The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Never underestimate how much people hate Nancy Pelosi

If you’re surprised by the attack on Pelosi’s husband, or the right-wing smirking about it, you haven’t been paying attention

Nancy Pelosi gets a kiss from her husband, Paul Pelosi, at a 2007 event. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

God, they really hate her, don’t they?

I’m not talking about the man who allegedly attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband with hammer, but rather about the people who learned about the assault — a skull fracture requiring hospitalization — and whose reaction was to tweet (or, in the case of Donald Trump Jr., retweet) an image of a hammer and a pair of underwear with the text, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”

To fully appreciate the joke, you’d have to be up to speed on an insane conspiracy theory that — honestly, I’m not going to get into it here. You’d also have to appreciate that posts like this (and there were many like them) are not just jokes. They’re not rhetorical escalations. They’re not dirty politics, either, though it’s easy in this political climate to wish that they were simply that, and to hope that a fair-and-square election might simmer everything down.

It’s about this: people hate her. Specifically her. They hate this woman who is rich, and coastal, and powerful, and who was thankfully not at home with her husband in California because she was instead in Washington, working on legislation that they also hate. Nancy Pelosi gets devil horns on Etsy mugs, witch hats on posters. In memes, she’s a harpy, she’s a hag, she’s a prostitute for Barack Obama or Joe Biden.

After this traumatic and terrifying thing happened to Pelosi and her husband, the reaction of many on the right was to turn it into a punchline.

“Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. — apparently her house doesn’t have a lot of protection,” Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R) joked, to a reaction of guffaws, at a campaign event.

“There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re gonna send her back to be with him in California,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said over the weekend. “That’s what we’re going to go do.”

Classy of him, to include that violence-is-wrong-but clause. But seriously, why go there at all? Because these politicians understand that there are rewards in tapping, however coyly, the reservoir of Pelosi hate on the right.

Do the same voters also hate Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the majority leader of the Senate? Sure. But when Jan. 6 rioters trundled their way through the U.S. Capitol, they were not caught on video calling out, “Oh Charlie,” in a menacing, sing-songy tone. They were calling out, “Oh Nancy.

Hesse: Capitol rioters searched for Nancy Pelosi in a way that should make every woman’s skin crawl

A male acquaintance asked me at the time what I thought the rioters planned to do if they actually caught her and I stared at him like the innocent, dumb bunny he was. His argument was that an actual encounter with the formidable House Speaker would smack the bravado right out of these men; they’d bluster and yell for a little bit and then bashfully grab a souvenir pen on the way out. My argument was that no amount of formidable dignity can stop a mob of men who are gnawing on a woman’s first name like it’s a leg of smoked turkey.

Where is Nancy?” Paul Pelosi’s attacker was alleged to have asked upon breaking into the couple’s home, before he attacked the 82-year-old.

When you want to complain about inflation, you ask for Speaker Pelosi. You ask for Nancy when you plan to do something else.

According to a federal complaint, the man later told police that he intended to hold the speaker hostage, question her and break her kneecaps if she “lied” so that she’d have to roll into Congress in a wheelchair as an example. Federal authorities have charged David DePape with one count of attempted kidnapping of a United States official on account of the performance of official duties, as well as with influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a federal official by threatening or injuring a family member. San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins also announced a charge of attempted murder.

The break-in at the Pelosi residence was a natural culmination to the rage that’s been on public display for years now, toward Pelosi and toward any number of other left-leaning female politicians — a very particular brew of misogyny and tribalism and eagerly gulped Kool-Aid.

I learned about the attack via scrolling through social media Saturday. “They finally tried to kill her,” someone had written, and my only immediate confusion was wondering which outspoken female politician we were talking about here: AOC? Rashida Tlaib? I brace myself every time Hillary Clinton trends online.

We know a moderate amount about the alleged attacker, DePape. We know that he blogged that he attempted to purchase a fairy house, and was then annoyed that the door was merely painted on — he’d wanted fairies to be able to use it. He wrote that an invisible fairy had attacked his friend. This fairy, he wrote, sometimes appeared to him in the form of a bird.

Make of that what you will. But when I think of DePape’s alleged plan to make an example of Nancy Pelosi, I’m going to be thinking about how much time and effort other people have put into building her up as someone who deserves all the hate they can spare.