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The attack on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband amid rising political violence

US President Joe Biden linked the attacker's statements to the events of January 6, 2020, when supporters of Trump lay siege to the US Capitol.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with husband Paul PelosiSpeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in 2019. On Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, a man broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s California home and severely beat her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)

In a shocking incident, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi (82) was violently attacked with a hammer by an intruder who broke into their San Francisco home on early Friday (October 28). Paul was taken to a hospital and underwent surgery for a skull fracture and injuries to his right arm and is expected to fully recover, according to Reuters.

The assailant, identified by the police as 42-year-old David DePape was, according to multiple reports, searching for the speaker and shouted, “Where is Nancy?” before the assault, sparking theories that the attack was politically motivated.

While authorities continue to investigate DePape’s motive, the attack on the spouse of one of the most powerful Democratic Party leaders comes less than a fortnight before the US midterm elections and a polarised political climate.

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Who is the attacker, David DePape?

DePape, who was arrested from Pelosi’s home early Friday, will likely face charges of attempted murder, elder abuse and burglary, and has had a history of sharing far-right conspiracy theories online.

The police stated that the suspect DePape, who also has ties to a nudist movement, intentionally targeted the Pelosi household, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A blog titled frenlyfrens.com, which lists “daviddepape” as the author contains posts from late August onwards. Many are filled with transphobic messages, antisemitic references and racist claims. Posts have also expressed disbelief in climate change and made false claims about Covid-19 vaccines.

While the blog does not mention Nancy Pelosi, The Daily Beast reported, there are a number of posts expressing support for former President Donald Trump and criticisms of the Democratic Party. There are also references to conspiracy theories peddled by followers of QAnon, such as the outlandish claim that the US is run by a deep state cabal of satanic paedophiles and baby-eating cannibals, Reuters reported.

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The author of the blog also made a post on September 27, which stated that any journalists who refuted the false claim made by Trump and his supporters that the election fraud had occurred in the 2020 presidential election, “should be dragged straight out into the street and shot.”

Reminiscent of the January 6 riots

US President Joe Biden on Friday condemned the attack on the Pelosi household and linked Depape’s statements to the events of January 6, 2020, when supporters of Trump lay siege to the US Capitol, in order to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory.

“You know, it’s reported that the same chant was used by this guy they have in custody that was used on January 6th in the attack on the U.S. Capitol”, he said. The phrase, “Where is Nancy?” was reminiscent of video footage from the day of the attacks, when a man roamed the halls of the Capitol, calling out, “Where are you, Nancy? We’re looking for you,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

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Nancy Pelosi was one of the lawmakers whose office in the Capitol was vandalised and looted during the riots by supporters of Trump. Reports claimed that many involved in the attack were calling for her killing. One of the rioters who recorded herself saying that they were looking for Pelosi “to shoot her in the frickin’ brain” was sentenced to 60 days in prison in July this year, NBC News reported.

Heightened fault lines and political violence in 2022

On the same day that Pelosi’s husband was attacked, the US government released a joint intelligence bulletin that warned of a “heightened threat” to the midterm elections occurring on November 8 and a rise in domestic violent extremism driven by “perceptions” of election fraud.

Since the attack on the Capitol and the inauguration of President Biden, the American body politic is as fractured as it has ever been and there have been growing concerns about a rise in threats and political violence. The US Capitol Police states that the number of threats against members of Congress has increased every year since 2017 and in the first three months of 2022, it documented more than 1,800 incidents, BBC reported.

There has also been an increase in the number of political violence over recent months. On the day of the Pelosi attack, a Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell, after repeatedly calling his office to say he wanted to shoot him. In July, a man was charged after making threats outside the home of Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal while carrying a gun, Politico reported.

In June, a man was arrested for threatening to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

First published on: 30-10-2022 at 14:43 IST
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