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Paul Pelosi’s alleged attacker left digital trail of extremism and far-right conspiracy theories

The alleged online history of the man charged with violently assaulting the House speaker’s husband reveals QAnon links and a path to radicalisation

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 29 October 2022 02:01 BST
Nancy Pelosi's husband attacked during break-in at San Francisco home

Before he allegedly attacked the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer in the early morning hours of 28 October, suspect David Depape appeared to be immersed in a toxic online culture of far-right conspiracy theories.

The 42-year-old appeared to have published a subscription-based blog where he expressed a range of transphobic, antisemitic and racist views, alongside conspiracy theories tied to Covid-19 and QAnon, among others, according to posts reviewed by The Independent.

Mr Depape was more prolific in recent weeks, allegedly posting several times a day on his Wix-hosted website up until one day before the attack. 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.

“How did I get into all this,” the post reads. “Gamer gate it was gamer gate.”

His Wix-hosted “Frenly Frens” blog – a title that references a term shared among online far-right users – – also includes several posts amplifying bogus conspiracy theories tied to the far-reaching QAnon movement, a decentralised far-right belief system that, among other ideas, alleges Democratic officials and other prominent figures are involved in a satanist plot to traffick young children and drink their blood.

Topic tags include a range of far-right culture war issues, including “drag queen story hours,” “cultural marxism,” and “grooming.” The most recent post was titled “Why Colleges are becoming Cults.”

A separate blog hosted by WordPress, which was suspended on Friday for violating the platform’s terms of service, hosted similar content, including a post titled “pedophile normalization”.

None of the posts appeared to have mentioned Speaker Pelosi.

Both sites are registered to a David Depape.

David Depape is shown in Berkeley, California in 2013 (AP)

Mr Depape allegedly posted similar content to his Facebook page, confirmed as authentic by Mr Depape’s family to CNN. The page has since been removed from the platform.

His public posts included a video from MyPillow CEO and prominent election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell that falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from Mr Trump.

He also allegedly promoted claims on his Facebook page that the House committee investigating the events leading up to and surrounding the attack on the US Capitol is a sham.

Mr Depape’s online history grew increasingly more extreme over a 15-year period, according to Rolling Stone.

Mr Depape will be indicted on charges of attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, burglary “and several, several other additional felonies,” according to San Francisco Police Chief William Scott.

“The motive for this attack is still being determined,” Chief Scott said at a press briefing on Friday.

At another briefing on Friday evening, he said the attack “was intentional. It was not random.”

Officers were dispatched to the family’s home at 2.27am. When they arrived, Mr Depape and Mr Pelosi were both seen struggling with a hammer, according to police.

Chief Scott said that officers “immediately tackled” Mr Depape, who struck Mr Pelosi at least once when officers arrive, and took him into custody.

Mr Depape allegedly repeatedly shouted “where’s Nancy” when confronted by her husband.

Extremism and disinformation researchers have repeatedly warned about the proliferation of conspiracy theories on social media platforms and across online communities that have strong ties to real-world violence and radicalisation.

The attack at the Pelosi household “did not come out of nowhere” and should “serve as a wakeup call,” according to Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, in a statement on behalf of the Women’s Disinformation Defense Project, a progressive coalition aimed at combatting disinformation.

“This isn’t just about policy disagreements on Capitol Hill. Republicans paint anyone who opposes their agenda as enemies of America, with an increased reliance on violent and misogynistic rhetoric to galvanize their base,” she said. “What’s worse is that social media platforms have allowed these attacks to metastasize online and create an echo chamber that both radicalizes its consumers and desensitizes them to violence.”

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