The trial starts Thursday for David DePape, the man accused of breaking into the San Francisco home of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and violently assaulting her husband Paul with a hammer. The October 2022 attack raised alarms about rising political violence and the real-world dangers of online conspiracy theories.
DePape faces federal charges of attempting to kidnap a federal official and assaulting their family member. He pleaded not guilty, but if convicted, he could face life in prison. The attack on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi happened just days before the 2022 midterm elections, sending shockwaves through the political world.
Allegedly Sought Nancy Pelosi
Prosecutors say DePape, 42, broke into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home around 2 AM on October 28, 2022, searching for Nancy Pelosi. At the time, the House Speaker was in Washington D.C. under protection of her security detail. Her husband Paul was home alone.
Awakened by DePape, Paul Pelosi managed to call 911 as the intruder confronted him with a hammer, zip ties, and tape. When police arrived, DePape allegedly struck Paul Pelosi in the head with the hammer, leaving him unconscious with a fractured skull.
Expressed Conspiracy Beliefs
DePape frequently posted online about his beliefs in debunked right-wing conspiracy theories, such as QAnon. He questioned the 2020 election results and made bigoted comments about minorities. His writings indicate a belief that elites and communists were taking over America.
Experts say the attack demonstrates how online disinformation and hate can motivate real-world political violence when adopted by unstable individuals. DePape was known to be homeless, struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues.
Nancy Pelosi was Main Target
According to prosecutors, DePape told police he specifically sought Nancy Pelosi and planned to hold her hostage and break her kneecaps. He allegedly said he wanted Pelosi to tell the “truth,” and he saw himself as fighting “tyranny.”
The bodycam footage of officers responding to Paul Pelosi’s 911 call will be shown at trial. While disturbing, the judge ruled it demonstrates DePape’s alleged intent to kidnap the House Speaker.
Paul Pelosi is recovering from severe injuries and is expected to testify against DePape this coming week. The trial will highlight concerns over political leaders’ safety amid a charged climate.
Echoes Other Politically Motivated Attacks
The shocking assault on Paul Pelosi came just weeks before the midterm elections. It followed other recent acts of political violence like the January 6 Capitol attack.
DePape allegedly researched several other politicians to target. The high-profile trial will test whether the justice system can address extremist violence sparked by online conspiracy theories and political disinformation spreading unrest.
Pelosi has stepped down as House Speaker since the attack. As her husband slowly recovers, the trial of DePape raises uneasy questions about the polarization and vitriol putting public officials at risk.