheard troubling conversations about "a camping trip” in the eastern borderlands, but were unable to make sense of it.
Anthracite grey Volkswagen van pulled into Les Poulieres on April 13. Two men carrying official-looking paperwork claimed that they were conducting a welfare check on Mia to the government. Their request to interview the girl was granted by her grandmother.
Her mistake was quickly discovered by a quick phone call to the child protective services. Mia was soon on her way to a nearby village, and she was gone.
Montemaggi, along with two other men, waited in a black Peugeot while the others waited. The men caravanned to the Swiss border. Montemaggi, along with two other men, entered the woods.
Montemaggi, the men, and Mia were carried by each other as they hiked east for several hours. Another member of the network met them at their destination in Switzerland in his Porsche Cayenne. They were not taken to a safehouse, but to a hotel.
The alert about the kidnapping flashed on French television screens as they settled in for the night. It was one of two dozen that France has allowed in the last 15 years. The images of Mia and her mother were transmitted to millions of screens simultaneously.
Perain stated that Daillet-Wiedemann, a Malaysian woman, stepped in to help. Perain sent out a request for shelter, but only one person responded -- and that was only for one night.
Antiterrorism investigators had already connected the van from Les Poulieres to the anti-government clique Daillet-Wiedemann supporters. They discovered that the coded language used for the "camping trip", referred to the Vosges abduction.
The majority of the men were taken into custody in France the day after. They did not hide their guilt or admit to their involvement in the kidnapping. One 58 year old man compared himself with Arsene Lupin the fictional French gentleman thief.
Perain stated that "they went from conspiratorial beliefs and very serious acts to which those who took action didn't necessarily realize they were wrong"
Although Mia and Montemaggi are still missing, investigators now know that they crossed the border and were heading east.
Montemaggi, Mia and their driver drove them to the closed music box factory on April 15. Although it was without electricity, running water, or beds, it had what the young mother who became a kidnapper required more: isolation.
Montemaggi was forced to stay at the factory for three nights, talking briefly with hikers and artists passing by during the day, and trying to keep Mia entertained. Witnesses claim that the couple baked a cake and played games in the clearing.
One woman told her she was going with the girl to Saint Petersburg in Russia. She didn't know how. Investigators had to spend that time in the factory before they could find Mia and her mom.
On Sunday morning, the police arrived. They first spotted Mia, and checked her photo against the kidnap notice. Her mother then walked out and the game was over.
Montemaggi was taken into police custody for kidnapping. Her lawyer and her family declined to comment. Mia was reunited to her grandmother.
Daillet-Wiedemann uploaded a video in which she praises the kidnappers.
They are heroes. They are reestablishing the law. He said it in a YouTube video that was viewed over 30,000 times.
He was denied the opportunity. Malaysia expelled it in June.
He is now in jail for conspiring to abduct a child. Dailet-Wiedemann, at his first court hearing, declared that he is a candidate for the presidency, claiming that the charges against are political.
After Mia returned to her grandmother's home in the village, her YouTube channel was soon taken offline.
He said, "Let them arrest my," at the time. "People will see I'm on front lines, and that's how they will lead my revolution."
After months of insisting from her lawyer and family that she was not a danger to her daughter, Montemaggi finally got her request to be released until trial.
She wrote to a Telegram friend, "I've started to put down in red and white my natural right," weeks before she was arrested. "With this text I'll ensure that my rights are respected."