A Waco, Texas, woman arrested last week and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and driving while intoxicated appears to have been motivated by the QAnon conspiracy theory President Donald Trump spoke positively of during a White House press conference Wednesday.
According to arrest affidavits first reported by the Waco Tribune-Herald, 30-year-old Cecilia Fulbright got behind the wheel of her car just after 9 a.m. Wednesday with the intent to “[save] a child” from “pedophiles.” Fulbright reportedly chased two strangers’ vehicles in an apparent attempt to hit them. According to a Waco police report, the first vehicle was a catering truck driven by a woman with her minor daughter in the passenger’s seat. They successfully evaded Fulbright before calling the police who, according to an incident report, were unable to locate Fulbright or her vehicle. Fulbright then targeted a second unrelated vehicle, a Dodge Caravan driven by a 19-year-old college student. Fulbright chased the student into a parking lot where she cornered and repeatedly rammed the Dodge Caravan.
Responding police officers reportedly found Fulbright “crying hysterically” and yelling that the driver of the vehicle she attacked “was a pedophile and had kidnapped a girl for human trafficking.” The arresting officer noted that Fulbright seemed “delusional”; her blood alcohol content was recorded as 0.21 percent—more than double the legal limit in Texas. Fulbright was charged with driving while intoxicated and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the latter of which is a second-degree felony in Texas and carries a term of 2 to 20 years. She was released on an $11,000 bond the day following her arrest.
News and police reports about the incident have not explored how Fulbright’s actions were influenced by her beliefsin the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon and its new soft front, #SaveTheChildren.
Right Wing Watch spoke by text message to Texas-based lawyer Mark Mueller, an acquaintance of Fulbright who originally befriended her in the Austin music and art scene.
On Aug. 6, Fulbright sent Mueller an “out of the blue” message containing a link to download the Trump 2020 campaign app. Mueller said he subsequently argued with Fulbright about Trump’s political competency and during the argument, she claimed that Trump was “literally taking down the cabal and the pedophile ring.”
“One by one,” Fulbright wrote to Mueller. “What President has EVEN TALKED ABOUT IT? It’s been going on for centuries.”
Many followers of QAnon and its associated myriad conspiracy theories baselessly believe that a cabal of politicians and celebrities including Hillary Clinton, Tom Hanks, and Oprah Winfrey are trafficking children, sexually assaulting them, and even consuming their blood in elaborate rituals. QAnon believers often posit that Trump and a team of high-level military operatives are engaged in a decades-long secret war with this villainous “cabal” and its associated “deep state.” Adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory imagine Trump as a savior figure and often equate criticism of the president with support for pedophilia and infanticide.
Sydney Molina, a former roommate of Fulbright, said that Fulbright “has a history of mental health issues” that have gone untreated. She added that Fulbright’s family was “super huge” into supporting the president and that Fulbright was “feeding off her own family’s crazy Trump love.” At some point in May, Molina claims to have introduced Fulbright to QAnon.
“I was the one who originally sent her stuff, and her boyfriend sent her stuff, kind of like laughing at how ridiculous it is,” Molina said.
But according to Molina, Fulbright began to sincerely follow the conspiracy theory.
“I found out later that she was staying up for days reading this stuff,” Molina told RWW. “She was getting more and more caught up in it and delusional.”
By the time of Fulbright’s arrest, Molina said Fulbright “had been on a three-day bender on this QAnon stuff, and the last thing she said to me was that the aliens gave her free power.” Fulbright claimed to Molina that her red 1984 Pontiac Fiero “was powered with free power from the aliens.”
RWW found signs that Fulbright was consuming QAnon content on her personal Instagram profile, where she follows accounts with names like “Red White & Q,” “qmap.pub,”“Q Force Digital Soldier,” and “Q The Storm.” Fulbright’s Instagram posts bore no signs of political affiliation until she captioned a July 31 Instagram post with “#trump2020.” Molina told RWW that Fulbright had deleted multiple past posts expressing support for QAnon.
From the day she first used a pro-Trump hashtag to the day of her arrest on Aug. 12, Fulbright repeatedly included hashtags supporting the president: “#maga2020,” “#flotus,” “#potus,”“#patriot,”and “#PrayForOurPresident.” Posts made between Aug. 10 and Aug. 11 show Fullbright wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap, complaining about social media censorship, and expressing her distrust of “#bigpharma.”
Mueller and Molina both said they were surprised to receive pro-QAnon messages from Fulbright, and they described her as a political “progressive” before she began following the far-right conspiracy theory. Fulbright’s attempts to sway those around her fits the pattern of “redpilling”—a term the QAnon community uses to describe the act of converting another person to their beliefs. Evangelizing QAnon and Trump is part and parcel of the movement’s core tenets.
Efforts to spread the conspiracy theory, however, can often isolate people from their friends and family, which can deepen one’s dive into QAnon. According to Molina, Fulbright turned on her when she refused to embrace QAnon.
“She started sending me these crazy messages attacking me, ‘I don’t know what you believe anymore. You’re the one that showed me this, and you’re turning your back on it, so you’re a part of it. You’re involved,’” Molina recounted. “I couldn’t say or do anything without her accusing me of being a satanist.”
Fulbright’s arrest did little to dissuade her from following QAnon, Molina and Mueller told RWW.
Fulbright contacted Molina after getting out of jail, seemingly unaware that she had done anything wrong. Molina said that Fulbright told her that one of the cops who arrested her had winked at her and told her she was in “good girl jail” because “they knew I was doing good.” Molina said she confronted her ex-roommate about the seriousness of her actions but that her concerns were “not registering at all.”
“I feel like I’m mourning my friend’s death,” Molina said. “I don’t know her. Like, I have no idea who this person is. … That’s pretty much how we all feel.”
Five days after the incident, Molina sent a text message to Fulbright asking her if she was still “following the white rabbit,” a common slogan for QAnon adherents that describes the “researching” of the conspiracy theory. Fulbright responded in the affirmative.
“Q is I… Q is you… Q is us… it’s literally data… collected by the white hats and then turned into videos and shit. But okay… yeah I follow Q,” Fulbright wrote back on Aug. 17.
Pro-Trump conspiracy theories like QAnon have been spreading online more quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to multiple recent studies, and followers of these conspiracy theories are actively targeting isolated individuals, whose numbers have swelled during this time of crisis. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue recently determined that “far-right groups and individuals are opportunistically using the ongoing pandemic to advance their movements and ideologies” and that “QAnon conspiracy theorists are capitalising on the pandemic” to “increase their reach online.”
Recently, QAnon followers have begun masking their belief system in less alienating and extreme language in an attempt to grow their movement. The issue of child trafficking — a very real problem — is often used to attract new adherents who are then slowly exposed to more incendiary QAnon rhetoric. According to the New York Times, data collected and analyzed by the Facebook-owned data platform CrowdTangle has shown a 500 percent increase in posts using the #SaveTheChildren hashtag since early July. Offline gatherings have also blurred the lines between anti-child trafficking activism and dangerous conspiracy theories.
Not simply a fringe conspiracy theory anymore, the QAnon movement has begun mobilizing politically. Multiple #SaveTheChildren rallies were held in American cities on July 30, which is the United Nations’ official “World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.” References to QAnon and its related conspiracy theories peppered signs at such rallies. An affiliated Los Angeles rally was organized and led by a man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the letter “Q.” Rallygoers held signs stating “Hillary Clinton is Satan,” “Q sent me,” and “Execute all pedophiles.” The crowd of approximately 200 people made their way down Hollywood Boulevard and gathered below the studio of talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. They then launched into a chant: “Jimmy Kimmel, we know you’re a pedophile!” This weekend, more than three dozen similar rallies are being planned in the United States, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
A minority of people getting “redpilled” by far-right conspiracy theories turn to violent action like Fulbright, but such instances have seemingly become more frequent in recent months. On April 29, a woman drove from Illinois to New York and was arrested on a pier with a dozen illegal knives in her trunk, explaining to the police that she had watched the QAnon video “Fall of the Cabal” and was inspired to take action. On June 11, a Boston man live-streamed a police chase with his wife and five children in the car, during which he was recorded saying “QAnon, help me. QAnon, help me.” The chase ended when the man rammed a police cruiser and crashed into a tree. There were no injuries. In early July, a woman attacked a product display in an Arizona Target store and livestreamed a later confrontation with the police, explaining to the arresting officer that she had been hired as “the QAnon spokesperson.”
Despite such incidences and the FBI labeling QAnon a domestic threat, the president has expressed support for QAnon followers. Trump praised QAnon congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, has retweeted QAnon-affiliated accounts, and most recently spoke positively of the QAnon conspiracy theory when asked about it by NBC reporter Shannon Pettypiece during an Aug. 19 White House press briefing.
“I have heard that it is gaining in popularity,” the president said. “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
After the reporter informed the president that “the crux of the theory is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” Trump responded by saying “I haven’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean you know, if I can help save the world from problems I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are really, we’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country.”