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Intruder wanted to break speaker Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps, federal complaint says

The assailant’s mission, he would later tell police, was to take hostage and perhaps break the kneecaps of Nancy Pelosi, whom he saw as “the ‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic Party.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) leaves her San Francisco residence, on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Written by Kellen Browning, Glenn Thrush and Tim Arrango

The man, lugging a backpack stuffed with rope, zip ties and a hammer, entered the mansion in San Francisco’s exclusive Pacific Heights neighbourhood through a back door, leaving shards of glass on the ground.

The intruder woke up the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and later attacked him, fracturing his skull. The assailant’s mission, he would later tell police, was to take hostage and perhaps break the kneecaps of Nancy Pelosi, whom he saw as “the ‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic Party.”

Law enforcement outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco, on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.  (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

All of it was detailed Monday in a federal complaint against David DePape, 42, who was charged with attempting to kidnap Nancy Pelosi and assaulting a relative of a federal official. San Francisco’s prosecutor later filed six additional state charges against DePape.

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The attack on Friday morning came amid an increase in politically motivated violence just before next week’s midterm elections. And the Justice Department’s swift action in bringing criminal charges Monday against the suspect reflected the sense of urgency at the highest levels of the US government to confront an issue that officials view as a stark threat to the nation. There has been a surge in threats and attacks against figures of both political parties in recent years, and Pelosi, in particular, has long been the subject of vilification and threats.

DePape was apprehended by the police at the Pelosi home in the early morning hours Friday. Police said he forcibly entered through the back door of the house, encountered Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, 82, and, following a struggle over a hammer, struck him with it. Nancy Pelosi was in Washington during the attack.

Paul Pelosi, who underwent surgery to repair his fractured skull and serious injuries to his hands and right arm, remains in the intensive care unit of a San Francisco hospital, surrounded by his family, according to a person familiar with the situation. On Monday, Nancy Pelosi thanked well-wishers and said that her husband was “making steady progress on what will be a long recovery process.”

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Security personnel stands outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco, on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

According to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California, which filed the federal charges, DePape told investigators in an interview that he wished to break Pelosi’s kneecaps if she “lied” and see her “wheeled into Congress” as a lesson to other members of Congress. Explaining why he didn’t flee the scene after he realized Paul Pelosi had surreptitiously dialled 911, DePape compared himself to the Founding Fathers battling the British, saying “he was fighting against tyranny without the option of surrender,” according to the federal complaint.

Later Monday, Brooke Jenkins, the San Francisco district attorney, announced the additional state charges, which include attempted murder, residential burglary, elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment of an elder and threatening family members of public officials. DePape, who was treated at a hospital for what authorities described as minor injuries, was expected to be arraigned in superior court Tuesday.

Law enforcement outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco, on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.  (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

It was not immediately clear who was representing DePape in the cases.

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The affidavit from an FBI agent that accompanied the federal charges provided the most complete, and chilling, narrative of the break-in to date. It detailed a groggy early-morning home invasion that culminated with a single, sudden hammer blow, delivered in the presence of shocked police officers.

DePape broke a glass door and entered the residence, awakening Paul Pelosi, according to the federal complaint. The suspect told Pelosi that he wanted to talk to “Nancy” and learned she was not there. When DePape said he would sit and wait for Pelosi, her husband said that she would not return for several days.

Law enforcement officials gather on the street in front of Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco residence, where her husband, Paul Pelosi, was attacked by an intruder earlier in the morning, on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

It was around that time that DePape took out zip ties from his pocket. In a recorded interview with police officers, DePape said he wanted to restrain Pelosi so he could go to sleep, because he was tired from carrying his backpack to the house.

At one point, Pelosi tried to access an elevator, which has a phone, but was blocked from doing so, according to the local prosecutor. At some point after that, Pelosi ducked into a bathroom to call 911 from his cellphone at 2:23 a.m., the complaint said. Officers with the San Francisco Police Department arrived eight minutes later to find the two men struggling over a hammer.

When they asked what was going on, DePape “responded that everything was good,” the FBI agent wrote. At that moment, DePape yanked the hammer from Pelosi’s grip and struck him once in the head, rendering him unconscious on the floor.

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The officers quickly restrained DePape, who told them that he had left his backpack near the smashed door window on the rear porch. When they examined its contents, they found another hammer, tape, rope, two pairs of gloves — rubber and cloth — and a journal.

The police recovered the zip ties in the bedroom.

Nancy Pelosi has Capitol Police protection wherever she goes. But her husband did not have security that night, the local prosecutor said Monday.

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Kidnapping and assault are usually charged under state laws by local authorities, but in extreme circumstances, such as cases involving federal officials or judges, they can become federal crimes.

If convicted, DePape faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the attempted kidnapping of a federal official in the performance of official duties, and up to 30 years for assaulting an immediate member of a federal official’s family and inflicting a serious injury with a dangerous weapon.

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Nancy Pelosi’s spokesperson had no comment on the charges.

Federal law makes such an assault a federal crime when it is done “with the intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with” the work of an official or “with intent to retaliate against” that person — a charge that stems from DePape’s attempts to find the speaker.

The attack on the Pelosi home in San Francisco contained echoes of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. When rioters broke into the halls of Congress on that day, some of them carried zip ties and shouted, “Nancy, Nancy, where are you, Nancy?” A person who had been briefed on Friday’s attack said DePape had been loudly demanding to know where Nancy Pelosi was.

Much remains unknown about DePape. But authorities have been examining what appeared to be DePape’s copious online presence, which included angry rants and extremist views.

The domain of a blog written by a user who called himself “daviddepape” was registered to an address in Richmond, California, in August, and law enforcement determined that DePape had lived there for about two years, according to the federal complaint.

From August until the day before the attack on Paul Pelosi, the blog featured many antisemitic sentiments as well as concerns about pedophilia, anti-white racism and “elite” control of the internet.

One of the blog posts suggested that there had been no mass gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz, and others were accompanied by malicious and stereotypical images. Another reposted a video lecture defending Adolf Hitler.

In the aftermath of the attack, Republicans and other conservative voices spread lies, misinformation and baseless conspiracy theories about the assault, ominously suggesting that the media was withholding sordid facts about the case.

Elon Musk, the billionaire who completed his takeover of Twitter last week, posted a link to a discredited newspaper known for publishing falsehoods and claimed that “there might be more to this story than meets the eye.” The publication, offering no evidence, suggested the assailant was a male prostitute. Musk’s tweet was later deleted.

Some conservative media outlets framed the assault as a consequence of “soft on crime” policies of Democrats, a frequent attack line by Republicans around the country in the lead-up to the midterm elections.

In comments that — deliberately or not — served to debunk some of the conspiracy theories, prosecutors said Monday that Paul Pelosi had never seen his attacker before.

Jenkins, the San Francisco district attorney, said that the widespread misinformation circulating on the case had made it all the more important for prosecutors to present the facts to the public.

“We of course do not want distorted facts floating around, certainly not in a manner that is further traumatising a family that’s already been traumatised enough,” she said.

First published on: 01-11-2022 at 10:58 IST
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