As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband recovered in the hospital from an attempted kidnapping and assault likely inspired by violent right-wing rhetoric, One America News pushed salacious conspiracy theories to deflect blame from the right-wing media echo chamber pushing that rhetoric.
According to court documents, alleged assailant David DePape broke into Pelosi’s San Francisco residence with plans “to hold Nancy hostage and talk to her,” and “if she ‘lied,’ he was going to break ‘her kneecaps.” Pelosi was away at the time, but her 82-year-old husband sustained a skull fracture and other injuries after he was assaulted with a hammer.
DePape’s social media feeds were littered with nods to the QAnon conspiracy theory, election denialist posts from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and antisemitic screeds — drawing a consensus from hate and extremism experts that violent and conspiratorial rhetoric inspired the alleged assailant.
Right-wing media quickly tried to distract viewers with more conspiracy theories, prompting Pelosi to speak out. “It wasn't just the attack, it was the Republican reaction to it which was disgraceful,” she told CNN. “I mean, imagine how I feel as the one who was the target and my husband paying the price and the traumatic effect on our family. That trauma is intensified by the ridiculous, disrespectful attitude from the Republicans."
For its part, OAN spent the entire aftermath of the attack amplifying conspiracy theories. Hosts dismissed articles detailing DePape’s descent into right-wing extremism as a fake narrative relying on a doctored online footprint to demonize Republicans ahead of the midterms. Some OAN personalities suggested Paul Pelosi was injured in a drunken spat between gay lovers — even though he had no prior relationship with DePape. Others quickly concluded the attack was a false flag.
OAN pushed the idea that the attack was “a false flag of sorts” or just didn't happen
It took OAN less than 24 hours after the attack at the Pelosis’ home to cast doubts about whether the assault actually happened or was a “false flag.” Some network personalities even cracked jokes and questioned whether Paul Pelosi, who underwent surgery for skull fractures following the violent attack, was really hurt.
This is not the first time OAN pushed outlandish conspiracy theories to deflect blame from right-wing media and perpetuate a self-victimizing narrative. The network cried false flag after their election lies contributed to the Capitol insurrection, casting the mob of rioters as the real victims.
- OAN Live host Alison Steinberg: “This whole thing could be a false flag of sorts, staged if you will. I mean, the midterms are just weeks away and the Dems know they're going to get hammered.” Moments earlier, Steinberg mocked the attack, saying, “Paul Pelosi was hit over the head with a hammer. I guess they were trying to hammer some sense into him.” [OAN, Alison At Large, 10/29/22]
- OAN host Addison Smith: “If Paul Pelosi is actually hurt, I wish him a speedy recovery, but I wouldn't be surprised if he’s hidden from public spotlight for a very long time. Just long enough for his injuries — his injuries, purported injuries — to go away.” Smith questioned “the story that we’re supposed to believe, that the media is selling us,” that DePape “is a right-wing fascist MAGA lover who managed to sneak into the home of one of the most protected people in America in his underwear.” [OAN, In Focus with Addison Smith, 10/31/22]
- Real America host Dan Ball: “How did he get into the property without an alarm going off or any cops, police, or security knowing it? … I'm not buying the whole story that a right-wing antisemitic weirdo got in and beat up Nancy’s hubs looking for her.” [OAN, Real America, 10/28/22]
- Ball accused the DOJ and the media of twisting the narrative around the attack: “Can I just say right off the bat here, don't you think something about this whole Paul Pelosi attack smells a little fishy?” “You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason to figure out that part of the story,” Ball said. “Seems like San Francisco Police Department along with now the FBI and DOJ, who teamed up right away with the media, are creating some sort of twisted narrative about what went down at 2 in the morning at aunty Nancy's house with her hubs.” [OAN, Real America, 11/2/22]
OAN dismissed DePape's extremist online footprint as a left-wing attempt to demonize the right
OAN deflected from the mountain of evidence linking the attack to DePape’s right-wing radicalization — including social media and blog posts promoting QAnon, Holocaust denialism, and calls to shoot journalists — by playing up past reporting identifying him as a “hemp jewelry maker” and pro-nudity activist. Others pushed a false conspiracy theory originating from the Gateway Pundit alleging that DePape’s far-right blog posts were “likely fakes” created as part of “another far-left conjured-up lie.”
- Ball: “It’s absolutely insane that all Republicans would be responsible for some deranged hippie from Berkeley going in and beating up Paul.” “With only eight days until the midterm elections, Democrats are stopping at nothing to try and sway voters,” Ball said. He later asserted, “He’s a hippie who sells hemp bracelets, lives in a bus, nudist, and you’re supposed to make me believe that he’s a Trump supporter?” [OAN, Real America, 10/31/22]
- Ball admitted “there are disturbing posts on this man’s blog,” including “antisemitic comments,” however, “the mainstream media” narrative that Donald Trump, “MAGA folks,” and “election deniers drove this crazy man to go and look for Nancy Pelosi and attack her husband … is a load of BS.” Ball cited DePape’s prior relationship with “nudist activists” and “website selling hemp bracelets” as evidence that “this does not look like an America First or MAGA supporter.” [OAN, Real America, 10/28/22]
- Multiple One America News reports chided Democrats for connecting DePape’s far-right online footprint to “Republicans” and “the MAGA movement” when “the only details being released are about DePape being a nudist who attended a protest at Berkeley.” Even as experts came to a consensus that the normalization of extreme right-wing rhetoric inspired the attack, OAN stressed DePape is “likely mentally ill and has been tied to a progressive commune and pro-nudity activism.” [OAN, One America News, 10/30/22, 10/29/22, 11/1/22]
- Citing bogus reporting from the Gateway Pundit, Smith falsely claimed the “evil far-right websites that were connected to David DePape to smear the right” were “drummed up” and “fake,” “created as the narrative about DePape was being created along with it.” “Turns out DePape is actually a California Berkeley nudist who lives in a bus parked in a yard filled with Pride flags and BLM mantras.” He concluded, “This story never made sense to begin with.” [OAN, In Focus with Addison Smith, 10/31/22]
- Smith: This narrative about DePape’s far-right extremism was invented “to distract from all of the out-in-the-open political violence that has been perpetrated by the left.” Smith dismissed DePape’s right-wing conspiracy theories, claiming, “The media is trying to convince you that he is a rock-ribbed right winger,” but “he’s a hippie nudist who smokes weed and makes hemp jewelry.” [OAN, In Focus with Addison Smith, 11/1/22]
OAN suggested the attack was actually a gay tryst gone wrong
Network personalities also jumped on a salacious right-wing conspiracy theory about the attack shared by Twitter CEO Elon Musk suggesting that Pelosi and DePape had really been in a lovers’ spat. In reality, “there is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Pelosi knew this man,” San Francisco Police Chief William Scott told CNN. “As a matter of fact, the evidence indicates the exact opposite.”
- Ball: “I’m not saying there was a relationship there, like in sexual nature. I’m saying you’ve got eyewitnesses saying this, you’ve got neighbors of the freaky guy saying that and we’re not getting any video, any information, and the local cops are changing their story.” After the Real America host spread the debunked “gay tryst” conspiracy theory and concluded, “This is going to be Jussie Smollett 2.0,” Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) said the right-wing assailant “narrative” is “convenient for them going into midterms.” [OAN, Real America, 11/2/22]
- Discussing the baseless conspiracy theory spread by Musk, Tipping Point guest host Alison Steinberg said it “doesn’t really seem too outrageous considering the evidence” suggesting that Paul Pelosi was “drunk and in dispute with a male prostitute.” Later, a chyron noting “#PelosiGate & #PelosiGayLover trend on Twitter” aired as Steinberg and her guest questioned every aspect of the investigation into DePape, including “suspicions that he could actually be a known associate of Paul Pelosi.” [OAN, Tipping Point, 10/31/22]
- Minutes after claiming not to push conspiracy theories, Ball asked The Gateway Pundit’s Joe Hoft to confirm the baseless gay tryst rumor on his show. [OAN, Real America, 10/31/22]
- OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp: “No one should be assaulted in their own home whether the attacker was actually invited over for some spirited horse play that turned into a lover's quarrel or not.” “The bizarre episode at Nancy Pelosi’s home is getting weirder every day,” Sharp said. “Whatever happened — and however the two men were using the hammers before the police arrived — will remain a mystery.” [OAN, One America News, 11/3/22]