House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband is still in the intensive care unit following a violent attack by a man who was hunting his wife—but that hasn’t stopped leading Republicans from mocking him and spreading baseless conspiracy theories about the attack.
The man who allegedly broke into the Pelosis’ home with zip ties, repeatedly yelled “Where is Nancy?”, violently attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer, and reportedly had a list of other targets he planned to attack appears to have left a long digital trail of promoting various right-wing extremist conspiracy theories, including election lies, Pizzagate, and Holocaust denial.
Rather than grappling with the possibility that Pelosi’s husband was attacked because a man was radicalized by right-wing conspiracies, the people who have promoted those theories have embraced a new, fact-free narrative that a gay lover Pelosi was having an affair with attacked him, based on an incorrect initial report that the attacker was in his underwear when police arrived.
That theory moved quickly from the hard-right fringe into mainstream Republican political discourse over the weekend, culminating in a pair of posts from Donald Trump Jr.
On Sunday night Trump Jr. posted a meme with a picture of a hammer and a pair of underwear alongside the caption “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.” Then on Monday morning, he posted this:
Trump accompanied the post with a snide comment: “Dear fact checkers, this has nothing at all to do with anything going on in the news and simply posting a cartoon of what appears to be an altered South Park scene.”
The right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit quickly (and incorrectly) pushed stories claiming that the right-wing social media content Pelosi’s alleged attacker had posted were fabricated—a story that Trump-pardoned ex-con and election-denial activist Dinesh D’Souza was quick to promote.
Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins pushed a similar theory over the weekend in a since-deleted tweet:
New Twitter owner Elon Musk promoted the theory himself over the weekend, tweeting an article that claims Pelosi was drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute. “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” he said. (Musk later deleted the tweet.)
And while the alt-right push this false theory, more mainstream Republicans sought to ignore or downplay the attack and the apparent radicalization that the attacker underwent before setting his sights on Nancy Pelosi, a longtime bogeyman of the right.
“I think that's unfair. I think this is a deranged individual. You can't see people saying, ‘Let’s fire Pelosi’ or 'Let's take back the House' as saying 'Go do violence.' It's just unfair,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel said when asked about the attack.
She then falsely claimed that Democrats hadn’t condemned political violence and threats against Republicans. "Violence is up across the board. Lee Zeldin was attacked, we had assassination attempt against Brett Kavanaugh, and Democrats didn't repudiate that. Joe Biden didn’t talk about the assassination attempt against Brett Kavanaugh."
Paul Pelosi had surgeries to repair a fractured skull and serious injuries to his right arm and hands, according to the speaker’s office, which said he was expected to make a full recovery. As of Monday morning, he was reportedly still in the intensive care unit.
After staying silent for days on the attack, former President Donald Trump finally weighed in on Monday, before quickly pivoting to attack Pelosi’s home city in a rambling comment.
“With Paul Pelosi, that’s a terrible thing, with all of them it’s a terrible thing. Look at what’s happened to San Francisco generally. Look at what’s happening in Chicago. It was far worse than Afghanistan,” he said.