Attack on Paul Pelosi displays the violence of conspiracy theories

By Grace Hogsten

Elm Staff Writer

On Oct. 28, an assailant broke into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s home and attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi. Almost immediately, reports began circulating detailing the attack, its aftermath, and what may have motivated the attacker.

According to CNN, “Paul Pelosi was attacked with a hammer…by a male assailant…[who] was searching for the Speaker of the House.”

Despite the uniformity of the reports coming from reputable news sources such as the BBC, The Washington Post, and CNN, many prominent figures on the political right have promoted speculation about the attack.

These conspiracy theories deny that the alleged attacker, David DePape, was an uninvited assailant, but instead was a sexual partner of Paul Pelosi.

According to The Washington Post, Elon Musk, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump were among those who used their platforms to promote such narratives.

These conspiracy theories deny any threat towards Nancy Pelosi, and many express homophobic sentiments.

Not only are these theories baseless, but they encourage the broader conspiracy theories that caused the attack. They portray the Pelosi couple as schemers who will do anything for public sympathy, and the speculations also appeal to many Americans’ homophobic beliefs.

According to The New York Times, the attacker shed light on his motivations while talking to Paul Pelosi, saying, “Well, she’s No. 2 in line for the presidency, right?” He later added, “We’ve got to take them all out,” and told police officers, “I’m sick of the insane f—ing

level of lies coming out of Washington, D.C.”

DePape allegedly believed a set of extremely damaging far-right conspiracy theories that labeled many government officials, including Nancy Pelosi, as a threat. These beliefs motivated him to break into the Pelosi home with the intent to kidnap and attack Nancy Pelosi.

Unfortunately, this attack was reportedly part of the pattern of speculation and violence that has become especially obvious in the United States over the past few years. Far-right conspiracy theories sparked by organizations like QAnon allege that the country is in danger, so they motivate people to attack the proposed threats.

According to the BBC, “Studies reveal that conspiracy theories help people make sense of the world when they feel out of control, are anxious, or feel powerless if their needs are threatened…it can be psychologically comforting for some to believe that ‘powerful people’ are behind random events.”

Conspiracy theories can be extremely compelling. Life is difficult and uncertain; every day, people face financial problems, health risks, and heartbreaking losses. Blaming misfortune on another group of people provides an outlet for fear and anger. Attacking those people gives conspiracy theorists a sense of control, and what they believe to be a solution.

Moreover, according to The Washington Post, “Conspiracy theorists are more likely to approve of violence, lax gun laws, and secret plotting.”

Conspiracy theories lead to violence, according to the aforementioned studies. When people believe they are in danger, they will lash out, promoting violence because they believe that their goal justifies the means they use to achieve it.

This is how events from the attack of Paul Pelosi to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 come to pass. Angry, fearful people who believe prejudiced far-right conspiracy theories take the next logical step: violence.

According to the BBC, “A blog, website and social media accounts under the name of the suspect…contained anti-Semitic memes, Holocaust denial, references to far-right websites, and conspiracy theories such as QAnon.”

The assailant allegedly targeted Nancy Pelosi because he viewed her as deceptive and dangerous as a result of conspiracy theories he encountered online.

The same people who promoted the conspiracy theories that led to the attack on Paul Pelosi use the media coverage of the attack to further encourage the speculation, fueling their volatile followers.

 When news organizations publish coverage based on conspiracy theories, the cycle of misinformation and violence continues. 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Caption: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi (left), was recently attacked, leading many to speculate about the attacker’s identity and motive.

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