Elon Musk shares lurid conspiracy theory about Paul Pelosi attack in response to Hillary Clinton

Billionaire peddled the conspiracy theory on Twitter just days after he completed his takeover of the social media platform – before deleting the post hours later

Rachel Sharp
Sunday 30 October 2022 12:48 GMT
Fox News host Jesse Watters dismisses Pelosi attack as 'a lot of people get hit with hammers'
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Elon Musk shared a lurid, baseless conspiracy theory on Twitter about what transpired the night of the violent hammer attack on Paul Pelosi – just days after he took over the social media platform on the promise of stripping away content moderation.

On Saturday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit out at members of the GOP for spreading “hate and deranged conspiracy theories” after it emerged that Mr Pelosi’s alleged attacker had been spewing far-right conspiracies online in the lead-up to Friday’s assault.

“The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories. It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result,” she tweeted.

“As citizens, we must hold them accountable for their words and the actions that follow.”

Mr Musk, who completed his takeover of the social media platform on Thursday, responded to Ms Clinton on Sunday by pushing a conspiracy theory to his 112m followers that the attack that left the 82-year-old hospitalised with serious injuries was not what it seemed.

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

The Twitter and Tesla boss gave no explanation for his comments, simply sharing a link to an article that claimed – without any evidence – that Mr Pelosi was drunk and met his alleged attacker in a gay bar.

But, by early afternoon on Sunday, Mr Musk appeared to have had a change of heart and had taken the tweet down.

It is one of several far-right conspiracies that began circulating online almost immediately after the attack on the House Speaker’s husband – all the while the 82-year-old was in hospital undergoing surgery for a fractured skull.

Just after 2am local time on Friday morning, officers were called to the Pelosi’s San Francisco home after a man broke in looking for the Democratic lawmaker.

David DePape, a 42-year-old hemp jewellery maker, was reportedly shouting “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?” in search of the House speaker.

Ms Pelosi’s husband was home alone, with his wife away in Washington DC at the time.

Finding the House speaker missing, Mr DePape allegedly proceeded to try to tie Mr Pelosi up in the aim of waiting until she returned home. The alarm was raised when Mr Pelosi managed to secretly dial 911 from his cellphone and spoke in “code” to a dispatcher.

The 82-year-old left the line open as he spoke to Mr DePape, enabling the dispatcher to hear what was going on and send officers to the home.

When officers arrived on the scene, police said they saw both Mr Pelosi and Mr DePape with their hands on one hammer. At that moment, Mr DePape allegedly pulled the hammer away from Mr Pelosi and “violently assaulted” him with it, striking him at least once.

Mr Pelosi was taken to hospital where he underwent surgery for a skull fracture on Friday. He also suffered “serious injuries” to his right arm and hands but is expected to make a full recovery.

San Francisco Police chief William Scott said in a press conference that the attack was “intentional” and “not a random act”.

While he stopped short of detailing a motive, he referred to Ms Pelosi’s role as an elected official.

“It’s wrong. Our elected officials are here to do the business of their cities, their counties, their states and this nation. Their families don’t sign up for this to be harmed and it is wrong,” he said.

Police sources told KTVU that the assailant had a hit list of other lawmakers he also planned to target.

A search of Mr DePape’s online history has uncovered a deep-rooted obsession with extreme right-wing conspiracy theories including debunked claims about the Covid-19 vaccine and QAnon.

On one subscription-based blog, reviewed by The Independent, he expressed a range of transphobic, anti-Semitic and racist views.

In the weeks leading up to the violent assault on Mr Pelosi, the pace of the posts ramped up, with Mr DePape posting several times a day. Topics include Holocaust denialism, false claims that Covid-19 vaccines are lethal, venerating alt-right figure Jordan Peterson, and his support for Donald Trump to run in 2024 with Tulsi Gabbard as his running mate.

A post from 23 August on his alleged blog suggests he was radicalised by GamerGate, a misogynist campaign against feminism within the video game industry that gave rise to far-right reactionary movements among young men, parallel to the emergence of QAnon and Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

A separate blog hosted by WordPress hosted similar content, including a post titled “pedophile normalization”.

Mr DePape was arrested at the scene on charges of attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, burglary and other felonies.

While the attack on Mr Pelosi comes amid a surge in reported threats against members of Congress and at a time when Mr Trump and his supporters continue to push false claims of 2020 election fraud, right-wing commentators – including members of the right-wing media – refused to believe he was assaulted by a man targeting the House speaker.

Instead, they have been peddling baseless conspiracies to their base ever since.

Newsmax host Greg Kelly came under fire for suggesting that Speaker Pelosi even “staged” the attack that left her 82-year-old husband hospitalised with serious injuries.

Law enforcement on the scene of the Pelosi home on Friday after the attack
Law enforcement on the scene of the Pelosi home on Friday after the attack (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“Just ‘wondering’ if Nancy Pelosi tried to STAGE her own mini January 6th. Complete with leaving the doors and windows OPEN for ‘insurrectionists’ and this Depepe fellow,” he tweeted on Friday.

“THAT or she can’t secure her home or office!”

Mr Kelly seemed to have second thoughts about his comments, later deleting the post.

But the tweet was already screengrabbed by several social media users who condemned his comments.

Mr Musk’s decision to also peddle a conspiracy theory about an attack on the family member of an elected official comes as questions are mounting over how content will be regulated on Twitter with the billionaire businessman is at the helm.

Prior to the takeover’s completion on Thursday, Mr Musk had pledged to cut back on moderation of content in what he touts as a move to promote free speech.

David DePape allegedly attacked Mr Pelosi with a hammer
David DePape allegedly attacked Mr Pelosi with a hammer (AP)

This has raised speculation that users who were banned for making offensive or false posts could be welcomed back to the platform soon.

Within hours of the takeover, right-wing commenters began flooding the platform with debunked conspiracy theories with phrases including “Trump won” rising on the site, reported Fortune.

The attack on Mr Pelosi came the same day that the US intelligence community released a grave warning to law enforcement partners that there could be a surge in domestic violence extremism (DVE) – particularly towards lawmakers – around the November midterms.

Data from the US Capitol Police reveals that reports of “concerning statements and threats” to members of Congress have almost tripled in the last four years, rising from 3,939 in 2017 to 9,625 in 2021.

These threats reached a head on 6 January 2021 when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol – fuelled by his lies that the presidential election was “stolen” from him – to try to overturn Joe Biden’s win.

Chilling footage from that day reveals how some of the rioters hunted for Ms Pelosi, chanting “Where’s Nancy?” as they ransacked her office.

Others were seen chanting “Hang Mike Pence” after the vice president refused to attempt to overthrow the election in Mr Trump’s favour.

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