SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 29 (Reuters) – The man who struck the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer on the head shouted “Where’s Nancy?” after forcing his way into the couple’s home in San Francisco , facing attempted murder and other felony charges a day later.
Police initially refused to provide a motive for Friday’s attack on Paul Pelosi, 82, who underwent surgery for a fractured skull and injuries to his right arm and hand, but doctors expect a full recovery, according to his wife’s office.
But the incident raised fears of political violence less than two weeks before the Nov. 11 midterm elections. Control of the House and Senate will be decided on Aug. 8, coming amid the most vitriolic and polarizing U.S. political climate in decades.
The 82-year-old House speaker, herself a Democrat and second in constitutional succession to the U.S. presidency, was in Washington at the time of the attack.
She flew to San Francisco to be with her husband. On Saturday, three dark-colored SUVs believed to belong to Special Security were parked along with a city police patrol car outside Zuckerberg’s San Francisco General Hospital, where Paul Pelosi was admitted.
The couple’s son, Paul Pelosi Jr., is also in the hospital. When asked by reporters for an update on his father’s situation, he replied: “So far so good.”
President Joe Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday that he understood Pelosi’s husband “seems to be doing a lot better” and that the attack appeared “targeted at Nancy.”
Police identified the man arrested at the scene as 42-year-old David DePape. He was also taken to a hospital in San Francisco, but it is unclear whether he received medical or psychiatric treatment there, or both.
Online sheriff records show he was in custody on suspicion of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, battery, burglary, threats to a public official or family member and other felonies. Formal charges will be filed on Monday and an arraignment is expected on Tuesday, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said at a Friday night news conference that police detectives, with the assistance of FBI agents, have yet to determine what caused the home invasion, but said: “We know it’s not random behavior.”
Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hamill, said in a statement that Pelosi’s husband was “attacked by an assailant who acted with force and threatened his life while demanding See the Speaker.”
The intruder shouted, “Where is Nancy?” before the attack, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.
From shirts to hatred?
In the search for a motive, attention turned to the suspect’s apparent internet profile.
In recent posts on several sites, an internet user named “daviddepape” expressed support for former President Donald Trump and embraced the cult-like conspiracy theory QAnon. The posts included references to “satanic pedophiles,” anti-Semitic tropes, and criticism of women, transgender people, and scrutiny of tech companies.
Earlier sources promoted quartz crystals and hemp bracelets. Reuters could not confirm that the posts were created by the suspects arrested on Friday.
Extremism experts say the attack could be an example of a growing trend they call “random terrorism” in which sometimes unstable individuals are driven by hate speech and what they see and hear online Scenarios where public figures respond and are inspired by violence.
“This was clearly a targeted attack. The intent was to target and potentially harm the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” said John Cohen, a former counterterrorism coordinator and intelligence chief at the Department of Homeland Security, who is working with U.S. law enforcement agencies on the issue.
The San Francisco Chronicle published a photo of a man identified as DePape at the 2013 wedding of two nudist activists in San Francisco, despite his clothes. DePape, who was a shirt-jewelry maker at the time and claimed to be a member of the left-leaning Green Party, lived with the couple in Berkeley and was their best man at their wedding, the newspaper reported. He is said to have grown up in Canada.
The intruders forced their way into Pelosis’ three-story red-brick townhouse through the back door, Scott said. Aerial photos showed broken glass behind houses in the city’s wealthy Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Police were dispatched to conduct a “level A health check” at about 2:30 a.m. after a somewhat mysterious emergency 911 call from the residence, the official said. Other news outlets reported that the call was made by Paul Pelosi.
Scott credited the 911 operator with insight that “there was more to the incident than the caller told her” and dispatched the call with a higher priority than normal. Scott called her decision “life-saving.”
Police arriving at the front door caught a glimpse of DePape and Pelosi struggling with a hammer, according to Scott. The officer said DePape yanked the hammer away when officers yelled at the pair to put down their tools, and he was seen hitting Pelosi at least once. Police then dealt with DePaup, disarmed and arrested him, Scott said.
The incident comes a day after New York City police warned extremists could target politicians, political events and polling places ahead of the election.
The U.S. Capitol Police report said lawmakers from both parties faced 9,625 threats in 2021, a nearly three-fold increase from 2017, urging congressional offices on Saturday in a special memo to take extra safety precautions to address their higher risk .
As the Democratic leader in Washington and a longtime representative of one of America’s most liberal cities, Nancy Pelosi has been a frequent target of Republican criticism.
Her office was ransacked during January. On January 6, 2021, supporters of Republican then-President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, some of whom went after her during the attack.
Reporting by Nathan Frandino in San Francisco and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Andrea Shalal, Susan Heavey, Patricia Zengerle, Andy Sullivan, Brendan O’Brien, Jonathan Allen, Doina Chiacu, Rich McKay, Rami Ayyub, Tim Ahmann, Dan Whitcomb, Ismail Shakil, Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford and Gram Slattery; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis
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