The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump pitches a Pelosi conspiracy theory, which quickly goes up in flames

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)
5 min

Rarely has the Reddit-ification of today’s conservative movement been in such stark relief as after the attack on Paul Pelosi. Various conspiracy theories have been lodged by prominent conservatives based on, at best, sheer innuendo and, at worst, falsehoods — and then (mostly) discarded when they proved just as baseless as they initially seemed.

As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump notes, it’s a case in point when it comes to just how little compunction certain figures in the movement have about departing from facts and good taste, and how little the Republican Party as a whole cares to police its most extreme and conspiratorially minded voices.

Yet when it comes to not just utter baselessness and carelessness, but willingness to continue spouting already-debunked rumors, you’d struggle to do better than the broken glass narrative.

This one has been a slow build. There’s never been any real reason to doubt that someone broke into the Pelosis’ home, but certain people were very invested in casting it as some grand conspiracy that didn’t involve a man violently targeting a prominent Democrat. Their idea was that images showing broken glass on the outside of the Pelosis’ door suggests that perhaps it wasn’t a break-in at all.

The idea percolated on social media and certain blogs for a few days before it broke into the mainstream thanks to Fox News host Jesse Watters and a former president by the name of Donald Trump.

“How did this homeless drug addict even get inside the house?” Watters asked Monday night. “No one has been able to give us a straight answer about that. 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.”

Trump picked up the ball and ran with it during a radio interview Tuesday.

“It’s weird things going on in that household in the last couple of weeks,” Trump said, adding: “But the glass it seems was broken from the inside to the out. So it wasn’t a break-in; it was a breakout. I don’t know. You hear the same things I do.”

In fact, this had already been explained. And we have gotten straight answers — answers that are even clearer now.

Not only have the police been unequivocal that this was a break-in, but charging documents released Monday — before both Watters’s show and Trump’s comments — state that suspect David DePape himself confirmed as much.

“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 criminal complaint said.

The complaint went public midafternoon Monday. Watters’s show went on the air at 7 p.m. — yet Watters made no mention of DePape’s admission, and instead falsely claimed, “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 in case statements by law enforcement and the complaint weren’t enough, The Post is now reporting that no less than video footage from the Capitol Police confirms that a man broke into the house:

The officer in D.C. quickly pulled up additional camera angles from around Pelosi’s home and began to backtrack, watching recordings from the minutes before San Francisco police arrived. There, on camera, was a man with a hammer, breaking a glass panel and entering the speaker’s home, according to three people familiar with how Capitol Police learned of the break-in and who have been briefed on or viewed the video themselves.

The rumor began to pick up steam Saturday when a former law enforcement official and CIA officer who blogs at the conservative website posted, “As a cop for 11 yrs in St. Louis I never once worked a burglary where the broken glass and debris at the entry point was OUTSIDE the residence.” Conservative provocateurs and media figures began asking suggestive questions.

By the next day, the tweet had been retweeted nearly 20,000 times and liked more than 70,000, according to the Wayback Machine. But it was soon deleted, with the author acknowledging Monday that “though I [and] others have not seen the type of glass debris that was present in this case, it apparently did indicate a break-in from outside.”

Indeed, it’s not difficult to find videos showing smashed glass falling both inward and outward — particularly when the glass has film on it and when it’s as much of a struggle as DePape said it was, according to the criminal complaint.

Even on Watters’s own show Monday night, he would soon welcome a guest who rather unhelpfully set about debunking the theory.

“You asked about the glass being on both sides,” former Las Vegas detective Randy Sutton said. “According to what I read there, not only was there panes of glass, but there was film on the glass, which is often used to make it more difficult to break in.”

Sutton added: “There’s glass on both sides. However — now, I’ve investigated a ton of burglaries and forcible entries using glass — that is not that unusual, quite honestly, Jesse, when you smash out something — especially when there’s film attached to it. It doesn’t just fall in one place. So, I’m not really concerned about that.”

After the show, Watters’s monologue was featured on both his Twitter feed and the Fox News website, where the broken glass portion was chosen as part of a brief excerpt of the show.

“The Pelosi’s [sic] have cameras all around their house,” read the tweet. “Why haven’t we seen any footage from that night?”

(Despite the growing evidence debunking the conspiracy theories, the theorizing hasn’t slowed down much. On his show Tuesday night, Watters continued to question the circumstances of the break-in without focusing on the positioning of the broken glass.)

We now know law enforcement has seen the footage. And it — along with everything else — reinforces that this was just as baseless as it seemed. And it should never stop being shocking that this rumor somehow found its way to the former president’s lips.