Neither side has a satisfactory explanation for David DePape's attack
Last week, 82-year-old Paul Pelosi was attacked in his San Francisco home by David DePape, a local man identified in the San Francisco Chronicle a decade earlier as a “hemp jewellery maker” who lived with a nudist activist. Pelosi, the husband of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and a businessman with a fortune estimated at $120 million, suffered serious injuries. He had been struggling with DePape for control of a hammer when police — admitted to the residence by an unidentified third party — rushed in and subdued the assailant, who had allegedly been shouting “Where’s Nancy?” during the attack.
Admittedly, these verified details are certain to provoke additional questions. Other unverified details, including the since-retracted claim by KTVU-TV that DePape was wearing only his underwear when police arrived, have further stoked curiosity, with some suggesting that Pelosi was also in his underwear. This narrative, which calls to mind Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum being found in a Miami Beach hotel room while one of the other two men with him was overdosing on meth, seems to fit a particular script: decadent elites engaging in lurid and depraved antics.
Others have framed it to suit their own ideology. The mainstream media appears to have settled on the just-so story of Right-wing radicalisation, pointing to recent blogs and Facebook posts suggesting that DePape was motivated to act by concerns about Covid-19 vaccines, the “Great Reset,” or QAnon.” Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter threw cold water on theories about DePape being Pelosi’s gay lover or drug dealer, instead emphasising that he was a drug user whose psychotic attack was motivated by marijuana — the dangers of excessive THC in marijuana possibly leading to psychosis having been a recent Right-wing talking point. Meanwhile, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk was forced to delete tweets linking to an article that suggested that the personal life of Paul Pelosi somehow played a role.
San Fransicko author Michael Shellenberger, who has spent time among the city’s growing homeless population, offered perhaps the fullest portrait of DePape. Shellenberger noted that DePape’s politics consisted of bizarre theories from both sides of the political spectrum — he spoke to angels and claimed “Jesus is the anti-Christ” — and that he was frequently homeless and likely using drugs stronger than marijuana. DePape was an obsessive video game player in his youth in British Columbia before cycling through a variety of sexual partners and living arrangements as he made his way to San Francisco. It was alleged that he even abused his stepsons and stepdaughter during a relationship that ended in 2014.
In the end, the simplest explanation regarding DePape’s presence in the Pelosi household might be that he was a mentally ill person, as an increasing percentage of the city’s homeless are. Despite the rising crime that has affected San Francisco in recent years, Paul Pelosi’s house is neither barricaded nor protected with a large security detail. That DePape, like so many other transients with violent thoughts and lengthy track records of troubled behaviours, might have wandered inside intending to cause serious harm is — if nothing else — an indictment of the society that could offer no remedy for his mental illness.
That said, an explanation like this isn’t going to satisfy people who see DePape as a critical link in whatever narrative suits their partisan needs, whether it be an attack on “MAGA terrorism” or the dangers of marijuana — much less a more elaborate, QAnon-style conspiracy theory about elite deviance.
There are one or two details about how DePape and the police gained entrance to the home that, perhaps merely for privacy reasons, have not yet been resolved, and such gaps in the story will ensure that questioning continues, particularly for those of a conspiratorial bent. Having been silenced in the mainstream media as well as on social media platforms like Twitter, such conspiracy-minded individuals have likely reached a point at which anything might seem true, except for what they’re being told.
As elites and thought leaders lean into conventional explanations, the ideologically disenfranchised will believe whatever feels true to them. Meanwhile, David DePape — like former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ assailant Jared Lee Loughner, would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley, and other mentally ill individuals who have committed violent crimes — is in no position to speak for himself.