The violent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband last week might have been a lot worse. Federal prosecutors charged David DePape with attempting to kidnap the Speaker of the House when he allegedly broke into her San Francisco home with zip ties, looking for her, with a plan to break her kneecaps. DePape also faces federal and state charges related to the assault of Paul Pelosi.
The San Francisco district attorney called the attack politically motivated and DePape called the House Speaker the “leader of the pack,” in apparent reference to far-right conspiracy theories about Democrats that he subscribed to. The evidence hasn’t stopped right-wing figures up to Donald Trump from spreading disinformation about the attack.
Here’s what is known so far about the developing story.
Nancy Pelosi, who has represented San Francisco in Congress since 1987, was in Washington, D.C., on business when, in the early-morning hours of Friday, an intruder entered her home, looking for her.
Paul Pelosi, her husband of 59 years, was asleep in his bedroom when the intruder woke him up, saying he wanted to talk to Nancy, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court on Monday. (Reports quoted him as saying “where’s Nancy?”) When Pelosi told the assailant that his wife wasn’t home, he said he would wait and produced zip ties from his pocket. Pelosi was able to make his way to a bathroom where he secretly dialed 911.
On the call, Pelosi “stated words to the effect of there is a male in the home and that the male is going to wait for Pelosi’s wife. Pelosi further conveyed that he does not know who the male is,” according to court documents.
The 911 dispatcher sent police there to perform a well-being check on Pelosi at approximately 2:27 a.m. When officers arrived, they found the assailant struggling with Pelosi over a hammer. The officers told them to drop the hammer and then the assailant struck Pelosi in the head, knocking him unconscious. The officers then tackled the assailant and took him into custody. Pelosi was interviewed by police inside an ambulance and transported to an area hospital for further treatment.
Pelosi, 82, sustained what were described in a statement by the Speaker’s office as “serious injuries” to his right arm and hands, as well as a skull fracture that required surgery. On Saturday, Speaker Pelosi said in a letter to House members that “our children, our grandchildren and I are heartbroken and traumatized by the life-threatening attack,” but that her husband’s condition “continues to improve.”
Police body camera footage showed a glass door that was “broken near the handle,” according to the criminal complaint, showing how the assailant broke in. During a search of the home, police found zip ties in a hallway of the house and in Pelosi’s bedroom.
What We Know About the Suspect and His Motive
The alleged assailant, David DePape, 42, is facing a variety of charges stemming from the attack. On Monday, California authorities announced they were filing charges of attempted murder, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, and additional felonies against DePape. The same day, federal prosecutors charged him with one count of assault on an immediate family member of a United States official and one count of attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
During an interview with authorities, DePape allegedly told officers that he intended to hold Speaker Pelosi hostage and talk to her. He was quoted as saying that if Pelosi told the “truth,” he would let her go, but if she lied, he would’ve broken her kneecaps. He also told authorities he considered the attack a “suicide mission,” but that he also had other targets, including a local professor and other national politicians.
“In the course of the interview, DePape articulated he viewed Nancy as the ‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic Party. DePape also later explained 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,” according to the federal criminal complaint.
In addition to the zip ties discovered in the home, officers searched DePape’s backpack left by the broken door and found “roll of tape, white rope, one hammer, one pair of rubber and cloth gloves, and a journal.”
When announcing the state’s charges against DePape, Brooke Jenkins, the San Francisco district attorney, called the attack “politically motivated.”
DePape’s mental state became a subject of focus and speculation immediately following the attack. Jenkins declined to comment on his mental health on Sunday, only saying he is being held in a secure ward of San Francisco General Hospital before his arraignment.
He grew up in British Columbia, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, but eventually became estranged from his family after moving to the U.S. At one point, after he moved to San Francisco, he was a hemp-jewelry maker and got involved in pro-nudism activism, appearing at a 2013 nudist wedding at city hall. CNN reports he struggled with drug use, and had at one point lived in a storage shed. (Over the past two years, he’d been living in a Bay Area garage where authorities recovered two hammers, a sword, and a pair of rubber and cloth gloves.) Linda Schneider, a former acquaintance, said she once received “really disturbing” emails from him, describing his tone as “megalomaniac and so out of touch with reality.” His adult stepdaughter said in a blog post on Friday that he had inflicted “extreme abuse” on her and her brothers.
At one point, he was a registered member of the Green Party, but it appears that his views eventually shifted to the far right of the political spectrum. DePape’s blogs and social-media activity include posts related to QAnon, lies by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell about the 2020 election being stolen, and shared content that alleged the pandemic was an attempt by global elites to bring about a new world order. There were also blog posts expressing bigotry toward women, Jews, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community with graphic imagery. In an interview with NBC, his former boss building decks recalled his slow descent into conspiracism as “gradual process.” He last saw DePape three days before the attack and says he showed signs of mental illness, like his recent talk of building a home for an imaginary fairy.
Where Was Security?
The home was apparently not under guard at the time of the attack. Paul Pelosi does not receive protection from the U.S. Capitol Police when unaccompanied by the Speaker, according to the Washington Post, and Nancy Pelosi and her security detail were in D.C. at the time. Capitol Police said agents from its California field office “quickly arrived on scene” following the attack.
Concerns about security for members of Congress have significantly increased over the years, particularly in the wake of the siege on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, when lawmakers directly confronted threats of danger. There were 9,625 threats recorded against members of Congress last year, according to data from the Capitol Police, up sharply since 2017.
Disinformation Is Spreading
At first, leaders on both sides of the political aisle expressed support for the Pelosi family, ranging from President Joe Biden to Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy. Since then, an increasing number of Republicans and their allies in the media have made light of what happened or spread conspiracy theories deflecting attention from the overwhelming evidence that DePape held far-right beliefs.
Donald Trump on Tuesday shared a lie that started on far-right social media suggesting that DePape was romantically involved with Pelosi.
Days earlier, brand-new Twitter owner Elon Musk sent, and then deleted, a tweet promoting a version of the same theory — causing Jenkins, the San Francisco D.A., to respond that “we have nothing to suggest that the two men knew each other prior to this incident.”
Others have joked about the violence. At a campaign event for a congressional candidate, Republican Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin said, “There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re gonna send her back to be with him in California.”
And on Monday, Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake made a dismissive comment about security at the Pelosi home, which drew crowd laughter.
On the Democratic side, congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey said in a statement, “Now is not a moment for timidity. Let’s be direct. Today’s violence seems to be the direct product of Big Lies from many Republicans and Republican propaganda organs about Democrats and American democracy.”
This post has been updated throughout.