Conservative figures push salacious theory about Pelosi attack as local police chief denies it

Conservative figures push salacious theory about Pelosi attack as local police chief denies it


Prominent figures on social media, including some of the loudest voices on the political right, are pushing a salacious and false conspiracy theory about the attack on House Speaker Nancy. Pelosi’s husbandin an apparent attempt to shift the narrative about the assault.

The claim that big names like Elon Musk, Donald Trump, Jr., and Dinesh D’Souza have promoted to millions of their followers: Paul Pelosi and the man who attacked him were gay lovers who had beaten

The spurious theory goes back to an initial erroneous news report and a handful of pieces of evidence that its proponents have wildly pushed out of context. It is contrary to the explanation that the police and federal law enforcement have outlined – that the suspect in the attack, David DePapebroke into Pelosi’s house and attacked her.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Pelosi knew this man,” San Francisco Police Chief William Scott told CNN in an interview. “In fact, the evidence points to the exact opposite.”

But the explosion of social media posts discussing the theory shows how quickly conspiracies can spread, and how eager some political actors are to use falsehoods to push their agendas — even as violent threats against lawmakers have multiplied. in recent years.

A conspiracy linked to Nancy Pelosi, who has long been a lightning rod for conservatives and played a leading role in GOP attack ads, was a particularly attractive target for right-wing conspiracists, according to Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a American University professor who studies. polarization and extremism.

“We have a population that is unable to discern what is true and what is not, and this spread of misinformation from credible sources undermines that,” Miller-Idriss said. “People are willing to accept conspiracy theories when they reinforce the narrative they already have in their heads.”

According to police and an FBI affidavit included in the federal criminal complaint, DePape broke through a glass door at Pelosi’s San Francisco home early Friday morning, then went into the bedroom to confront Pelosi. , saying he wanted to talk to his wife. Pelosi was able to call 911, and officers arriving on the scene saw DePape hit her with a hammer.

Those pushing the “gay lover” theory have pointed to a handful of alleged evidence based on falsehoods and distorted stories. They said DePape was in her panties when police arrived at the scene — but the local TV station that originally reported it corrected its story and removed the claim. Others have suggested that a third person opened the door of Pelosi’s house, but the police have debunked that.

Many of the theorists linked to a recording of a 911 dispatcher saying that Pelosi referred to DePape as “a friend” and “sounded a little confused.”

But Pelosi appeared to be speaking in coded language on the 911 call to make it clear she needed help, a law enforcement source previously told CNN. And the complaint notes that Pelosi told officials she had never seen DePape before.

The complaint also includes an interview police conducted with DePape in which he admitted to breaking into the house and said he surprised Pelosi. According to the complaint, DePape said he wanted to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage because he considered her “the ringleader of the pack” of lies told by the Democratic Party, and said he was “fighting against tyranny without the surrender option.” ”

Scott, the San Francisco leader, called the conspiracies surrounding the attack “pathetic” and “disturbing.”

“We spend a lot of energy just pushing, really ridiculous conspiracy theories, to make sure people stay focused on our team,” he said. “These things are harmful to society, they are harmful to the victims involved – it’s really sad that we’re here in this place, but we are.”

Despite the lack of evidence, it took less than 24 hours after the attack for the “gay lover” theory to take root in right-wing social media circles.

Since the day of the attack, there have been at least 19,000 tweets mentioning the words “Pelosi” and “gay,” which have garnered a total of more than 700,000 “likes,” according to a CNN analysis — and that doesn’t include not tweets that refer to the theory without those words, or tweets that have since been deleted.

One of the first widely shared tweets endorsing the theory appears to have arrived at 11:36 a.m. on Friday, the day of the attack, garnering more than 2,700 retweets.

That evening, Raheem Kassam, a former Breitbart writer and co-host of Steve Bannon’s podcast, tweeted, “They still pretend I wasn’t Paul Pelosi’s gay lover,” earning more than 1,000 retweets.

Other conservative figures such as Donald Trump, Jr., Sebastian Gorka, and Dinesh D’Souza followed suit in the next few days, either explicitly endorsing the theory or referencing approval. The Rep. Clay Higgins, a GOP congressman from Louisiana who sits on the House International Security Committee, tweeted a photo of Nancy Pelosi and referred to DePape as a “male prostitute,” before deleting his tweet.

Musk helped elevate the conspiracy to a much wider audience. On Sunday morning, the billionaire, who just completed his purchase of the social media network, responded to a tweet about the Pelosi attack by Hillary Clinton and wrote “there is a small possibility that there could be more to this story of what the eye sees.” He linked to an article in the Santa Monica Observer, an obscure website, claiming that DePape was a male prostitute and that Pelosi had been in a drunken altercation with him. The website has already published fake news, such as a claim during the 2016 election that Clinton had died and been replaced with a body double for a debate.

Musk deleted the tweet around 2pm later that day – but by then, it had already racked up more than 28,000 retweets and 100,000 likes.

Conservative figures are gleefully praising Musk for sharing the post. “[email protected] just posted a link saying Paul Pelosi may have been drunk and with a gay hooker,” tweeted Lavern Spicer, a former GOP congressional candidate. “I’ve never respected him more than I do now.” His message was retweeted more than 11,000 times.

Gene DePape, the alleged attacker’s stepfather, said he was upset to see his stepson turned into a character in a conspiracy theory and used as a political talking point. She told CNN she scrolled through her Facebook news feed for hours over the weekend, where she first saw the posts claiming her estranged stepson was in love with Pelosi.

“It’s pretty sick,” he said.

David DePape’s social media and blog posts show that he himself was steeped in conspiracy theories in the months and years before the attack — from reflections on QAnon to anti-Semitic slurs to claims of an imminent takeover by the global elite.

DePape’s Facebook posts from last year support a litany of right-wing falsehoods. He posted several videos produced by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell that falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged, linked to websites that claimed Covid vaccines were deadly, and shared videos questioning the attack on the January 6, 2021. CNN magazine posts before the social media company took the page down, and several of DePape’s relatives confirmed that the page belonged to him.

In other blogs apparently written by DePape, he also posted anti-Semitic screeds and endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Some conservatives’ embrace of the “gay lover” theory has muddied the waters of a story that had led to bipartisan condemnation and sympathy for Pelosi — and distracted from discussion of how other right-wing conspiracies might have inspired it. the violence

Miller-Idriss, the American University professor, said that prominent figures who carelessly spread misinformation can lead to a wider impact on society.

“It’s dangerous because it undermines people’s sense of truth, it helps them divorce themselves more from reality,” he said. “It’s a situation where they’re spreading it further — and passing it on.”

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