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Lies, vitriol and the Pelosi attack | Editorial.
What outlet does America’s worsening hate have?
Police investigators work outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco on Friday. Paul Pelosi was attacked and severely beaten by an assailant with a hammer, authorities said. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Police investigators work outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco on Friday. Paul Pelosi was attacked and severely beaten by an assailant with a hammer, authorities said. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) [ ERIC RISBERG | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 1, 2022

The violent attack early Friday on Paul Pelosi, the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was shocking, even for these hostile times. But were the election lies, conspiracy theories and personal attacks on the speaker herself peddled by the far-right for years supposed to evaporate harmlessly into the ether? Pack polarizing notions into the wrong minds, and violence cannot be far behind. Denouncing Friday’s attack is easy; what matters is taking the next, natural step and addressing the fuel apparently behind it.

Police say David DePape, 42, broke into the couple’s San Francisco home and severely beat Paul Pelosi with a hammer in what appeared to be a targeted assault. Authorities said DePape shouted, “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?” before confronting Paul Pelosi, 82, striking him with a hammer, leaving Pelosi to undergo surgery Friday for a fractured skull and other serious injuries. DePape was booked Friday on suspicion of attempted murder and was expected to face several felony charges Monday.

As horrible as the attack was, officials suggested it could have ended far worse. CNN reported Sunday that DePape brought duct tape and a bag that contained multiple zip ties, among other things. Nancy Pelosi wasn’t at her San Francisco home at the time, but she has long decried the rise of violent rhetoric. And while officials are still assessing a motive, the shouts of “Where is Nancy?” are particularly eerie, as it mimicked the taunt of rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as they rampaged the halls and tried to coax Pelosi out.

The New York Times reported Sunday that DePape appears to have been obsessed with right-wing conspiracy theories, including false claims about the 2020 election being stolen, as well as concerns about pedophilia, anti-white racism and “elite” control of the internet. Republican leaders have long singled out the speaker for criticism to enthuse their political base, using Pelosi’s wealth, San Francisco connection and progressive agenda to attack Democrats more generally.

But the rhetoric has reached toxic levels, and it endangers public officials across the board. In 2017, a man with a grudge against Republicans shot and seriously wounded Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana at a congressional baseball practice near Washington. The number of recorded threats against members of Congress has increased more than tenfold in the five years after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, the Times reported. And with midterm elections next week, and control over Congress hanging in the balance, the volume of vitriol has only intensified.

When did Americans normalize a tribal philosophy that turned every difference of opinion into combat? When did Americans let their elected leaders off the hook for peddling lies that served themselves instead of their constituents or country? When did ignorance matter more than the truth, and winning more than uniting? When did dialogue and civility become things to loathe?

Something is tragically wrong in a democracy where an 82-year-old spouse of a public servant who is vilified mercilessly gets pummeled with a hammer in the middle of the night. Worse still, this attack is unlikely to change the arc of public discourse, just as shooting a member of Congress failed to do. It’s a brewing rage that only feeds mistrust of America’s institutions and ultimately weakens the country.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.