Paul Pelosi recovering as attack renews focus on toxic politics


The brazen attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is renewing concerns about the toxic political atmosphere and is prompting calls to beef up security for lawmakers and their family members.

Paul Pelosi, 82, was recovering in Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Saturday following surgery for a fractured skull and other injuries from an attack early Friday by a hammer-wielding intruder.

Nancy Pelosi made her first public comments about the matter on Saturday night in a Dear Colleague letter to members of Congress, referring to how “a violent man broke into our family home, demanded to confront me and brutally attacked my husband Paul.”

She thanked supporters, saying 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.” The letter didn’t make any political attacks but quoted a Bible verse from Isaiah 41:10 that begins “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.”

San Francisco police have identified the suspect in the attack as David DePape, 42, who appears to have been deeply drawn into election falsehoods, political conspiracy theories like QAnon and fringe rantings from various right-wing sites.

The Washington Post confirmed that a voluminous blog written under DePape’s name was filled with deeply antisemitic writings and baseless claims as well as pro-Donald Trump and anti-Democratic posts. It was registered to a house in Richmond, Calif., where DePape lives, according to neighbors.

Alleged assailant filled blog with delusional thoughts in days before attack

“We are on a very slippery slope and I think the whole issue of security needs a fresh examination,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), who represents a San Francisco Bay area district close to Pelosi’s and is the speaker’s closest friend in Congress.

“This has to stop,” Eshoo said, referring to the propagation of inaccurate conspiracy theories that appear to be fueling fury toward lawmakers. She said her constituents “are surprised that we stand in line, go through security — they think every one of us has security.”

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado, said the attack spotlights the dearth of safeguards for family members of lawmakers who may be targets.

“Here was Paul Pelosi, all by himself at home,” she said in an interview.

DeGette said she had a security detail when she was one of eight House members who managed the second impeachment of former president Donald Trump. But her husband did not have protection when she was in Washington and he was in Colorado, she said.

The U.S. Capitol Police, the agency responsible for protecting members of Congress, has reported a sharp increase in threats against lawmakers in recent years, and threats have sharply escalated since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. It said the number of cases involving threats against members of Congress rose from about 4,000 in 2017 to more than 9,600 last year.

The rising use of campaign ads invoking hunting imagery and other heated rhetoric against opponents has candidates imposing more stringent security this election season.

While she unsuccessfully defended her seat in the primaries this year in Wyoming, Rep. Liz Cheney (R) simply could not hold the sort of traditional campaign events meant to demonstrate broad support.

Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, has faced a significant number of death threats since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack after President Donald Trump invoked her name at his rally earlier that day because she led the wing of House Republicans supporting certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

She used a former Secret Service agent as personal security to get to and from the Capitol that day, and Cheney — who has played a high-profile role on the Jan. 6 committee — has had a regular Capitol Police security detail since early 2021.

Other campaigns, including that of Democrat John Fetterman, who is running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, have publicized the particular city or region in which he will be campaigning ahead of time to draw interest from supporters and the media. Oftentimes, however, the precise location and address of the event will not be distributed until the morning of the event.

Some Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz issued full-throated rebukes of the attack on Paul Pelosi. But others in the GOP — which has often demonized Pelosi in its political attacks — seized on the incident as a way to deride the House speaker or taunt Democrats.

“I am very disappointed at the tepid response on the other side,” DeGette said. “Some people have condemned it, but others have remained silent or made it into a political joke.”

She contrasted the latest muted comments to the bipartisan unity after House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot in 2017 by a gunman during congressional baseball practice, when “everyone across the spectrum condemned it.”

A month after the 2017 shooting at the practice, the Federal Election Commission issued guidance that allowed lawmakers to spend campaign funds on security, particularly on the upgrading or installation of security systems at residential homes or offices.

Mike Loychik, an Ohio Republican state representative, called political violence “unacceptable” but went on to mock calls by some Democrats to put more money into social services rather than police, tweeting: “I hope San Francisco dispatched their very best social worker to respond to the brutal assault of Nancy Pelosi’s husband.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California called the attack on Paul Pelosi “wrong,” saying in an interview on Breitbart Radio on Saturday that he had texted with the speaker to offer his “prayers for Paul.” But he quickly pivoted to one of Republicans’ most popular lines of attack against Democrats, blaming their supposed support of “defunded police” and “woke D.A.s” for crimes like the assault on Paul Pelosi.

Attack on her husband follows years of GOP demonizing Nancy Pelosi

President Biden on Saturday called on the conspiracies and falsehoods promulgated by politicians to stop.

“It’s one thing to condemn the violence. But you can’t condemn the violence unless you condemn those people who are arguing that the election is not real,” Biden said in comments to reporters while in Wilmington, Del. “The talk has to stop. That’s the problem.”

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott would not speculate on a motive for the attack on Paul Pelosi. But it appears that the assailant had been looking for the speaker, and he uttered “Where’s Nancy?,” according to a person briefed on the case.

“This was not a random act. This was intentional,” Scott told reporters on Friday.

DePape is expected to be charged with attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse and burglary, among other offenses, according to Scott.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said on Twitter that charges would be brought on Monday and DePape is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday.

What we know about the Paul Pelosi attack and suspect David DePape

Former president Barack Obama invoked Paul Pelosi’s attack at a rally on Saturday, warning that more people “could get hurt” and democracy could suffer unless politicians tamp down the furious divisions.

“If our rhetoric about each other gets that mean, when we don’t just disagree with people, when we start demonizing them, making wild, crazy allegations about them, that creates a dangerous climate,” he told the crowd in Detroit during a political rally for several Democratic candidates in the state.

He said if officials don’t reject violent rhetoric, “if they tacitly support it, or encourage their supporters to stand up besides voting places armed with guns, dressed in tactical gear, more people can get hurt — and we’re going to be violating the basic spirit of this country.” He was then interrupted by a man shouting in the crowd, but Obama urged the attendees not to get “distracted” and focus on voting.

John J. Pitney Jr., professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., said Americans have had fiery political differences since the beginning of the country. But social media has increased the temperature and allowed various conspiracy theories involving QAnon, vaccines and other topics to commingle, with many of the same people believing all of them, he said in an interview.

Pitney said the threat of violence will prompt many lawmakers to change the way they do business — moving interactions with constituents online, for example.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in an interview in Detroit that he’s urging candidates “to make sure that you’ve got situational awareness, situational awareness when you’re at campaign events and keeping your eyes open for people who have nefarious intent.”

“I just have to be very conscious of the space,” he said of his personal safety concerns. “You can’t be a representative unless you’re actually talking to people and listening to their issues.”

But he acknowledged the strain that public discourse has made on the job.

“We have to be out there, have to keep our eyes open, and try to be as safe as we can,” he said.

Aaron C. Davis, Dalton Bennett, Cate Brown, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Dylan Wells and Annie Linskey contributed to this report.

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