Elizabeth Breitmeyer / Gavel Media

Misreporting on Pelosi Attack Ignites Conspiracies from the Right

The gruesome attack on Paul Pelosi with the intent to kidnap Nancy Pelosi has devolved into a slew of conspiracy theories from the right. Fueled by faulty reporting and fabricated stories from unreliable sources, many right wing politicians and influencers have begun to create ridiculous theories about what really happened that night. 

On October 28th, Paul Pelosi was awoken at 2 A.M. to glass shattering in his home; attacker David DePape had broken into the house wielding a hammer. After Pelosi managed to dial 911, police arrived mid struggle when DePape struck Pelosi in the head with the hammer, cracking his skull. DePape had a history of entertaining conspiracy theories, ranting online about QAnon and the 2020 election results being fraudulent, as well as being a Holocaust denier. Many on both the right and left denounced the vicious attack, recognizing it as a horrifying and disturbing politically motivated crime. This attack, though seemingly a black and white case of political violence, has raised many questions from the right. Many have questioned if the police report is really accurate, and multiple false reports about that night are what have given fuel to these conspiracies. 

NBC reporter Miguel Almaguer had reported false details about the attack on the Today show after he had received inaccurate information from an anonymous source. He reported that when Pelosi answered the door for the police, he had shown no indication of being in danger, which directly contradicted the police report. NBC swiftly took down the article when further details were released and the police report became public.

Another false report that had ignited conspiracies was that the attacker was in his underwear when the police arrived, with many insinuating that it meant there were sexual connotations behind the attack. Common theories that have come about since the attack were that it could have been a  "domestic violence case in a consensual sexual relationship," suggesting that Pelosi had a relationship with the attacker. New Twitter owner Elon Musk aided in spreading this conspiracy by responding to Hillary Clinton disavowing an article about DePape being a male prostitute with the comment, "there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye." Tucker Carlson also projected similar conspiracies, raising questions about the details regarding what happened, talking about the attack as if it was very fabricated. He alluded to the conspiracy of Pelosi being in a relationship with DePape, and said he could neither "confirm or deny" the validity of the theory. 

The theories projected weren’t exclusive to just internet personalities. Multiple elected officials from the right also gave their opinion on the validity of the story about the attack. Former President Donald Trump suggested that the attack was staged, saying, "Wow, it’s—weird things going on in that household in the last couple of weeks. Probably, you and I are better off not talking about it. The glass it seems was broken from the inside to the out so it wasn’t a break in, it was a break out." Senator Ted Cruz responded with simply "Truth" to a Tweet from Daily Wire contributor Matt Walsh that said, "I don't know what the hell happened at Nancy Pelosi's house, and I suspect none of us will ever know for sure. But I do know that trying to paint a hippie nudist from Berkeley as some kind of militant right winger is absurd and will always be absurd." 

The right denouncing the validity of this attack proves to be another cautionary tale to reporters about avoiding speculation in a situation so political and violent. A prominent company like NBC getting stories wrong is concerning, as it is meant to be a reliable source of information. Once conspiracies started becoming widespread, there was no changing the minds of those on the right that believed there was something more to the story than what was in the police report. Disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz told the New York Times "no amount of evidence—be it police body camera footage or anything else—could get in the way of such falsehoods in the eyes of those who do not want to believe facts." Once the right got an idea of something happening behind the scenes of this attack, it quickly spread into the minds of their viewers and created a new narrative of what really happened.

This incident reflects the January 6th conspiracies that led up to what happened on that day. Politicians on the right supporting the narrative of the election being fraudulent led to the insurrection, and theories on the right being projected about Pelosi eerily reflect the January 6th theories. David DePape was a consumer of the false narratives about January 6th, being a QAnon believer and election denier. The inaction of politicians and commentators to discredit harmful conspiracy theories reflects the never-ending problem on the right—spreading theories that simply are not true. 

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