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Analysis | A look back at the Paul Pelosi conspiracy theories from the right


We now have the graphics of Paul Pelosi’s attack. And its release should definitively quash the conspiracy theories filed not only by random internet users, but also by prominent GOP lawmakers and conservative pundits.

The Pelosi episode has provided a case study of how, even in the aftermath of a life-threatening attack, untruths and innuendo spread. (The New York Times literally used it as such.)

Many of these theories were put forward after publicly available evidence undermined them. Some were seeded by erroneous initial reporting and confusion, but continued to be promoted even after the record was corrected. When not contradicting the available evidence, they were often extremely speculative. If not stated as fact, they were extremely suggestive.

A Fox News guest even appeared on the air Friday afternoon, nearly three hours after the video’s release, and continued ask if there has been a break-in. Images of the break-in played as he spoke; he said he had not seen the video.

Many of the purveyors of such theories called for the release of this footage (which is below, but which we can’t recommend viewing). Now that the video is out, it’s worth remembering what such numbers suggested it might show – but it doesn’t.

That this was a lovers’ quarrel/that DePape was a male prostitute

The video clearly shows how a man enters the house. But a series of numbers suggested otherwise this fall:

  • Elon Musk, while linking to a website that labeled the attack as “a dispute with a male prostitute”: “There’s a slim chance there’s more to it than meets the eye.” (Musk deleted the tweet.)
  • Dinesh D’Souza: “Why was the attacker wearing his underpants?” (He wasn’t; this idea was based on reporting corrected shortly after it was published, two days before D’Souza’s comments.) “My conclusion? This man, the attacker, is either a sexual partner or a male prostitute, and this is a sidetracked sexual encounter.”
  • Representative Clay Higgins (R-La.): “That’s when you realize the nudist hippie male prostitute LSD man was the reason your husband didn’t make it to your fundraiser.” (deleted.)
  • Donald Trump Jr.: promoted a cartoon image depicting a sexual act between two men, one of whom held a hammer as he said, “Eh, ah, yes officer…I’m under attack!” (The message was later deleted.)
  • Representative Claudia Tenney (RN.Y.): Shared a photo of a group of young men holding big hammers next to a gay pride flag and added, “LOL.” (deleted.)
  • An American news: “No one should be attacked in his own home, whether the attacker was actually invited to a spirited horse game that ended in a lover’s quarrel or not.”
  • Conservative pundit Jesse Kelly: “It’s weird how Paul Pelosi got hammered – got hit with a hammer. uh. The man was apparently an acquaintance of Paul. To remind? … I’m sure he was dressed in Trump gear when he did it. But maybe he wasn’t dressed at all. What do you think about it?”

Video released Jan. 27 shows David DePape breaking into then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home before attacking her husband Paul in October 2022. (Video: The Washington Post)

That DePape was his friend

Related to the above, this was based on a misreading of the police report; while some read it to mean Pelosi called DePape his “friend,” the district attorney said it was DePape who referred to Pelosi as a “friend.” According to the police report, Pelosi said twice that he didn’t know DePape. And even if Pelosi had called the man a friend at some point during the burglary, that could easily have been taken as an attempt to defuse the situation.

That the attack was a false flag/did not occur

  • OAN: “This whole thing could be some sort of false flag staged if you will. I mean, the midterms are only a few weeks away and the Dems know they’re going to get hammered.
  • OAN: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays hidden from the public spotlight for a very long time. Just long enough for his injuries – his injuries, supposed injuries – to disappear.”

That there was a third person who opened the door

This idea was based on unclear initial reporting, but was promoted long after that reporting was clarified.

  • Fox News host Tucker Carlson: “Was there a third person in the house? We don’t know, but it’s not crazy to assume that it was. … [The door was] opened by whom? Common sense suggests it probably couldn’t have been Pelosi or Pappy who opened it. They were caught in a life-or-death drama, a battle over a hammer.”
  • Fox News host Brian Kilmeade: “Was the surveillance system on? Did they even have a security system? How did they get in? Was there a third – all this is because no one would answer basic questions.

That the broken glass outside suggested it might not have been a break-in

According to the police report, DePape himself admitted to breaking in. Still, the following numbers continued with the comments below:

  • Donald Trump: “It looks like the glass was broken from the inside out, so it wasn’t a break-in; it was an outbreak. I don’t know, you hear the same things I do.”
  • Fox News host Jesse Watters: “Well, there was broken glass at the back door. We’ve seen those pictures. But it looks like there’s glass on both sides, inside and out, and FBI sources say that’s odd.”
  • Far-right internet commentator Mike Cernovich: “If glass breaks, can you tell the difference between whether it was broken from the outside of the window versus from the inside?”
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