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The Republican response to an attempted assassination
David DePape is a 42-year-old man who is deeply immersed in far-right politics and conspiracies. On his Facebook page, he posted videos by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell claiming the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. He was an avid consumer of far-right media, "including Tim Pool, Glenn Beck, DailyWire+, and the Epoch Times." On his personal blog, DePape frequently posted about the QAnon conspiracy, the belief that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other Democrats are part of a Satanic cabal engaged in the sex trafficking of children.
Early Friday morning, DePape allegedly broke into Pelosi's San Francisco home and demanded to see her. "Where's Nancy? Where's Nancy?" he yelled, according to the police. Pelosi was thousands of miles away in Washington, DC. But her husband, Paul Pelosi, was home. Police, who arrived on the scene after Mr. Pelosi dialed 911 from the bathroom, say they observed DePape brutally assaulting Mr. Pelosi with a hammer. Mr. Pelosi suffered a fractured skull and serious injuries to his right arm and hand. Speaker Pelosi described it as a "life-threatening attack," and Mr. Pelosi was transported to the hospital for surgery. He remains hospitalized as he recovers from his injuries.
This was a very serious assassination attempt against the Speaker of the House. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the highest-ranking Republican in the House, responded with silence. For nearly 48 hours, McCarthy said nothing about the attack. Instead, he launched new attack ads that continued to demonize Pelosi.
The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) is the primary Super PAC seeking to elect Republicans to the House and is controlled by McCarthy. On October 29 and 30, the days after the assassination attempt, the CLF launched dozens of new online ads accusing Pelosi of "destroying our country." Some ads make the incendiary claim that Pelosi gave "stimulus checks to criminals."
The ads don't mention that McCarthy and many other Republicans, voted for multiple rounds of stimulus checks that did not exclude prisoners. The checks generally benefit family members, including children, who are not behind bars.
McCarthy has perpetuated some of the conspiracy theories embraced by DePape. On January 6, 2021, McCarthy voted to overturn the election results. In June 2022, McCarthy "was asked five times whether President Biden’s win in the 2020 election was legitimate." Each time, McCarthy declined to answer.
McCarthy has also targeted Pelosi with violent rhetoric. "I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it," McCarthy said in August 2021, imagining what would happen if Republicans regained their majority in the House.
Late Saturday, during an interview with a right-wing radio host, McCarthy called the attack on Mr. Pelosi "wrong." But McCarthy also linked the attack to the "defunding of police," something that is not actually happening.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did release a statement saying he was "horrified and disgusted" at the assault on Pelosi's husband. But, like McCarthy, McConnell launched new ads targeting Pelosi after the assault. A series of ads placed by One Nation, a non-profit controlled by McConnell, also demonize Pelosi for supporting stimulus checks for criminals. (McConnell, like McCarthy, supported multiple rounds of similar checks.)
Individual Republican candidates followed the lead of McCarthy and McConnell. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) is running an ad blasting Pelosi's "socialist agenda" and pledging that Pelosi will only succeed "over my dead body." An ad by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R=NY) claims Pelosi "only cares about furthering the RADICAL liberal agenda" and is trying to "CRUSH hard-working Americans, like YOU." Congressman Randy Weber (R-TX) continues to buy advertising urging voters to "send Nancy Pelosi home" — the place where her husband was just viciously attacked by a hammer.
At a campaign event for a Republican Congressional candidate, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin took a similarly callous approach. "There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re going to send her back to be with him in California," Youngkin said.
Since September 5, Republicans have spent about $37 million TV ads attacking Pelosi. The attempted assassination of Pelosi could have been a moment of self-reflection for Republicans who have vilified her for years. Instead, the response has been to continue with business as usual.
The silence of Trump
Trump has not only refused to denounce QAnon, the conspiracy embraced by DePape, but praised the group for being "very strongly against pedophilia." Trump also has promoted tweets and other messages from QAnon supporters. This fall, Trump rallies have featured a song known as the "anthem for QAnon." And, of course, Trump has aggressively pushed the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen for nearly two years.
Trump has paired these conspiracies with harsh attacks on Pelosi, who he frequently compares to an insect, calling her "crazy as a bedbug."
Since the attack, Trump has talked about "rallies for the midterm elections, Brazil’s elections, the Mar-a-Lago case over classified documents and the death of singer Jerry Lee Lewis." But Trump has said nothing about the assault on Nancy Pelosi's husband.
The demonization of Nancy Pelosi
The apparent assassination attempt follows more than a decade of personal and unrelenting attacks against Pelosi. In 2010, Republicans launched a "Fire Pelosi" project which featured "images of [Pelosi] engulfed in Hades-style flames." Things escalated from there.
In 2018 and 2019, shortly before announcing her run for Congress, Majorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) "indicated support for executing prominent Democrats," including Pelosi. In a January 2019 speech, Greene said that Pelosi is "a traitor to our country, she’s guilty of treason," noting that treason is "a crime punishable by death." In a Facebook video the next month, Greene said that Pelosi would “suffer death or she’ll be in prison” for her “treason.”
According to federal prosecutors, many of the January 6 rioters were "searching for Pelosi as they entered the Capitol and shouting that they were 'coming for' her as they tried to get past law enforcement into the House chamber." A woman "allegedly demanded that police bring Pelosi out so the mob could 'hang that f---ing bitch.'" A North Carolina man "brought guns and ammunition to Washington on January 6 and texted a relative the following day that he was thinking of going to see Pelosi speak 'and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.'" Another woman "admitted filming a selfie-style video in which she said, 'We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the frickin’ brain but we didn’t find her.'"
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel said it was "unfair" to link the attack at Pelosi's home to Republican rhetoric. DePape, she said, was simply a "deranged individual." McDaniel did not address the fact that DePape was a deranged individual who embraced conspiracy theories promoted by Trump and other top Republicans. Instead, she blamed the attack on "Democrat policies."