Some Republicans and their far-right allies are spreading wild conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) husband, including baselessly claiming the assault involved “a gay lovers sex quarrel.”
Paul Pelosi, 82, remains hospitalized with skull fractures after an assailant attacked him with a hammer on Friday in the Pelosis’ San Francisco home. The man allegedly brought zip ties to the scene and asked, “Where is Nancy?” The speaker was in Washington, D.C., at the time.
Police identified 42-year-old David DePape as the suspected assailant and said there was “nothing to suggest” the two men knew each other. Police Chief William Scott said DePape forced his way into the home and deliberately attacked Pelosi.
“This was not a random act,” Scott said. “This was intentional.”
But that hasn’t stopped lies from spreading about the attack. Royce White, the Republican candidate running to unseat Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), tweeted that Pelosi’s husband “was assaulted during a gay lovers sex quarrel.” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) tweeted and then deleted a post that called Pelosi’s attacker a “male prostitute.” There is no evidence to back up these claims.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) fanned the flames by sharing a post by a conservative influencer that said “none of us will ever know for sure” what happened during the attack and that it was absurd to paint a “hippie nudist from Berkeley” as a “militant right winger.”
DePape, who witnesses have described as shy and unstable, was once involved in nudist activism, according to earlier news stories. But more recent online posts that appear to belong to DePape include fantastical images alongside references to right-wing conspiracy theories about voter fraud and secret pedophile rings. Police said he had no fixed address.
Some Democrats have indeed blamed Republican rhetoric for the attack.
“Turn on rightwing media on any given day or night. You will see frothing hosts shrieking unspeakable lies and unfounded conspiracy theories about women, religious and ethnic minorities, city residents, young people, and scores of others Americans,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said Friday. “That some are radicalized to commit unspeakable violence against their perceived enemies cannot be a surprise. This terrorism is growing and threatens every community in America.”
The messages aren’t just coming from politicians ― Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, tweeted and then deleted a link to a story from a widely discredited website that was full of baseless claims about the assault, including that Paul Pelosi met the attacker at a bar.
“There is a tiny possibility there is there is more to this story than meets the eye,” Musk said in the tweet responding to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who criticized Republicans for not condemning the attack. Musk hasn’t explained why he deleted the tweet.
Musk’s tweet thrilled far-right influencers and conspiracy theorists such as Jack Posobeic, a proponent of the PizzaGate conspiracy theory about Democrats running a pedophile ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. One of that theory’s followers wound up traveling to Washington and firing an assault rifle inside the restaurant.
Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son, made light of the attack by posting a meme with a photo of underwear and a hammer with the caption: “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”
Most Republican leaders have denounced the attack. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was “horrified and disgusted” by the incident, while former Vice President Mike Pence called it an “outrage.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was nearly killed in a politically motivated shooting in 2017, tweeted: “Violence has no place in this country. I’m praying for Paul Pelosi’s full recovery.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denounced the violence and offered his “thoughts and prayers” to Paul Pelosi. But he spun the attack generally as a result of “crime across our country,” echoing GOP talking points in the closing days of the midterm elections.
Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, blamed Democratic policies for the attack. “If this weren’t Paul Pelosi, this criminal would probably be out on the street tomorrow,” she said during a Sunday interview on Fox News.
The House speaker has long been the target of conservative ire, starring in countless GOP campaign ads over the last decade. She’s faced many violent threats, including most recently in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the U.S. Capitol.
Pelosi said in a statement over the weekend that she along with her family are “heartbroken and traumatized by the life-threatening attack” on her husband.
“We are grateful for the quick response of law enforcement and emergency services, and for the life-saving medical care he is receiving,” Pelosi said. “Please know that the outpouring of prayers and warm wishes from so many in the Congress is a comfort to our family and is helping Paul make progress with his recovery. His condition continues to improve.”