The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How to respond to the horrifying Pelosi attack

A police officer rolls out more yellow tape on the closed street below the home of Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in San Francisco on Oct. 28. (Eric Risberg/AP)

There is much we still don’t know about the Friday attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) house. But the facts that have emerged so far are horrifying and raise a question Americans have had to ask too often in recent years: Can the most powerful country in the world protect its leaders and their families?

In the early hours of Friday morning, an assailant broke into Ms. Pelosi’s San Francisco home and attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer. Mr. Pelosi was admitted into the hospital with “significant” injuries but is expected to make a full recovery. The Wall Street Journal reported that the suspected assailant — who is in custody — had “espoused extreme right-wing views on social media, including conspiracy theories about covid-19.” According to initial reports, he yelled out “Where’s Nancy?” during the attack — an eerie echo of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, when rioters screamed, “Where are you, Nancy? We’re looking for you!”

While the attacker’s motives and mental state remain to be determined, the imperative to safeguard members of Congress, other senior officials and their families from such wanton violence could hardly be clearer.

The danger is neither new nor one that is confined to a single party. In 2011, a gunman grievously wounded Gabrielle Giffords, then a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, as she met constituents outside a Tucson-area Safeway. He then turned on bystanders and hit 18 more people, killing six. A half-dozen years later, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot at a congressional baseball practice by a man carrying a list of several Republican lawmakers in his pocket.

Since those episodes, threats and intimidation against politicians have continued to escalate amid the toxic rhetoric that has come to pass for political discourse and against the backdrop of a deeply polarized landscape. Earlier this month, the New York Times documented a surge in violent political speech since 2016; threats against members of Congress have reportedly increased more than tenfold, with nearly 10,000 reported incidents in 2021. A man was arrested in July for threatening to kill Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and just this week another man pleaded guilty to threatening to kill a congressman. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the Times.

It is not just legislators who are at risk: In June, a man accused of planning to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh turned himself in to police outside the conservative justice’s home. That incident spurred Congress to pass a bill boosting protections for justices and their families. As violent rhetoric mounts, security for lawmakers and their families likely needs strengthening, too.

Whatever else we learn about the attack on the Pelosis, it is incumbent on politicians — regardless of party — to condemn anything resembling political violence. On Friday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was “horrified and disgusted” by the reported assault, while Mr. Scalise said that “violence has no place in this country.” Several others have released similar statements. We hope lawmakers turn their outrage into action by tamping down on political vitriol — and by considering new investments in security for themselves, their families and other leaders who appear to face more risk by the day.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).