‘Heightened threat’: Paul Pelosi assault shines light on normalised political violence in US
29th October 2022

Washington: With 11 days until the midterm elections, a brutal attack on the spouse of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi has brought into the open again the normalisation of political violence in America.

Pelosi’s husband Paul, 82, was viciously assaulted with a hammer by an intruder who broke into their San Francisco home in the middle of the night shouting “Where is Nancy?”

David DePape, right, records a nude wedding outside San Francisco’s City Hall in 2013. DePape is accused of breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home and beating her husband with a hammer.Credit:AP

Although suspect David DePape’s motives weren’t immediately clear, the choice of target was unmistakable.

Reports suggest DePape was swimming in the cocktail of conspiracy theory and grievance that has marked US politics in the era of Donald Trump.

The 42-year-old appears to have made racist and often rambling posts online, including some that questioned the results of the 2020 election, defended the former President and echoed QAnon conspiracy theories.

Paul Pelosi, right, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, follows his wife as she arrives for her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in March.Credit:AP

“This was not a random act – this was intentional,” said San Francisco Police Chief William Scott.

“Our elected officials are here to do the business of their cities, their counties, their states and this nation. Their families don’t sign up for this, to be harmed. It is wrong and everybody should be disgusted.”

The attack was chillingly reminiscent of the January 6 riots last year, when Donald Trump supporters scoured the halls of the US Capitol searching for the Democratic Speaker, taunting: “Nancy…. Nancy….”

It also exposed uneasiness about America’s all too toxic electoral climate and the dangerous link between extremism fostered on social media and violence against political figures.

The prospect of more polarising speech also surrounds Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, as the billionaire owner has been deluged with pleas and demands from banned account holders to be let back into the platform.

In the aftermath of Pelosi’s attack, politicians from both side of the aisle posted messages online condemning the violence.

Trump was notably silent.

But his former vice president Mike Pence, who was also targeted on January 6 for certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, tweeted: “This is an outrage and our hearts are with the entire Pelosi family.”

Rioters hunted for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.Credit:AP

“There can be no tolerance for violence against public officials or their families. This man should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he added.

At a function in the swing state of Pennsylvania, Biden described the attack as “despicable” and tied the incident to the lies spread about the 2020 election.

“What makes us think that one party can talk about stolen elections, COVID being a hoax, that it’s all a bunch of lies, and it [does] not affect people who may not be so well-balanced?” he asked.

“Enough is enough is enough. Every person of good conscience needs to clearly and unambiguously stand up against violence in our politics, no matter what your politics are.”

Figures from the US Capitol Police show that in the five years after Trump was elected in 2016, the number of recorded threats against members of Congress from both sides of politics increased more than tenfold.

In 2021, 9625 threats were made against members of the House and Senate – the highest number ever recorded. This compares to 6955 threats investigated in 2019 and 3939 in 2017.

The examples are chilling. In Seattle, for example, a man who had sent an angry email to progressive Democrat Pramila Jayapal repeatedly showed up outside her house, armed with a semiautomatic handgun and shouting threats and profanities.

In Maine, one person sent Senator Susan Collins a video of a beheading and threatened to perform specific acts of violence against her, while another smashed a window at her home.

And in Washington, Republican Adam Kinzinger, a member of the January 6 committee probing the attack on the US capitol, has had no shortage of callers to his Congressional office issuing death threats against him and his family.

“Going to come protest in front of your house this weekend,” one caller said in a message on his office voicemail. “We know where your family is… Gonna get your wife. Gonna get your kids.”

Coming against the backdrop of next week’s midterms simply heightens the fear of what might come.

Indeed, hours after DePape been taken into custody, a joint bulletin issued by intelligence agencies on Friday warned of a “heightened threat” to the midterms, fuelled by ideological grievances and a rise in domestic violent extremism.

“Potential targets of DVE violence include candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin, which was released by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Centre and the Capitol Police.

It was an ominous reminder that America is at a crossroads, and that the events that unfolded at the Capitol on January 6 last year were likely just the beginning.

The obvious question is: can America’s democracy survive in this environment where violence is increasingly part of the political discourse?

As the rhetoric and extremism grows, how long before someone gets killed?

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