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Washington Whispers: The GOP Feigns Shock at Violence It Provoked

By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.

Our country, already in the middle of an overheated, tumultuous set of midterm campaigns, was jolted at the end of last week by a shocking act of political violence.

On Friday, Oct. 28, Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, was viciously attacked in their San Francisco home by a MAGA fanatic. David DePape, 42,  broke in and confronted the 82-year-old Pelosi in his bed in the middle of the night, demanding: “Where is Nancy?”

Nancy and Paul Pelosi in happier times (2019)
Nancy and Paul Pelosi in happier times (2019)

DePape’s plan, he later told San Francisco police, was to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage, interrogate her, and if he disliked the answers she gave him, to “kneecap” her, forcing her to be wheeled into the House by wheelchair as a lesson to others in Congress.

When his plan did not pan out (Nancy was in D.C.), DePape fractured Paul Pelosi’s skull with a hammer and seriously injured  the latter’s right arm and hand. Pelosi has undergone surgery and, at this writing, is expected to recover. But, taking the damage a hammer to a skull can cause together with Paul Pelosi’s age, the degree of recovery he will achieve is uncertain.

David DePape, the confessed assailant and would-be kidnapper
David DePape, the confessed assailant and would-be kidnapper

At the state level, DePape has been charged with attempted murder, residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment of an elder as well as threats to a public official and her family. If convicted, DePape will receive a sentence of from 13 years to life.

At the federal level, DePape has been charged with attempted kidnapping, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, and with assault of an immediate family member of a U.S. official with the intent to retaliate against the official, carrying a 30-year maximum sentence.

Some commentators have pointed to parts of DePape’s Internet posts as demonstrating his mental instability. But DePape will receive justice, one way or another, in a court of law, and I have no interest in wasting ink, so to speak, trying to address his state of mind or his sanity. He may be a mad monster, but it is his creators, the Republican Dr. Frankensteins, with whom we need to concern ourselves.

The assault on Paul Pelosi was not only a calamity for the Pelosi family, but—given the upcoming midterm election—a watershed moment for the future of our country’s politics. We have a decision to make. Are we as a nation going to continue to countenance violence and intimidation as a means of determining our leaders? Or is the nation going to stand up, say “no more of this,” and defend democracy?

The Right-Wing Does Its Thing

Following the brutal attack on Mr. Pelosi, Democratic leaders are pleading—as they have done after past violent events—for a lowering of the dangerous rhetoric that led to this attack and will lead to others. What is the Republican response?

Predictably, the right wing is playing the defamation and blame-the-victim game, reveling in their creation and dissemination of salacious, defamatory lies.

They have been helped to spread these defamations by billionaire Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter and self-styled “Chief Twit” —a perfect nickname for him, though one wonders whether he is acquainted with the word’s dictionary definition (a fool, idiot, half-wit, someone who chatters inanely).

In response to a Hillary Clinton tweet calling out the Pelosi attack as having resulted from the fact “the Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories,” Musk posted a link to the Santa Monica Observer, a right-wing website claiming that the assaulted Paul Pelosi was drunk and “in a dispute with a male prostitute.” The Chief Twit wrote, “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.” (According to Media Bias/Fact Check and the Washington Post, the Santa Monica Observer is known for routinely publishing false and misleading information.)

Musk later deleted the tweet—but not before it had 24,000 retweets and more than 100,000 likes. He never tried to undo the damage with a tweet officially taking it back or pointing out that the source was scurrilous.

Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s reaction to the attack on Paul Pelosi was to decry the silencing of Elon Musk. And on Monday, Greene defended the sexual conspiracy theories in the article Musk had originally posted.

Donald Trump Jr. reposted a vulgar photo taken from a Twitter user, of a pair of Haines underwear and a hammer with the statement: “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.” He accompanied another photo, of a hammer in a holster, with the caption “open carry in San Francisco.”

Arizona Republican state senator Wendy Rogers shared a false Amazon listing for a “Paul Pelosi Fake Novelty Item Headpiece.”

Oddly, Reps. Paul Gosar (R. Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R. Colo.), Jim Jordan (R. Ohio), and Josh Hawley (R. Mo.)—who loudly promoted the January 6 insurrection—appear to have been uncharacteristically silent.

True to form, Donald Trump joined those stirring the conspiracy pot about the assault on Nancy Pelosi’s husband
True to form, Donald Trump joined those stirring the conspiracy pot about the assault on Nancy Pelosi’s husband

Five days after the attack on Paul Pelosi, former President Trump—the master at concocting conspiracy theories about others while simultaneously conducting conspiracies himself—finally joined the right-wing efforts to spread lies about the assault.

On Tuesday’s Chris Stigall radio show in Philadelphia, Trump queried whether there was more to the story than law enforcement had presented. He said “The glass it seems was broken from the inside to the out so it wasn’t a break in, it was a a break out…The window was broken in and it was strange the cops were standing there practically from the moment it all took place.” (None of this is true).

Trump also—in his usual fashion—protected himself with vague caveats, saying “I don’t know, you hear the same things I do.” In addition, picking up the innuendo Elon Musk’s tweet handed him, Trump recited without specification, “It’s a lot of bad stuff…The whole thing is crazy, and if there’s even a little bit of truth to what’s being said…”

Republican Leadership—an Oxymoron?

But what did the leaders of the supposed mainstream of the Republican party have to say? From them, we’ve gotten only a combination of silence, evasion, and the use of what-about-ism to deflect blame.

Former Vice President Mike Pence wrote online, "There can be no tolerance for violence against public officials or their families." But he nevertheless continues to keep silent about the man—Donald Trump—who tried to kill him.

From Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, we got "horrified and disgusted” by the assault on Pelosi, and "grateful to hear that Paul is on track to make a full recovery and that law enforcement including our stellar Capitol Police are on the case." But McConnell writes nothing about the political poison emanating from his party that caused this. And nothing telling his party to stop the incitement of violence.

Kevin McCarthy, ever ambitious for Nancy Pelosi’s job, was less than gracious about acknowledging the savage attack on her husband
Kevin McCarthy, ever ambitious for Nancy Pelosi’s job, was less than gracious about acknowledging the savage attack on her husband

House Minority Leader McCarthy waited days to make much of a statement at all. And when he finally did, he said that “thankfully” Pelosi will be okay (there’s no certainty of that), called DePape a “deranged individual,” and said, “we’ve watched this with Lee Zeldin, we’ve watched this with Supreme Court Justices…You watch what happened to Steve Scalise and others. This has got to stop.”

McCarthy mentioned only Republican politicians—a bid to pretend that Republicans are being threatened as much as Democrats. But Democratic politicians are not and have not been inciting attacks against their opponents. And when such attacks occur, they immediately come out against the violence. Republicans, on the other hand, stand silent and take no action while the Trumps, and Greene and the rest of their right-wing gang ignite violence against the opposition.

A spokesman for a super PAC affiliated with McCarthy told the New York Times that it will not stop its attack ads against Nancy Pelosi, despite the assault. But why would one expect any better from McCarthy, the leader who elevated Marjorie Taylor Greene in his conference after she claimed Nancy Pelosi was “guilty of treason,” said, treason is “a crime punishable by death,” and liked a Facebook post advocating “a bullet to the head” for Pelosi?

Heck—McCarthy himself joked publicly in August 2021—after the January 6 hunting of Speaker Pelosi—that it would “be hard not to hit” her with the speaker’s gavel if Republicans take control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections and he becomes Speaker.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz offered his usual phony prayers, adding “We can have our political differences, but violence is always wrong and unacceptable.” This, after his role in promoting the January 6 insurrection.

Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul wrote, "No one deserves to be assaulted," but churlishly added, "Unlike Nancy Pelosi's daughter who celebrated my assault, I condemn this attack and wish Mr. Pelosi a speedy recovery."

As noted in the Independent, the Kentucky senator couldn’t bring himself to condemn the assault on Paul Pelosi “without resorting to what-about-ism.” But the attack on Rand Paul in 2017 was by a neighbor over a land dispute. It was not politically motivated. The Democratic Party did not incite the attack.

In another instance of “what-about-ism,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer (Republican Rep., Minn.), tried to deflect by dredging up the 2017 shooting of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (Republican Rep., Louisiana) by a Bernie Sanders supporter. On “Face the Nation, Emmer said he never heard anyone “in the media trying to blame Democrats for what happened.”

But neither Bernie Sanders nor any other Democratic politician had targeted or villainized Scalise. In addition, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats immediately stood solidly with then-Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the GOP in condemning political violence. Indeed, Nancy immediately condemned the shooting as a “despicable and cowardly attack,” and said, “On days like today, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans united in our hopes and prayers for the wounded.”

On the other hand, only last week, Republican Congressional Committee chair Emmer posted a video of himself firing a gun at a shooting range with the hashtag #FirePelosi. Yet, he refused to acknowledge that his pun was not merely a smug joke but an incitement to fire at her.

Republican National Committee chair Rona McDaniel whined on Fox News Sunday that it was “unfair” for Democrats to link Republicans’ inflammatory rhetoric to the attack on Paul Pelosi. McDaniel pulled out the usual dismissal of the perpetrator as just a “deranged individual,” complaining, “You can’t say people saying, ‘let’s fire Pelosi’ or ‘let’s take back the House’ is saying ‘go do violence.’ It’s just unfair. And I think we all need to recognize violence is up across the board.”

When you’re shooting a rifle, however, while saying “Fire Pelosi,” as Tom Emmer did, you’re not just trying to put her out of a job.

And McDaniel must know that her RNC and its candidates have been building to an active threat on Pelosi’s life for decades. In 2009, the RNC ran an advertisement presenting Nancy Pelosi’s face framed by the barrel of a gun with the sound of a bullet firing and red bleeding down the screen.

In 2010, Pelosi’s opponent John Dennis ran an advertisement with an actor playing the Speaker conducting an animal sacrifice. And in February, Jim Lamon, a candidate in the Republican primary for the Senate in Arizona, ran an ad in which he shoots at a knife-wielding, mask-wearing, bug-eyed woman labeled “Pelosi Crazyface.”

If RNC Chair Rona McDaniel doesn’t want the Republican Party to be held responsible for the violence it incites, she should get her party to stop inciting it.

But the Republican Party will not do so. Whether its leaders engage in or promote the violence or stand silent while others do their dirty work, they want it to continue. It serves their interests. If they did want it to stop, they would act to combat it within their ranks rather than evading and making excuses. Pleading with them to show some decency is a fruitless endeavor. The most powerful way to stop them is at the ballot box on November 8.


Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer,



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