In the early hours of Christmas Day in 2020, an RV in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, began broadcasting the sounds of gunfire and warnings for anyone in earshot to immediately evacuate. After about 15 minutes, it exploded, killing the perpetrator, wounding at least eight others, and damaging hundreds of buildings.
A New York Times article on Wednesday has some more information on the ongoing federal and local police investigation, which authorities have said they don’t expect to be released until March. It’s further confirmation that the bomber, 63-year-old Anthony Quinn Warner, believed in and may have been motivated by a conspiracy theory that asserts a hidden cabal of reptilian humanoids posing as humans secretly controls world governments and affairs.
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Warner was a computer specialist who used to work for a Nashville-area electronic security firm and did freelance IT work, according to the Times, and he appears to have first become convinced that the U.S. government perpetrated the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Crystal Deck, who had become friends with Warner in the months before his death, told the Times she immediately knew he was the bomber after she connected seemingly random incidents in the weeks before to the details of the attack.
Deck had witnessed Warner fiddling with a pre-recorded female voice on his computer and playing the 1964 Petula Clark song “Downtown,” she told the Times, both of which were broadcast from a loudspeaker on the van used in the attack that warned residents to evacuate. Deck added Warner had mentioned he was about to do something that would attract police attention (without going into specifics) and had cleared his house of all but a few possessions, alluding to a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Deck and others received essays composed by Warner describing his conspiracy theories, according to the Times, and the bomber also went on manhunts for what he believed were bulletproof reptilians gathering in a local park. From the NYT:
Mr. Warner also camped regularly in Montgomery Bell Park, west of Nashville, a pastime that fed his conspiracy obsessions — he considered the park to be prime ground for hunting alien reptilians.
He described struggling to spot them with an infrared device, believing they could adjust their body temperature to the surrounding environment, and warned that bullets would just bounce off. “If you try to hunt one, you will find that you are the one being hunted,” he wrote.
Mr. Warner composed countless essays that he printed out or loaded onto flash drives, distributing them to Ms. Deck and other friends and acquaintances.
The lizard people theory is fringe even in conspiracy circles, occupying a status not dissimilar to Flat Earth truthers — a Public Policy poll in 2013 that should be taken with a grain of salt pegged the rate of true believers in the general population at 4%, far below other hoaxes like a broader New World Order conspiracy, the nonexistent vaccines-autism link, Bigfoot, and the claim NASA faked the moon landings. As NBC News noted, the anti-reptilian movement has roots in anti-Semitic and xenophobic propaganda insinuating certain ethnic groups or nationalities like Jewish people were societal infiltrators or parasites, but it was also shaped by occultism and later pop culture items like the snake cult in Conan the Barbarian and Dracula.
The idea didn’t really take off, though, until the last few decades. In the early 1990s, British footballer and broadcaster David Icke decided he was the messiah and began publishing what became a series of a dozen far-right books claiming among other things that interdimensional reptiles have secretly taken control of the planet. (Icke, despite believing in the virulently anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has regularly denied the reptile theory has anything to do with Jews.)
Raymond Throckmorton III, a former attorney for Warner friend Pamela Perry, told the Times that Warner had assailed his client with “apparently crazy things or threatening or unusual things” and that she had reported a possible bomb plot to police in August 2019 but was ignored.
There’s no mention in the Times article of whether Warner’s attack was connected to a related conspiracy theory next-generation 5G cell service is part of some kind of worldwide plot, though Warner’s bomb detonated in front of an AT&T building and authorities had pursued that as a possible lead in the case. Icke was banned from Facebook, and content featuring him taken down on YouTube, in 2020 for promoting 5G conspiracy theories during the coronavirus pandemic that correlated with a series of attacks on 5G stations in the UK. Perry had previously stated Warner held a grudge against AT&T.
Conspiracy theorists have taken centre stage as a terror threat in the U.S.; on Jan. 6, 2021, a crowd of pro-Donald Trump rioters stormed the Capitol while seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, resulting in at least five deaths. Many in the crowd were organised online on venues ranging from Facebook to fringe internet sites and believed in QAnon, a conspiracy theory that asserted Trump was fighting a secret war against a (generally agreed to be human) global network of Satanic pedophiles. The Times article noted that Warner was not a QAnon supporter, though authorities similarly failed to act on warnings of an attack and the growing threat of violent right-wing extremism.
According to the Times, police and municipal committees are now looking into why the August 2019 warning of a possible attack was never investigated.