Cyndie Abcug had a gun, a QAnon conspiracy theorist for a bodyguard, and a conviction that “deep state” cabal agents had abducted her 7-year-old son.
Abcug, 50, also had a plan, according to a police report: an armed assault on a Colorado foster home to “free” her son. Abcug’s 15-year-old daughter had tipped off sheriff’s deputies to the alleged scheme, fearful that people would be hurt in what Abcug purportedly called the “raid.”
Soon, there would be an arrest warrant with Abcug’s name on it. The motley assortment of conspiracy theorists surrounding Abcug convinced her it was time to flee her suburban Denver home and go on the run. And there was only one man they thought could help them: QAnon YouTube star Field McConnell. And so, in September 2019, Abcug embarked on a months-long, peripatetic journey of more than 5,500 miles through the heart of the American conspiracy-theorist underground.
In Part One of this two-part series, The Daily Beast reported on the clandestine hub of QAnon believers orbiting around McConnell, a former airline pilot who’s reinvented himself as a QAnon YouTuber with an organization called the Children’s Crusade.
McConnell and his allies in “E-Clause,” a fringe law group that deploys bizarre legal tactics reminiscent of far-right “sovereign citizen” groups, have focused on Abcug and other mothers who have lost custody of their children. In rambling YouTube videos, McConnell and his associates turn these mothers and their children into cause célèbre victims of the supposed deep state—while collecting donations and views along the way.“It’s kind of this bastard mix of conspiracy theories, sovereign [citizens], and just straight-up scamming people,” said Meko Haze, an independent journalist who has tracked McConnell’s group.
Fans of McConnell and his associates have been charged with a series of bizarre crimes. In March, a Kentucky mother who subscribes to E-Clause’s strange legal theories about child custody laws allegedly abducted her twin daughters. An Illinois woman obsessed with theories about tortured “mole children” promoted by McConnell associate Timothy Charles Holmseth allegedly traveled to New York City with a car full of illegal knives, reportedly talking about a plan to kill former Vice President Joe Biden.
And in June, a Massachusetts man allegedly led police on a high-speed chase with his five children in a minivan, all the while begging QAnon for help and talking about a Holmseth video about Hillary Clinton eating babies.
Abcug’s long run from the law suggests something even more dangerous about QAnon. According to police and court records, as well as published YouTube interviews with people around McConnell and Abcug, QAnon has inspired the creation of an entire network devoted to abetting fugitive QAnon believers and hiding them from law enforcement.
It’s not clear why Abcug lost custody of her son in January 2019. After she did, though, she turned her lurid beliefs about child sex-trafficking in Colorado’s child welfare system into a budding career as a QAnon star. She became a hit on QAnon YouTube shows. Her story resonated with people who believe the pro-Trump mega-conspiracy’s claims that Trump is poised to execute his opponents and destroy a world-spanning cabal of cannibal-pedophiles.
Losing custody of her son had plunged Abcug head-first into the world of QAnon YouTube, where a web of QAnon personalities comfort mothers who have lost custody of their children. In this telling, children who are put in the court-ordered custody of relatives or foster parents have in fact been kidnapped so a cabal that controls the Democratic Party and Hollywood can sexually abuse them or drink their blood in Satanic rituals.
Abcug met with a group of QAnon believers in her state who promised they could help her regain custody of her son and gave her a stack of QAnon awareness bracelets. And then she caught the attention of McConnell and the Children’s Crusade.
McConnell, a retired Navy and commercial airline pilot who lived in Wisconsin until his arrest on stalking charges last November, is the high chief of a particular flavor of QAnon focused on demonizing child-welfare workers as agents of the cabal.
In an August 2019 episode of his YouTube show, McConnell warned Abcug not to get a lawyer to fight for custody of her son. Instead, McConnell said, he would just tell Donald and Melania Trump about her case.
“You’re not going to need an attorney,” McConnell said. “Attorneys are not the solution, they’re the problem. I will get all your information where it needs to go, which is Trump.”
In mid-September, McConnell’s group dispatched Ryan Wilson, a QAnon supporter from Arkansas, to protect Abcug from what she and her fans increasingly saw as a deep-state attempt to destroy her.
Abcug described Wilson to her daughter as a trained sniper, and Abcug’s daughter told police that Wilson was armed. Abcug began to only leave her home for meetings with other QAnon believers, according to the police report, and Wilson went with her everywhere. Abcug bought a gun and made plans to train at a shooting range.
“Abcug had gotten into some conspiracy theories and she was ‘spiraling down it,’” a police report about Abcug reads.
Wilson and Abcug allegedly began planning what they described as a “raid,” according to statements Abcug’s daughter later made to police, an alleged attack on the foster home where Abcug’s son was living. The QAnon believers claimed to have figured out the address of the foster home and described the people running the home as “evil Satan worshipers” and “pedophiles.”
Abcug’s YouTube appearances had won her another supporter: Joseph Ramos, a Colorado medical student who became a sort of assistant to Abcug after seeing her case on McConnell’s show. According to YouTube interviews with Ramos, who didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment, the Children’s Crusade convinced Abcug that her situation was more dangerous than it actually was.
“They believe or they make Cyndie believe that things are escalating in terms of consequences or in terms of danger,” Ramos said in a series of interviews with NorthWest Liberty News, a right-wing YouTube channel whose host has feuded with McConnell.
Worried that someone would be hurt in the raid, Abcug’s daughter alerted police. But before they could execute an arrest warrant on Abcug, she fled the state with Ramos and Wilson in tow on Sept. 27.
McConnell was surprised to discover Abcug, Ramos, and Wilson at his front door in Plum City, Wisconsin, according to Ramos.
While staying with McConnell, Ramos heard McConnell talking in what Ramos called “hokey codenames” to a network of associates around the country and in the United Kingdom. A silver-haired Wilson appeared on one of McConnell’s livestreams, where he told McConnell he was carrying a 9mm pistol.
While at a store in Plum City, Abcug and Ramos received a call from McConnell warning them that law enforcement officials had shown up at his house. Ramos speculated the call might have just been a scheme by McConnell to get them to leave his house, but they fled anyway.
After leaving Plum City, Abcug and Ramos moved in with a Children’s Crusade supporter in Osceola, Wisconsin, a small town on the Minnesota border. Then, as Children’s Crusade members continued to promise to win custody back for Abcug, she and Ramos traveled to stay with another McConnell ally in Northern Virginia.
While they were on the run, Ramos claims, the Children’s Crusade network wired him and Abcug at least $7,500. The pair was visited intermittently by various McConnell allies, according to Ramos. Sometimes they’d be met by Wilson or Juan O. Savin, a McConnell ally who some Children’s Crusade fans believe is secretly John F. Kennedy Jr. in disguise.
Along the way, Abcug and Ramos stayed in motel rooms they could pay for with cash and worried about being pulled over by a state trooper who could discover that Abcug was wanted on a warrant.
“The thing we were most afraid of was being pulled over or having to speak to any authority,” Ramos said.
As the weeks passed, Abcug became fed up with the Children’s Crusade’s lack of progress on her legal case, according to Ramos. On Oct. 23, having seen no action from the Children’s Crusade action, they drove to Ocala, Florida, where E-Clause chief Christopher Hallett works.
“I’m really intrigued by this Mr. Hallett and his company E-Clause and what they might do,” Abcug said, according to a Ramos recollection in an interview posted on YouTube.
Eventually, Abcug grew disillusioned with Hallett, too. So, in early November 2019 she and Ramos drove to the small town of Dumas, Arkansas, to see Children’s Crusade board member Sarah Dunklin. Dunklin is described in Arkansas family court records as Wilson’s girlfriend.
Unlike many of McConnell’s associates, Dunklin does have political connections. She’s the county GOP chair in Desha County, Arkansas, and was appointed to a USDA committee by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Dunklin’s father, farmer Bill Dunklin, narrowly lost a Republican state Senate primary in March.
“My father’s politically connected, I’m politically connected—no one’s going to come after you in Desha County,” Dunklin told Abcug, according to Ramos.
“Dunklin has filed bizarre, sovereign-citizen-style documents describing herself as a ‘Woman by the calling of Sarah.’”
Dunklin’s belief in QAnon has played into her own custody fight with her ex-husband over their daughter. Dunklin has filed bizarre, sovereign citizen-style documents describing herself as a “Woman by the calling of Sarah.” She also sent rambling emails to her ex-husband’s attorney and her former mother-in-law about QAnon, McConnell, and Holmseth, who is himself wanted on a warrant for allegedly violating a restraining order.
Dunklin has claimed that her daughter is surveilled at all times by a U.S. Space Force ship with an invisibility cloak and said the day she received her Children’s Crusade position was one of her proudest. In July, a disheveled Dunklin appeared at family court clutching a dirty piece of women’s clothing and frightening a court employee who worried Dunklin might attack her, according to a sworn affidavit from a court clerk.
“Are you aware that Q is a military intelligence information dissemination program aimed at defeating the Deep State of which President Trump continually speaks?” she wrote in an email to her ex-husband’s attorney. “Are you aware that President Trump retweeted Q followers 20 times in one day?”
The judge in Dunklin’s case called Dunklin’s emails “very disturbing” and “almost manic.” In July, Dunklin passed a court-ordered psychological evaluation—albeit one administered by another QAnon believer and Children’s Crusade supporter.
Dunklin’s ex-husband has claimed in court records that Dunklin is wanted on a Colorado warrant over her role in the Abcug case. But despite the allegations made against her in court and her own behavior, Dunklin has maintained both her USDA and county GOP positions.
Dunklin and Abcug didn’t respond to requests for comment. Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment, while Ramos declined to speak about his flight with Abcug.
The Children’s Crusade network revolves around a handful of towns, places like Plum City, or Osceola, or Ocala. According to police records, Abcug isn’t the only fugitive QAnon believer to receive support from the Children’s Crusade.
The group is also tied to the mysterious flight of Danielle Stella, a one-time Minnesota Republican congressional candidate and QAnon believer who ran for the seat held by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) until losing her primary on Tuesday. Stella was briefly a favored candidate among the fringe right to take Omar’s seat, until The Guardian reported in July 2019 that she was wanted on a warrant for allegedly shoplifting more than $2,300 worth of goods from Target.
Rather than face the warrant, Stella traveled to a motel in Osceola, Wisconsin, the same town to which Abcug and Ramos had fled after leaving McConnell’s house and the hometown of McConnell associate and chiropractor Michael Olson, who believes God ordered him to help McConnell. Stella’s stay in the hotel was paid for at least partially by Dunklin, the motel’s manager told police.
On the afternoon of Feb. 16, a tipster warned the Osceola Police Department that Stella was being held in the motel against her will. An officer arrived and, based on the tip, asked Stella about her ties to the Children’s Crusade.
“She said that she has heard of QAnon and that she was slightly involved with the Children’s Crusade movement until she determined that they do not help children,” the report reads.
“Sarah’s starting to get caught up in some of her own lies.”
A series of strange events ensued. Stella claimed to police that McConnell’s friend Olson had somehow accessed her room. Later that night, another officer was called to the motel over reports of people demanding information on Stella. A woman who identified herself as a friend of Dunklin arrived at the motel and demanded to know Stella’s room number. Later, the same woman called 911 and gave a different name. When a police officer asked why she was using an alias, she said she did it so “nothing would be traced back to her.”
The Osceola Police Department ultimately decided there was no proof Stella was being held against her will. Stella denied any association with McConnell or the Children’s Crusade. When contacted by The Daily Beast and asked whether she had traveled to Arkansas while a fugitive, Stella dodged the question and accused The Daily Beast of running a “psyop.”
“Do you not want to save our country from the current Bolshevik revolution taking place in our streets?” Stella texted.
Stella’s campaign manager, Alex Rountree, told The Daily Beast that he’s friends with Dunklin but said he didn’t know about McConnell or the Children’s Crusade.
“There were some shady things in Osceola,” Rountree said.
By mid-November, both Abcug and Ramos were sick of living in a partially burned-out motel by the Arkansas River and had become convinced the Children’s Crusade was stringing them along. Stories of federal agents discovering the homes they had stayed at earlier in their journey were trickling in, with their Virginia host claiming she had been visited by the FBI.
“We were living in a glass cage,” Ramos said in an interview with Northwest Liberty News.
Ramos claims the QAnon group provided Abcug with a presumably bogus “diplomatic immunity passport” for fleeing to the Dominican Republic and urged him to buy a fake passport at a flea market. Ramos’ medical school had filed a missing person report on him.
“Sarah’s starting to get caught up in some of her own lies,” Ramos said in a YouTube interview about Dunklin, the woman from whom he and Abcug had sought help in Arkansas.
Tired of Arkansas and receiving no actual legal help from the Children’s Crusade, the pair traveled to Kalispell, Montana, apparently to meet another contact. On Dec. 30, Kalispell police and FBI agents with guns drawn pulled Abcug and Ramos out of a car and arrested Abcug.
Abcug now faces a felony conspiracy to commit kidnapping charge. She attempted to file a petition for habeas corpus using some of the strange legal tactics popular with her associates, but a federal judge rejected the filing and called it “frivolous.” In early August, Abcug, in a mask and jail jumpsuit, appeared for a video-streamed court hearing, where her bail was set at $250,000.
“Dunklin has become the latest mother to have her child custody case completely derailed by her ties to QAnon.”
On Thursday, a Colorado judge ruled Abcug could stand trial on the conspiracy charge, based primarily on the evidence her daughter provided to police. At a December hearing, a judge will decide whether Abcug’s parental rights to her son should be terminated entirely.
Back in Arkansas, Dunklin has become the latest mother to have her child custody case completely derailed by her ties to QAnon and the Children’s Crusade.
But she has not given up on QAnon.
“Q represents a mainstream political and religious view, which we all have the freedom to choose in this country,” Dunklin wrote in a recent email to her ex-husband’s attorney.