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The right’s worst offenders on Paul Pelosi conspiracy theories

David DePape, 42, is facing state and federal criminal charges after attacking Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on Oct. 28. (Video: The Washington Post)

We learned significant new details Monday about the attack on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Paul Pelosi. The federal charging documents confirmed the attack was as it initially appeared: politically motivated violence by someone who has trafficked extensively in many of the conspiracy theories that have animated the far right in recent years.

The details also poke even more gaping holes in (and in some cases outright debunk) the conspiracy theories dismissing or downplaying the political nature of the attack — including theories promoted by some of the most prominent right-leaning figures in the country.

Let’s run through what some of those people have said and how those comments have aged (poorly, and rather quickly).

Sen. Ted Cruz

When a right-wing provocateur wagered Sunday that it was “absurd” to “paint a hippie nudist from Berkeley as some kind of militant right winger,” the junior senator from Texas responded Monday, simply: “truth.”

False.

Even when Cruz tweeted, it was clear that David DePape had an extensive online trail indicating he subscribed to views that were in line with the far right. His history of extremist beliefs sometimes blurred the lines between far left and far right, as The Washington Post’s Hannah Allam and Souad Mekhennet reported Monday. But most recently, his writings included 2020 election denialism along with coronavirus and Jan. 6 conspiracy theories. DePape has also trafficked in QAnon narratives and expressed bigoted views toward minorities and transgender people, as the Associated Press reported.

Perhaps most compelling, though, is what DePape said about the attack in his own words, according to the criminal complaint filed Monday. The complaint makes clear DePape was animated by his differences with the Democratic Party.

“In the course of the interview, DEPAPE articulated he viewed Nancy as the ‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic Party,” the complaint says. DePape also said he wanted Nancy Pelosi to admit to some “truth,” although the complaint doesn’t detail precisely what he believed that truth to be. What we do know is what DePape indicated was animating him in the weeks before the attack.

The court papers also recorded DePape’s echoing the views of Jan. 6 rallygoers — seeded by prominent Republicans at the time with their “1776 moment” rhetoric — that his actions were in line with the actions of those fighting the British in the Revolutionary War.

“DEPAPE explained that he did not leave after Pelosi’s call to 911 because, much like the American founding fathers with the British, he was fighting against tyranny without the option of surrender,” the complaint says. “DEPAPE reiterated this sentiment elsewhere in the interview.”

That doesn’t mean DePape was incited by particular political figures or that his mental health wasn’t a factor. It just means it’s hardly “absurd” to think he was acting in accordance with the far-right views he espoused.

Elon Musk

The new Twitter owner offered an inauspicious start to his reign Sunday. He tweeted a link to an extremely thinly sourced story from a fringe news outlet with a tarnished past, a story that suggested the attack resulted from “a dispute with a male prostitute.”

“There is a tiny possibility,” Musk wrote suggestively, “there might be more to this story than meets the eye.”

Musk soon deleted the tweet, but not before more than 100,000 people had liked it.

The story was clearly shoddy even at the time, and it has proved to be even more so now.

While some on the right pointed to Paul Pelosi seemingly having referred to DePape as his “friend” during his 911 call, the criminal complaint notes Paul Pelosi twice said that he in fact didn’t know who DePape was — both to 911 and later to an officer in the ambulance. And while the context wasn’t immediately clear from how the emergency dispatcher relayed it, documents released late Tuesday state that it was actually DePape who referred to Pelosi as his “friend,” not the other way around.

The criminal complaint also shows, despite suggestions to the contrary, that DePape did break into the home — by his own account.

“DEPAPE stated that he broke into the house through a glass door, which was a difficult task that required the use of a hammer,” the complaint says.

The baseless idea that this was some kind of lover’s quarrel is also undermined by DePape’s own accounting of his political motives.

Donald Trump Jr.

Related to the above, the former president’s son used the situation Monday to post some truly ugly and distasteful memes about the attack. One, apparently lifted from a Twitter user, featured a hammer on top of a pair of white underwear and said, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.” Another featured two male “South Park” characters fornicating with one holding a phone while telling the police, “I’m being attacked!”

Trump Jr. deleted the latter Instagram post.

In addition to making light of a violent attack — something Trump Jr. later assured he viewed as “heinous” — the posts obviously alluded to the same baseless suggestions of an intimate relationship between Pelosi and DePape.

The claim that both men or the attacker were in their underwear — the latter based on an erroneous and since-corrected local news report — has been debunked. The district attorney stated Monday that Paul Pelosi was “was wearing a loosefitting pajama shirt and boxer shorts.” The criminal complaint further states that Pelosi was asleep when DePape broke in, making his attire unsurprising. It also says law enforcement retrieved materials from DePape’s “right shorts pocket.”

Trump Jr. claimed that his “South Park” post had “nothing at all to do with anything going on in the news.” That’s ridiculous, given that the context matches the Pelosi attack and the conspiracy theories about it — particularly with the image featuring one of the “South Park” characters holding a hammer while calling the police.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

The Georgia Republican defended the Paul Pelosi conspiracy theories Monday morning while citing Pelosi’s supposedly having referred to DePape as his “friend.”

She said the media was “blaming @elonmusk for ‘internet misinformation’ about Paul Pelosi’s friend attacking him with a hammer.”

As noted above, there remains no evidence Pelosi actually knew DePape, much less that they were friends, and there is plenty to dispute it. The dispatcher said Pelosi “stated that he doesn’t know who the male is, but he advised that his name was David and that he is a friend.” We’ve since learned that Paul Pelosi twice said he didn’t know DePape, and the district attorney now says the “he” referred to after the comma in the dispatcher’s quote is actually DePape, not Pelosi. (Even if it were the other way around, it could logically have been understood as an attempt to defuse the situation.)

And, again, DePape’s own account is that he broke in for political reasons.

Jesse Watters

Even after the criminal complaint was released Monday, the Fox News host clung to the idea that there were suspicious details missing.

Watters gestured in the direction of some of the above conspiracy theories, suggestively asking how DePape could “even get inside the house.”

(Donald Trump echoed Watters’s suggestion on a radio show that aired Tuesday morning, saying, “The glass it seems was broken from the inside to the out so it wasn’t a break in, it was a break out.”)

“No one has been able to give us a straight answer about that,” Watters said. “Now, there was glass broken at the rear door. We’ve seen those photos. But there looks like there’s glass on both sides, inside and out, and FBI sources are telling ‘Primetime’ that’s odd.”

Watters added: “The only person on the record who’s been a witness to what happened before the break-in is a private security officer who was working nearby.”

But that’s simply not true. In fact, just a few hours before Watters went on the air, we had learned about the account of a pretty crucial second witness: DePape himself. The criminal complaint states that DePape admitted that he broke in. There is no real reason to doubt that, and Watters offered nothing besides unnamed “FBI sources” pointing to something supposedly “odd.”

It’s fine to ask questions, and much remains unknown. But when you’re obviously gesturing to conspiracy theories and ignoring evidence that disputes or debunks them, you’re not just asking questions; you’re misinforming.

Clarification: This post has been updated to reflect the district attorney’s clarification on the “friend” exchange. The district attorney has stated in a court filing that it was DePape who said he was a friend of the Pelosis, not the other way around.

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