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Politics & Policy

Bludgeoning of Nancy Pelosi’s husband shows how political violence haunts U.S

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi makes remarks as she and Senate Majority leader Charles Schumer and representatives participate in a candlelight vigil to commemorate the insurrection anniversary in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2022. | Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The bookends of Nancy Pelosi's current term as U.S. House speaker now begin with the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and will end with what by all appearances was a near-lethal attack on her husband inside her own home.

In the early morning hours Friday, a man entered the San Francisco congresswoman's home in the posh Pacific Heights neighborhood, demanded to see the speaker and attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer. He suffered a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands, requiring immediate surgery. 

Had Nancy Pelosi been home, it might have been one of the most consequential assassination attempts in recent American history. That is, of course, if we exclude hundreds of Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol less than two years ago in what could have been a congressional purge. The details of Friday’s attack are reminiscent of the chilling videos from Jan. 6 as people stalked through the halls of Congress chanting, “Nancy … Oh, Nancy … Where are you, Nancy?”

Richard Barnett, a supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump, sits inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. | Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

Police and the FBI are investigating the motives of suspect David DePape, a 42-year-old man who played a role in nudist protests in the Castro back in 2013. Reports indicate he uttered the words, “Where is Nancy?” as he threatened the life of her husband. 

Was the assault an act of political violence less than two weeks before the 2022 midterm election? Can the incident be blamed on the media bubbles that increasingly isolate and radicalize people? These are the questions many are asking in the immediate aftermath—and they’re not difficult to answer. 

Friday’s attack seems to directly speak to the recent rise in political violence both across the country and in California. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who represented the Castro during his time as an SF supervisor and recalled the antics of DePape and fellow protester Gypsy Taub during the 2013 nudist protests, said that Friday’s attack should clearly be viewed through the lens of political violence.

Wiener, an openly gay man who now represents all of San Francisco in the state Senate, is particularly well-versed on the issue of political violence after receiving “thousands of death threats.” 

California State Senator Scott Wiener speaks during the Asian Justice Rally on Jan. 30, 2022, in San Francisco's Anza Vista neighborhood. Wiener has been targeted with death threats throughout his political career. | Ekevara Kitpowsong

Last month, he went to Martinez to testify in court against a man who threatened him with a rifle over Covid vaccine legislation. The man was found guilty on seven of eight felony counts.

“The escalation of political threats ultimately leads to political violence,” Wiener told The Standard. “Words have consequences, and all the years of the demonization of Nancy Pelosi, the hundreds of millions of dollars—or billions of dollars—that have been spent demonizing her, it has a consequence because there are deranged people like this who get inspired to do something about it.”

Again, DePape’s motives are still unknown. But there is no doubt Nancy Pelosi—who is running for reelection—is a distinctly unique figure when it comes to being targeted by Republicans and the conservative right, verbally and physically. Many of the people who invaded the Capitol said they wanted to capture her. The suggestion by many Democrats that they might have killed her, if successful, isn’t far-fetched.

“This is despicable,” President Biden said Friday. “There’s too much violence, political violence. Too much hatred. Too much vitriol.”

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was assassinated at City Hall in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone. I Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

San Francisco, of course, has a relatively unique standing in its political figures being targeted with violence. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down in 1978 at City Hall by their former colleague on the board, Dan White. In 1975, a woman attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in San Francisco. 

Long before she became a U.S. Senator, radicals fired bullets into the San Francisco home of Dianne Feinstein. The former supervisor, who would succeed Moscone as mayor, said she carried a gun in her purse for a time.

“I made the determination that if somebody was going to try to take me out,” Feinstein told the AP, “I was going to take them with me.”

Wiener said he had a pleasant conversation with Paul Pelosi at an event Sunday and that the assault “breaks my heart.” 

But the state senator also noted that he doesn’t see incidents like Friday’s attack abating any time soon, especially when Republicans and far-right media outlets continue to speak in loaded terms buzzing with violence. He suggested Elon Musk’s recent takeover of Twitter could also open the floodgates to an increasingly dangerous situation.

“This is a direct result of that disgusting political rhetoric, whether it's from Donald Trump or Marjorie Taylor Greene or Newsmax or Fox News,” Wiener said. “And I'm really worried that now that Elon Musk is taking over Twitter, he is going to unleash the hate. I'm concerned about that. It's going to make things worse.”

Josh Koehn can be reached at