Pelosi's attacker is proud of himself. The GOP emboldened him

Of course, the Pelosi suspect feels supported — the GOP is the party of political violence now

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 31, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

David DePape and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
David DePape and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

David DePape seems proud of himself. On Friday, a judge ordered the release of video footage that appears to show DePape beating Paul Pelosi, the husband of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with a hammer after refusing to listen to police orders to drop the weapon. The video is hard to watch, showing the suspect tackling Pelosi to the ground and viciously pounding him with a hammer while the police attempt to pull him off the 82-year-old man. Bizarrely, however, in a phone call to a San Francisco reporter made the same day, DePape's only regret was that the violence wasn't worse. 

"Now that you all have seen the body cam footage, I have an important message for everyone in America," DePape told KTVU's Amber Lee of. "You're welcome."

He then apologized that he "didn't get more of them."

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Like many of the January 6 insurrectionists who have been arrested, DePape appears to have no interest in backing down from the Donald Trump-fueled conspiracy theories that led to his violence. Instead, the chilling audio hints at a man who feels confident in his false accusations and supported in his belief that the Trumpist agenda must be forced upon America through violence. 

DePape appears delusional in many regards, but he is, sadly, right about one thing: His pro-violence views have a lot of support from Republicans, both politicians and voters. While he took it to the next level, DePape was only acting on a correct interpretation of Trump's implicit message: Since Democrats can't be beaten at the ballot box, power must be seized through violence. It's a view that, while they often avoid saying out loud, is widely backed by the rest of the GOP. The party, after all, has gone out of its way to reaffirm support for Trump in the wake of the deadly riot he unleashed on the Capitol two years ago. 

DePage is getting support from Republicans in both fairly direct ways and in ways that are larger and more diffuse. The more direct approval comes in the form of "jokes" and conspiracy theories about the attack on Pelosi. Former Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted a reminder of how many powerful Republicans engaged in this in the immediate aftermath of the attack. (He mistakenly attributes the Seattle Times, but it was in fact the New York Times that compiled this list.) 

DePape was only acting on a correct interpretation of Trump's implicit message: Since Democrats can't be beaten at the ballot box, power must be seized through violence.

A lot of people on Twitter, desperate to muddy the waters around this, quibbled with the phrase "made fun," arguing that many of these people, uh, merely "asked questions" about the attack. This, of course, is nonsense. The "questions" were actually conspiracy theories, most of which were grossly homophobic, suggesting that the attack was something other than right-wing political violence. Nor is there a thick line between "making fun" and conspiracy theories, and not just because the latter often is accompanied by tasteless jokes. Both conspiracy theories and jokes are about minimizing violence for the purpose of sending the same implicit message of winking support — a message that DePage clearly picked up on. 

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Even after the disturbing footage of the attack was released, right-wing media figures continued to push asinine conspiracy theories implying that Pelosi somehow faked this or was complicit in his own attempted murder. It's unlikely that many if any, people actually believe this nonsense. The purpose of such conspiracy theories is to continue justifying a refusal to condemn this attack, i.e. just another way to signal support for DePage's alleged crime. 

As gross as all of this is, it is sadly not surprising. This isn't just about a couple of dozen prominent Republicans finding ways to downplay Pelosi's suffering, either. In the two years since the January 6 insurrection, Republicans have made it clear that they have fully embraced political violence. Sure, they'll whine and fuss if anyone dares say so out loud because gaslighting the public is part of the abusive stance they've taken toward our democracy. But they're still the party of Trump, and after January 6, that means being the party of domestic terrorism. 

That Trump is still the leader of the GOP should not be in doubt, no matter how much wishcasting is done on MSNBC about his "low energy" campaign events. Under Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Republicans who control the House are gearing up to run a massive revenge campaign on anyone who took a stand against Trump's efforts to overthrow democracy. McCarthy has already removed two California Democrats, Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, from the Intelligence Committee, for the obvious purpose of punishing them for speaking out against Trump. All this sends a strong, unmistakable signal: McCarthy and House Republicans aren't just fine with what happened on January 6, but they will do everything in their power to shield him from consequences. 

Despite wistful talk among some GOP elite about someone beating Trump in the 2024 primary, most signs suggest the party is still in Trump's thrall. Trump loyalist Ronna McDaniel won her race to continue being the head of the Republican National Committee. She did face some challengers, but by and large, they were people who didn't think she was Trumpy enough, a belief that runs up against the reality of her unswerving devotion to Trump.

It is true that Trump has some potential primary opponents in 2024, but notably, they tend to avoid criticizing him for the attempted coup. His biggest competitor right now, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis, is focused on complaining that Trump isn't enough of a far-right authoritarian. They all know that a "political violence is bad" campaign platform is DOA with the Republican base. Acceptable opinions for Republican leaders can only fall in a narrow range between "I'm fine with right-wing domestic terrorism" and "I'm a big fan of murdering your political opponents." 

Listening to the DePape tape, what's remarkable is how much he sounds like Trump. The only real difference is that DePape is more concise and coherent. Trump could never keep his remarks to a lean two minutes, preferring instead hour-plus stemwinders when he's whining, lying, and inciting violence. DePape's suggestions of a Democratic conspiracy against America are just Trump's Big Lie. DePape's complaints that he didn't go far enough echo Trump's post-January 6 rhetoric painting the insurrectionists as heroes, complete with false promises of money and pardons for those who have committed violence on his behalf. 

As Heather "Digby" Parton noted at Salon on Monday, most of the coverage of Trump's newly invigorated 2024 run for president is delicately sidestepping reminders that he incited a violent insurrection. It continues to be difficult for the mainstream media to accept that the GOP has embraced violent fascism. The old Beltway framework around politics, which treats the two parties as roughly equivalent, has been false for a long time, but it's grotesquely so in the Trump era. Democrats are a normal center-left political party. Republicans have turned away from democracy and towards political violence. It certainly would be better for everyone if this were't true, but it is. DePape isn't some fringe character, but a reflection of who the Republicans have become in their MAGA iteration. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Big Lie Commentary David Depape Donald Trump January 6 Maga Paul Pelosi