SAN FRANCISCO: A man who clubbed US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband over the head with a hammer, shouting, “Where is Nancy?”, faced charges of attempted murder and other felonies a day after the violent break-in at the couple’s San Francisco home.
Police initially declined to offer a motive for Friday’s attack on Paul Pelosi, 82, who according to his wife’s office underwent surgery for a skull fracture and injuries to his right arm and hands, though doctors expect a full recovery.
But the assault stoked fears about political violence less than two weeks ahead of midterm elections on November 8 that will decide control of the House of Representatives and Senate, coming amid the most vitriolic and polarised US political climate in decades.
The 82-year-old House speaker herself, a Democrat who is second in the constitutional line of succession to the US presidency, was in Washington with her protective detail at the time of the assault.
She flew to San Francisco to be with her husband.
Police identified the man arrested at the scene by officers who intervened in the attack as David Depape, 42. He, too, was taken to a San Francisco hospital.
Online sheriff’s records showed he was booked into custody on suspicion of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, battery, burglary, and several other felonies.
Formal charges were expected to be filed by the San Francisco district attorney’s office.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott told a Friday night news briefing that police detectives, assisted by FBI agents, had yet to determine what precipitated the home invasion but said, “We know this was not a random act.” A statement from Nancy Pelosi’s spokesperson, Drew Hammill, said Pelosi’s husband had been attacked “by an assailant who acted with force, and threatened his life while demanding to see the Speaker.” The intruder shouted, “Where is Nancy?” before attacking, according to a person briefed on the incident but who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
FROM HEMP TO HATE?
In the search for a motive, attention turned to the suspect’s apparent internet profile.
In recent posts on several websites, an internet user named “daviddepape” expressed support for former President Donald Trump and embraced the cult-like conspiracy theory QAnon. The posts included references to “satanic pedophilia,” anti-Semitic tropes and criticism of women, transgender people and censorship by tech companies.
Older messages promoted quartz crystals and hemp bracelets.
Reuters could not confirm that the posts were created by the man arrested on Friday.
The San Francisco Chronicle posted a photo of a man it identified as Depape dancing at the 2013 wedding of two nudist activists in San Francisco, though he was clothed. Depape, then a hemp jewellery maker who lived with the couple in Berkeley, was the best man, the newspaper reported.
Scott said the intruder forced his way into the Pelosis’ three-story red brick townhouse through a rear door. Aerial photos showed shattered glass at the back of the house in the city’s affluent Pacific Heights neighborhood.
The chief said police were dispatched for an “A-priority wellbeing check” at about 2:30am on the basis of a somewhat cryptic emergency-911 call from the residence. Other news outlets reported the call was placed by Paul Pelosi.
Scott credited the 911 operator with using her experience and intuition to “figure out that there was more to this incident than what she was being told” by the caller, so she dispatched the call at a higher priority than normal. Scott called her decision “life-saving.” According to Scott, police arriving at the scene caught a glimpse through the front door of Depape and Pelosi struggling over a hammer. As the officers yelled at both men to drop the tool, Depape yanked the hammer away and was seen striking Pelosi at least once, the chief said.
The officers then tackled, disarmed and arrested Depape and took both men to hospital, Scott said.
SEASON OF EXTREMISM
The incident came a day after New York City police warned that extremists could target politicians, political events and polling sites ahead of the midterm elections.
The US Capitol Police said they investigated 9,625 threats against lawmakers from both parties in 2021, nearly a threefold increase from 2017.
As a Democratic leader in Washington and a longtime representative from one of America’s most liberal cities, Nancy Pelosi is a frequent target of Republican criticism.
Her office was ransacked during the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Republican then-President Trump, some of whom hunted for her during the assault.
In January 2021, her home was vandalized with graffiti saying “Cancel rent” and “We want everything” painted on the house and a pig’s head left in front of the garage, media reported.
The home of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was also vandalized around that time.
McConnell said he was “horrified and disgusted” by Friday’s violence, and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said he reached out to Nancy Pelosi.
But one of the most forceful reactions came from US Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack, who condemned the rise of incendiary rhetoric vilifying political opponents and promoting falsehoods about voter fraud.
“When you convince people that politicians are rigging elections, drink babies blood, etc, you will get violence. This must be rejected,” he wrote on Twitter.
Speaking at a campaign event in Pennsylvania, President Joe Biden told the crowd, “Enough is enough.” “Every person of good conscience needs to clearly and unambiguously stand up against violence in our politics, regardless of what your politics are,” Biden said.