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Political Violence: Beware the Lone Wolf

By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.

Paul Pelosi's assailant David DePape
Paul Pelosi's assailant David DePape

Malcolm Nance prides himself on being prescient. In his books The Plot to Destroy Democracy (2018) and The Plot to Betray America (2019), the veteran intelligence/counter-terrorism expert accurately mapped out the ongoing effort to turn the U.S.A. into an authoritarian state. His latest work, They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency (2022), predicts an era of political violence that burst into full life on Jan. 6, 2021 and in which lone wolf attacks will be common.

The Oct. 28 assault on Paul Pelosi by a hammer-wielding assailant is exactly the kind of thing that Nance foresees. According to police, the attacker, David DePape, was motivated by the conspiracy theory movement QAnon to punish House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, whom he accuses of unspecified lies. Obviously unhinged, DePape brings to mind others like him who have made news in recent years:

  • Ricky Schiffer, who was killed in a gunfight in August after trying to invade the FBI field headquarters in Cincinnati because he was enraged by the raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago palace.

  • Nicholas John Roske, who was arrested in June with a pistol, ammunition and burglary tools, for threatening to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after mailing bombs to high-profile critics of Trump such as Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton in 2018.

  • James T. Hodgkinson, the gunman who opened fire at a ballfield in Alexandria, Va. in 2017, wounding Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three aides from his party.

Actions by organized militia groups like invading Michigan’s capitol in 2020 and the plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will continue, but Nance foresees individuals like DePape, Schiffer, Sayoc, Roske and Hodgkinson playing major roles by committing sniper attacks, kidnappings, bombings and hit and run assaults on political figures and citizens. These men are the political terrorist heirs of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who took the lives of 168 people in April 1995.

Infamously used by al-Qaeda and ISIS, the lone wolf strategy enables followers of a movement to take their orders from general messages issued by party leaders such as Trump, mouthpieces like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, and militia leaders, and act on their own. They don’t have to be formal members of anything. The only need to identify with a cause in order to contribute to it, and they aren’t a risk to bring down a group’s hierarchy if they are arrested. Stopping all these random individuals becomes a game of whack-a-mole.

There’s a special cruelty to that mindset, one that is being actively stoked by the GOP establishment and right-wing media. You can see it in the gleeful reactions of crowds when Trump threatens journalists with prison rape if they don’t reveal their sources

Likewise when Lindsay Graham jokes about how thousands of people will leap to their death off the Golden Gate Bridge when GOP firebrand Jim Jordan becomes head of the House Judiciary Committee, or when Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake mocks the Pelosi attack. It’s there in Internet comments that exult in the suffering of others, and people on the left are not immune from such feelings. Conflict begets conflict.

It’s always an ominous sign when people find humor in violence and suffering
It’s always an ominous sign when people find humor in violence and suffering

It’s not just the mentally ill who are being primed for atrocities. Presumably rational people are attending events like the pro-Trump ReAwaken America rallies, where speakers rage about the satanic evil of people who don’t share their views. Such an attitude is not conducive to a live-and-let-live approach to our society. It is fuel for live-and-make-die action.

The constant demonization of Democrats and liberals by QAnon and far-right Republicans reeks of the propaganda that Germans were fed about Jews in the 1930s or what Hutus in Rwanda were led to believe before a horrific genocide was unleashed there in 1994. Repeatedly told that Tutsis were evil and not real Rwandans, Hutus were issued machetes and set upon their fellow citizens, butchering anywhere from 490,000 to 800,000.

It’s easy to see this happening in an America that is already flooded with assault weapons and handguns and where bloodbaths already occur daily for a multitude of reasons ranging from street crime to racially or politically motivated attacks.

Threats against public officials are now at an all-time high and Nance foresees an America riven by deadly violence of the kind that consumed Northern Ireland from the 1960s to 1998. That was Catholic vs. Protestant. This will be conservative vs. liberal but the middle won’t be safe. There is no middle because the prevailing mindset is all-or-nothing, for us or against us.

The level of violence that is coming will depend on the outcome of the next two national elections. The more significant the Republican setbacks at the polls, the more likely those defeats will be met with force. And if America slides into all-out fascism, “enemies” such as liberals (particularly teachers, journalists, social activists, doctors, scientists, and environmentalists) and minorities (Jews, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, LGBTQ) will be targets for state-sanctioned repression. You can bet protests will be countered with a deadly response of the kind Trump longed to use on Black Lives Matter protestors.

With pardons for Jan. 6 conspirators being dangled by Trump, and a far-right takeover of federal and state governments looming, the lone wolf is being given a license to kill with impunity. I can only pray that Nance is wrong for once.


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.

1 comment

1 Comment

Nov 03, 2022

Excellent article, John. Exactly what I have observed and have feared for some time. Jessie

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