‘You’re Trying to Save the Family’: Cult Expert on New Details From QAnon Murder Case

Popular on Rolling Stone

A recently unsealed FBI search warrant reveals more about the final days and hours before Santa Barbara surf instructor Matthew Taylor Coleman allegedly murdered his two young children. 

Last September, a federal grand jury in San Diego indicted Coleman, 40, on two counts of murder, for the death his two-year-old son Kaleo and his 10-month-old daughter Roxy. Prosecutors claim Coleman abducted his children on Aug. 7 from the family’s home in Santa Barbara and drove them across the Mexican border, where he allegedly murdered them and left their bodies behind. Police said he confessed to using a spear-fishing gun to stab the children to death. According to charging documents from August, he said he was “enlightened by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories” and had received “visions and signs” telling him that his wife, Abby Coleman, had passed her own “serpent DNA” to his children. According to the documents, he told police he was afraid they would “grow into monsters so he had to kill them.” Coleman pleaded not guilty. His lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. 

The FBI search warrant, filed Feb. 17 and first publicized by Seamus Hughes, reveals more details about Coleman’s behaviors before the alleged murders and some of his final communications with Abby between when he left on Aug. 7 and when the children were found dead the morning of Aug. 9. For instance, a text sent from Coleman’s account to Abby’s on Aug. 9 around 3 a.m. seemed to be replying to one of Abby’s texts. “Hi babe, miss you too,” it said. “Things have been rough but starting to get some clarity as well. Still confused on a lot of things though and processing through them. So many crazy thoughts going through my head right now, hard to explain. Yeah, funny your getting some clarity through my grandmas old bibles. Wasn’t there 2? Anyways, was actually still thinking of burning them in case theres a chip in them or something. Going to keep processing through everything and hope to get some answers. Hope all this craziness ends soon. Love you.” 

The warrant also revealed Abby had texted Coleman asking if their children were OK. She sent a message around 9:30 am Aug. 9, expressing solidarity with Coleman. “We are doing this together babe,” it said. “Praying for clarity over you and your mind this morning. Everything you’ve believed and known to be true is happening right now. I’m partnering with you from SB. Let’s take back our city. The gateway of revival for the state of California and the nation and the world. You were created to change the course of world history. Take care of my little giant slayer and my the voice of heaven’s dove. They sure are special.” 

When authorities interviewed Abby, the warrant said she had told them that as she and Coleman had researched QAnon, he had become “significantly more paranoid that people around him were involved in a conspiracy.” Based on “signs” he saw on social media, Abby allegedly told authorities he believed some of their best friends were “all in on this thing together.” He’d even accused Abby of being part of the conspiracy, she told authorities.

During his interview with investigators, Coleman had said he’d been interpreting hand signals he’d seen in photographs on social media to discern who was part of the conspiracy he believed existed. 

According to the new documents, one of Coleman’s friends told the FBI Coleman had told him about the hand signals — including peace signs — that revealed people who were “evil disguised as good” on social media. The warrant said that friend also told agents that shortly after Coleman left Santa Barbara with the children, Abby called him to come over, then showed him a Facebook picture of himself from over a decade ago where he was making “hand gestures.” He said she accused him of being “in on it” and “chased” him from their residence.

Diane Benscoter — a cult expert and founder of Antidote, an organization that helps people escape QAnon and other cults — said it’s impossible to be certain about what the texts between Coleman and his wife mean. She did note that people who are drawn into conspiracy theories and cults often feel great motivation to get their loved ones to join in their beliefs with them. “Typically one person gets pulled in and they find it to be so rewarding for them — it makes them feel better about themselves, they feel a sense of self-righteousness, they feel like they have comrades fighting this good fight, they have an enemy they can blame now for whatever’s going on in their life that maybe they’re not happy about,” she says. “But because that requires an all-or-nothing commitment, you want to pull those close to you into it so you can continue to have a relationship with them.”

At the same time, she says you can’t be sure how someone whose loved one is in a cult will handle their role in the relationship. She says Abby may have been feigning enthusiasm for QAnon to protect her family. “It’s not unusual to pretend to believe in it because a person becomes very scary if you don’t go along with them,” she says. “You’re trying to save the family and hold it together.” In other instances, she says sometimes a spouse joins in on the beliefs, but to a lesser extreme. (Abby has not spoken publicly about the case and could not be immediately reached for comment.)

What led Coleman to QAnon in the first place is known only to him. Benscoter says if a person believes joining a group is the answer to all their problems, it can take over their entire identity. “It’s really important to understand that there are always underlying issues as to why a person feels that joining a group like this answers so many of their questions about life.”