Words have consequences. For the last six years — if not the last two decades — the Republican Party, its media supporters and its core voters have almost literally painted a target on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's back. In this context, the heinous attack last Friday in which her husband was seriously injured by a home intruder — who has told police he intended to maim or torture Pelosi herself — should not surprise anyone.
Republican candidates, often armed with guns, have "hunted" Pelosi in campaign ads and "humorous" videos, and have made other none-too subtle threats against her.
The right-wing media echo chamber has made Pelosi into a larger-than-life villain and evildoer who must be removed from power, by any means necessary, in order to "save America." The antisemitic QAnon conspiracy cult, with its deranged fantasies about Democrats and liberal celebrities who murder children and drink their blood, has also stoked hatred toward Pelosi.
In effect, there is an entire right-wing new propaganda machine feeding its consumers a fantastical narrative in which Pelosi is a starring villain — along with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and other leading Democrats — and "patriotic" Americans face an existential struggle to save "their country" and its "traditional values" from socialism, wokeness, antifa, Black Lives Matter and so on.
Donald Trump, the leader of the Republican fascist movement, routinely incites or threatens violence — sometimes implicitly and sometimes directly — against Pelosi and other leading Democrats. As the Washington Post reported after the attack on Paul Pelosi:
For a wide swath of Republicans, Pelosi is Enemy No. 1 — a target of the collective rage, conspiratorial thinking and overt misogyny that have marked the party's hard-right turn in recent years.
Among far-right extremist groups, the anti-Pelosi memes are often cruder and more violent, but the demonization of the Democratic House leader is no fringe phenomenon. Her face — sometimes adorned with devil's horns or a swastika — was plastered on signs at all the national rallies that led up to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. Pelosi is such a frequent target that it's common for right-wing pundits and protesters to refer to her only by her first name, as Jan. 6 insurrectionists did when roaming the halls of the Capitol searching for her while yelling: "Where are you, Nancy?"
Political violence trackers say the attack on Pelosi's husband appears to be a high-profile version of the same threat that has simmered for months at the local level, with the targeting of election workers, librarians and school board members — virtually any public servant perceived as an obstacle to a hard-right agenda.
Among Republicans, Nancy Pelosi is one of the most hated people in American public life.
Polls and other research suggests that Trump followers and other Republicans have now embraced political violence — including the Jan. 6 attack, and potentially worse things than that — as an acceptable tactic for obtaining and keeping political power.
It is abundantly clear that on Jan. 6, many hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol had the intention of kidnapping or lynching Pelosi, as well as Vice President Pence, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and whoever else they deemed to be the "enemy."
On Friday, we saw the consequence of all this when David DePape, a 42-year-old man with a recent history of pro-Trump and QAnon-related social media posts, allegedly broke into Pelosi's San Francisco home and confronted Paul Pelosi, her husband. According to DePape's own account, his goal was to torture and interrogate Nancy Pelosi, and then perhaps to maim or murder her.
Nancy Pelosi was thousands of miles away in Washington, and ultimately DePape attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer, leaving him in critical condition with a fractured skull and other serious injuries. Paul Pelosi remains in a hospital in San Francisco. A federal affidavit released on Monday gave an account of what DePape has told police. The Los Angeles Times reports:
In a voluntary interview with San Francisco police after his arrest, DePape said he set out to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage and interrogate and torture her, according to the federal charges.
"If Nancy were to tell DePape the truth, he would let her go, and if she lied, he was going to break her kneecaps," police said the suspect told them. DePape believed "that Nancy would not have told the truth," according to a federal affidavit.
In the course of the interview, DePape said he considered Pelosi the "leader of the pack" of lies told by the Democratic Party. He later told investigators "that by breaking Nancy's kneecaps, she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other members of Congress there were consequences to actions."
DePape also said in the interview he wanted to use Nancy Pelosi to lure another individual to the San Francisco home.DePape's statements suggest a mentally vulnerable or unstable individual who has been indoctrinated and radicalized into violence and hatred by the right-wing propaganda machine.
The Washington Post reports that a "voluminous blog" apparently written by DePape was "filled with deeply racist and antisemitic writings — as well as pro-Trump and anti-Democratic posts." As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an MSNBC interview, this is not especially surprising: "There is absolutely no doubt that the data shows that the vast majority of incidents of domestic terror come from white nationalism. And that we are really, truly facing the environment of fascism."
How did Republicans and the right-wing news media respond to the violent attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband? Largely with mockery and laughter, as well as invented scenarios in which the assault was a "false flag" or the result of an illicit sexual encounter. This attempted assassination has been repurposed by the right as another way to attack Pelosi and the Democrats as somehow responsible for acts of violence against them. This rhetorical pivot — blaming the victim for their own suffering — is a standard propaganda tool of fascists and other authoritarians. Joseph Goebbels would be duly impressed.
Meanwhile, much of the mainstream news media has defaulted to weak laments about how "political violence" and "polarization" are a serious problem in America on "both sides." That framework deliberately refuses to name the Republican Party and the larger white right as being almost exclusively responsible for these serious acts of violence.
On Friday evening, hours after Paul Pelosi was brutalized in a politically motivated attack, Donald Trump sent out a fundraising email with the subject line, "The Left is coming after me like never before":
The RAID on my Mar-a-Lago home was nothing more than unhinged POLITICAL PERSECUTION against ME, YOUR President.
For six straight years, I've been harassed, investigated, defamed, slandered, and persecuted like no one in American history — yet all I have ever wanted, and all we have ever fought for, is to simply MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. ...
The people behind these savage witch hunts have no shame, no morals, no conscience, and absolutely no respect for the citizens of this country.
Everyone associated with this travesty will go down in history as scoundrels and arsonists who tried to demolish our justice system, shatter our most sacred traditions, and wipe out the very foundations of our democracy — for their own selfish partisan gain.
But no matter what our sick and deranged political establishment throws at me, no matter what they do to me, I will endure their torment and oppression, and I will do it willingly. They will NEVER get me to stop fighting for you, the American People.
How are these nonexistent existential threats from "arsonists" and "scoundrels" of the "deranged political establishment," who are persecuting Trump "like no one in American history," to be defeated? By any means necessary. Moreover, if Trump's supporters resort to violence, it is understood to be defensive in nature and therefore justified. This logic, proposing a dangerous threat and the necessity of self-defense to legitimate pre-emptive violence, has been seen before — in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, for instance, as well as other societies that have succumbed to eliminationism and genocide.
For decades, Republicans, the "conservative" movement and the larger right wing have made no secret of what they intend to do in their revolutionary struggle against America's multiracial, pluralistic democracy. For the most part, the Democrats, the media, the political class and too many members of the public chose to ignore those threats, or to convince themselves that all this was just "hyperbole" and overheated rhetoric. At this point, ignoring the right's threats of violence can only be understood as a deliberate choice, or even a surrender.
What happened last Friday to Paul Pelosi was entirely predictable, as were the Capitol assault of Jan. 6, the kidnapping plot targeting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, the violent rampage in Charlottesville in 2017 and the various mass shootings committed by Trumpists, white supremacists, antisemites, conspiracy-theory believers, and other right-wing extremists. We have been warned, repeatedly. Denial is unhealthy at any level: It is damaging to individuals in their personal lives, and has already done such severe damage to our democracy that it is likely past the point of recovery.