Police in California have arrested a 42-year-old man for breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home and assaulting her 82-year-old husband with a hammer. Paul Pelosi suffered a skull fracture and other injuries but is expected to make a full recovery. We speak to Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California as President Biden links the attack on the Pelosis to election conspiracy theories spread by Republicans. Khanna says “he is sickened by what happened” and that simply condemning violence is not enough. “What we need to be responding to is the threat of political violence that is being stoked by conspiracy theories and propaganda and hate speech,” he says.
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
A California man is facing charges of attempted homicide, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, and elder abuse after police say he broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home early Friday morning. Police say the man assaulted Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer, fracturing his skull. The assailant, who has been identified as 42-year-old David DePape, reportedly yelled “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?” The House Speaker was in Washington at the time. According to some press accounts, the assailant had zip ties and duct tape with him at the time of his arrest.
Police say they’re still determining a motive for the attack on Paul Pelosi, but numerous outlets report the assailant had posted conspiracy theories online about QAnon, about the 2020 elections. So many of what he posted was antisemitic and filled with hate. The man’s former partner described him as mentally ill.
In a letter to other lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she and her family are “heartbroken and traumatized.” Paul Pelosi was hospitalized after the attack, required surgery on his skull.
The attack came less than two weeks before the midterm elections, sparking new concerns about political violence. Democratic Congressmember Debbie Dingell of Michigan warned, quote, “Somebody is going to die.” President Biden addressed the attack on Paul Pelosi Saturday.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I want to make a brief statement about Nancy and Paul Pelosi. You know, talked to them. He seems to be doing a lot better. Looks like he’s going to recover fully. But also, I don’t know for certain, but it looks like this was intended for Nancy. He kept asking, “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” …
It’s one thing to condemn the violence, but you can’t condemn the violence unless you condemn those people who continue to argue the election was not real, that it’s being stolen, that all the — all the malarkey that’s being put out there to undermine democracy. … The talk has to stop. That’s the problem. That’s the problem. You can’t just say, “I feel badly about the violence. We condemn it.” Condemn what produces the violence. And this talk produces the violence.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s President Biden.
To talk more about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband and other issues, we’re joined by Ro Khanna, Democratic member of Congress from California, deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
So, let’s begin with this attack, Congressman Khanna. The significance of him saying, “Where’s Nancy?” It’s not just asking where she is in the house, but that was the kind of mantra as the insurrectionists tore through Congress on January 6th, as they then also shouted, “Where’s Nancy?”
The word is now, according to both the San Francisco police chief and others, that Paul Pelosi had the wherewithal to hit 911 when the attacker was coming, but couldn’t say anything, and so the dispatcher just heard the conversation between them and then understood what was going on.
If you can talk about this and your concern about this issue of political violence? It wasn’t only Congressmember Dingell who’s talked about “someone’s going to die”; Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also predicted something like this.
REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, first of all, on a personal level, I’m just heartbroken and sickened by what happened. I’ve been to the Pelosis’ house many times, as many of us have from the Bay Area. For decades, they have opened up their home to so many in the community for so many causes. And to see this happen, after their dedication for decades to public service, is just outrageous.
And the president is right. Yes, we have to condemn the violence, but we have to go beyond that and see what is causing this radicalization. And it’s the conspiracy theories, and it is the falseness and propaganda out there on media and social media platforms.
And this poses a very difficult challenge for the United States. It’s easy to say, “Let’s take down speech that is an incitement to violence, that doesn’t meet the Brandenburg test.” The harder issue is: What do you do with speech that is blatantly false, that is conspiratorial, that may meet the First Amendment test but still is leading to radicalization? And we have a responsibility — and social media companies and media companies, as well as elected officials — to really be having that hard conversation about speech that’s leading to radicalization in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Republicans who are speaking out, I mean, it’s been shocking to see the lack of absolute condemnation, going right on up to Trump. I haven’t seen during the show if he has tweeted anything yet directly condemning what took place. But trying to link it to crime and then saying GOP is the party that can deal best with crime?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, that’s just factually not the case. I mean, we’ll let the investigation play out, but it seems in this case, when someone is coming in and yelling “Where is Nancy?” that this was targeted to the Pelosis. And we know from the initial reporting that this person engaged in many of the worst conspiracy theories, including election denialism.
So, I think that what we need to be responding to is the threat of political violence that is being stoked by conspiracy theories and propaganda and hate speech on social media and in our democracy. And the question for elected officials is: How do we tone down the temperature? How do we stop resorting to that kind of propaganda? And the question for media is: What is their responsibility, both social media and television?
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of social media, of course, Twitter’s new owner — he calls himself the Chief Twit, of course — is Elon Musk, who tweeted a link to an article from a right-wing conspiracy website known for spreading misinformation, like, in fact, Hillary Clinton in 2016, when she was running against Trump, was actually dead and that there was a body double that was running in her place. He tweeted a conspiracy theory about Paul Pelosi, posted the article in response to Hillary Clinton, and then eventually took it down. But he owns Twitter. What are your concerns about this major social media platform being owned by Elon Musk right now?
REP. RO KHANNA: I’m concerned what rules he’s going to have that safeguard democracy and how we’re going to do that in a responsible and independent way. To the extent that he wants to remove bots, fine, that can make the platform better. But the question is: Can he create an independent entity that makes these decisions, so he is not making the decisions? Look, I don’t love the fact that The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, but I’ll tell you when I submit an op-ed or when there’s an article covering me in The Washington Post, I know that that’s not Jeff Bezos making those decisions. They have an independent editorial board. They have an independent news department. That separation, at the very least, needs to exist in Twitter.