Hammer assault on Paul Pelosi is latest in series of violent and threatening acts as midterm elections loom

Saturday, 29 October 2022

The bloody hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has sparked increased fears over political violence in America just weeks before the country’s crucial midterm elections.

The assault – by someone who reportedly entered the Democratic leader’s home specifically in search of her – comes amid an alarming rise in violent rhetoric and threats targeting US lawmakers.

As Americans prepare to go to the polls on 8 November, many experts and observers have warned of the danger of acts of political violence. The election has played out in an atmosphere of conspiracy and intimidation amid widespread rightwing claims of voter fraud and persistent evidence-free accusations that the 2020 election was stolen.

Paul Pelosi’s assailant reportedly posted on social media numerous far-right conspiracy theories around the election, as well as other issues such as big tech and the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to police, a suspect identified as 42-year-old David DePape broke into Pelosi’s San Francisco home and beat her husband with a hammer until officers disarmed him. The suspect is now facing a number of charges, including attempted homicide and assault with a deadly weapon. Pelosi was taken to a nearby hospital, and the speaker’s office said he was expected to make a full recovery.

CNN has reported that the assailant appeared to have targeted the speaker, who was not in San Francisco at the time of the attack. The suspect reportedly entered her home shouting, “Where is Nancy, where is Nancy?”

The assault marked the latest in a string of incidents involving threats of violence against American lawmakers, judges and political candidates.

In June, a man carrying a gun was arrested outside the home of the supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh after threatening to kill him. A month later, Seattle police responded to a call about a man standing outside the home of Pramila Jayapal and shouting death threats and racial slurs against the progressive congresswoman. Days after that, New York gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin was attacked at a campaign event, when a man with a sharp weapon charged at him.

Jayapal weighed in on the assault against Pelosi’s husband, saying on Twitter, “My heart breaks for @SpeakerPelosi and Paul Pelosi, and for our entire country. This violence is horrific. Our prayers are with them both and their family.”

The US Capitol police has reported an overall rise in the number of threats against members of Congress since the deadly January 6 insurrection last year.

According to USCP data, officers tracked 9,625 threats and directions of interest (meaning concerning actions or statements) against members of Congress in 2021, compared with 3,939 such instances in 2017. The House sergeant at arms has responded to this worrisome trend by giving lawmakers up to $10,000 to upgrade security at their homes.

Although both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have faced a number of threats in recent months, the increase is not evenly distributed along the political spectrum. According to a study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, rightwing extremists have committed about 75% of the 450 political murders that occurred in the US over the past decade, compared with 4% attributed to leftwing extremists.

The January 6 insurrection, which was carried out by a group of Donald Trump’s supporters attempting to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, provided a vivid example of the danger of rightwing extremism. A bipartisan Senate report released in June concluded that seven people died in connection with the insurrection.

The words of the man who assaulted Pelosi’s husband on Friday echoed those of the January 6 insurrectionists. One man who participated in the Capitol attack was recorded saying, “Where are you, Nancy? We’re looking for you.”

The attack against Pelosi’s husband prompted calls for Republican lawmakers to condemn the use of threats and violence against political opponents. One of those calls came from Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of the the House select committee investigating January 6 whose family has received death threats over his work with the panel.

“This morning’s terrifying attack on Paul Pelosi by a man obsessed with election conspiracies is a dangerous reality encouraged by some members of my own party,” Kinzinger said on Twitter. “This must be condemned by every Member of Congress [and] candidate. Now.”