The news was shocking. A man broke into the San Francisco home of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning and beat her 82-year-old husband, Paul, so severely he required hours of surgery to repair a skull fracture and “other significant injuries.”
“David DePape forced his way into the home through a back entrance,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said. When police officers arrived at the Pelosi house, they discovered DePape and Pelosi struggling for a hammer. They instructed them to drop the weapon, Scott said, but DePape took the hammer and “violently attacked” Pelosi while holding his arm. Police said Pelosi fell to the floor and appeared to be unconscious.
Details emerged that DePape had broken into the home looking for the Speaker, who was in Washington, D.C., and calling out “Where is Nancy,” eerily similar to insurrectionists roaming the Capitol in the January 6 attack. DePape woke Paul Pelosi, who told him his wife was not there. DePape attempted to tie up Pelosi with rope and zip ties he brought, but Pelosi tried to escape, going into a bathroom and called 911, leaving the phone on as the men struggled.
On Monday, DePape was charged with assault, attempted murder and attempted kidnapping, attack with a weapon, elder abuse and other charges, both local and federal. He was also charged with one count of “attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California. The charges could put DePape in prison for 50 years.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins told CNN’s Josh Campbell on Oct. 31 that the attack was an assassination attempt and that the final moments of the attack were clearly an attempt to kill Paul Pelosi.
In a sworn affidavit the alleged attacker told law enforcement officials he intended to take Nancy Pelosi hostage, interrogate and torture her. In the Department of Justice criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Stephanie Minor, who specializes in investigations of domestic terrorism and was the interrogator, said that “DEPAPE stated that he was going to hold Nancy hostage and talk to her. If Nancy were to tell DEPAPE the ‘truth,’ he would let her go, and if she ‘lied,’ he was going to break ‘her kneecaps.’ DEPAPE was certain that Nancy would not have told the ‘truth,’” according to the criminal complaint.
Minor said, “DEPAPE explained that he did not leave after
Pelosi’s call to 9-1-1 because, much like the American founding fathers with the British, he was fighting against tyranny without the option of surrender. DEPAPE reiterated this sentiment elsewhere in the interview.”
The complaint adds that “DEPAPE explained that Nancy Pelosi’s actions resulted in Pelosi ‘taking the punishment instead.’”
These chilling details were added to DePape’s arraignment hearing on Nov. 1 in which he pleaded not guilty to all state charges. He has not yet entered a plea in federal court.
DePape’s blog site, Facebook page and other social media showed a man steeped in right-wing conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen, voter fraud, COVID vaccines and the pandemic being a hoax, the January 6 Committee being a farce, as well as QAnon propaganda.
“This house and the speaker herself were specifically targets,” said Jenkins at a Monday evening news conference announcing state charges against DePape, including attempted murder. “This was not something that he did at the spur of the moment,” she said.
“This was politically motivated,” Jenkins said, telling the public to “watch the words that we say and to turn down the volume of our political rhetoric.”
Jenkins also dismissed conspiracy theories about the attack. “At the time that the suspect had entered the Pelosi home that he was in fact, looking for Ms. Pelosi,” Jenkins told reporters.
“The other thing is we want to make it clear that there were only two people in the home at the time that the police arrived, Mr. Pelosi and the suspect, there was no third person present,” she said.
“We have nothing to suggest that these two men knew each other prior to this incident.”
Yet the grisly attack has been mocked and dismissed on conservative, far-right extremist social media, and even by some Republicans leaders, like Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Twitter. At a campaign rally Oct. 31, Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake joked about the attack and got laughs from the crowd.
On Sunday, Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, posted a reply to Hillary Clinton who had tweeted a story on DePape’s political motivation. Clinton wrote, “The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories. It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result. As citizens, we must hold them accountable for their words and the actions that follow.”
Musk said that “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story” behind the attack on Paul Pelosi. Musk linked to a piece in the Santa Monica Observer, a site described as a right-wing extremist site. The site had previously claimed that Hillary Clinton had died and a body double was debating Donald Trump in 2016.
The Observer story claimed without evidence that Paul Pelosi was drunk at the time of the assault and “in a dispute with a male prostitute.” The article cited no sources.
Musk later deleted the story, but with 112 million followers, the number of people who read the story — or at least saw the tweet — was huge. The Observer, which gained followers from the story, posted a sarcastic tweet stating “We’ve replaced my original piece with an apology. Thanks to
@washingtonpost @latimes @nytimes @yahoonews @DailyMail for helping me see the light by labelling our entire site with its 1000s of stories, ‘fake news.’ Good luck with the election #stangreene” and reposted the story.
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., was among those mocking the attack on Paul Pelosi, tweeting a photo of a hammer and a pair of men’s white briefs with the words “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready” to his 8.7 million followers.
Another rumor being spread by conservatives is that DePape lived in a house adorned with LGBTQ flags and BLM signs. But the criminal complaint states that DePape lived in a garage in the backyard of a home in Richmond, not the house described by conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro and writer Michael Shellenberger.
Would this attack — Paul Pelosi has undergone two surgeries and remains in ICU — been framed as a gay sex scene gone wrong if the GOP weren’t obsessed with Nancy Pelosi and LGBTQ people and the couple didn’t live in the queer mecca of San Francisco?
Pelosi features in a majority of midterm ads from the right, including from GOP candidates Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. And as the Washington Post reported, the attack on Pelosi’s husband follows years of GOP demonizing her.
In sowing doubt about the assault on Pelosi’s husband and turning the attempted assassination of the Speaker into a smarmy gay sexcapade, the right is further demonizing LGBTQ people and dismissing the extremist violence coming from the right, like the January 6 attack. It’s a dangerous combination and as the deliberation in the assault itself shows, will only get worse and seed more distrust among an already tense and politically divided America.