After a break-in and attack on Paul Pelosi at his and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home, right-wing accounts have pushed conspiracy theories on Twitter that mainstream media are covering up the truth about the attack for Democrats’ sake and that the attacker was Paul Pelosi’s lover.
On October 28, a man with a hammer broke into the Pelosi house and attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, yelling “Where is Nancy?” Nancy Pelosi was not home at the time.
Right-wing accounts on Twitter were quick to push the bizarre conspiracy theory that DePape was Paul Pelosi’s lover and had been either a sex worker or involved in an anonymous sexual encounter gone awry. Others seemed to paint the attack as staged or otherwise suspicious by raising questions about the security measures found at Pelosi's home. Some took issue with the characterization of DePape as a radicalized conservative, looking to images supposedly from his home that show a Black Lives Matter poster and flag with rainbow colors and a black background that was alleged to be a LGBTQ+ pride flag.
Contrary to many of the claims involved in these conspiracy theories, the San Francisco Police Department has confirmed that Paul Pelosi and the alleged attacker, David DePape, did not know each other prior to the assault. They also debunked the claim that both men were in their underwear when police arrived on scene, which appears to have come from the since-corrected reporting of a Fox affiliate. Similarly, an investigation into DePape’s blog posts shows that he wasn’t a leftist or progressively radical, but had a long history of pushing conspiracy theories including Holocaust denial.
While conspiracy theories and misinformation are certainly not new to Twitter, alarm bells were ringing over the potential harms posed by Elon Musk’s “free speech absolutist” attitude, including that he would allow harassment, intensely radicalized content, and unhinged conspiracy theories to prosper on the platform. For some, these concerns were validated by Musk’s tweet of a link to a website publishing conspiracy theories about the Pelosi attack, which he later deleted. By sharing this content, Musk had played into an already sprawling right-wing ecosystem primed to latch onto such conspiracies.
Advertisers make up more than 90% of Twitter's revenue. On Tuesday, a coalition of more than 40 civil society organizations including Media Matters sent an open letter to Twitter's top 20 advertisers demanding that they make it clear to Musk that their ad buys are contingent on the maintenance of basic brand safety standards and community guidelines.
Right-wing personalities on Twitter questioned the Pelosi story, suggesting that mainstream media were providing cover for the family and pushing the conspiracy theory that DePape and Paul Pelosi were lovers:
Pushing conspiracy theory that DePape was Paul Pelosi’s lover
- Conspiracy theorist filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza: “Assailant in his underpants 2. Paul Pelosi knows his name and tells police he’s a ‘friend.’ 3. Assailant asks ‘where’s Nancy?’ to make sure she’s not home. 4. Pelosi takes bathroom break from spat and makes 911 call. Conclusion: This guy was a sex partner or male prostitute!”
- Right-wing activist and podcaster Charlie Kirk: “Why did Paul Pelosi call his attacker his ‘friend’? Why was he wearing underwear? Who let the police into the house? Why haven’t we seen the security or body cam video? Or is it just more convenient to smear millions of conservatives?”
- Fox News host Mark Levin wrote “Getting sicker” and shared a Daily Mail article titled “Nudist ex-lover of Paul Pelosi attacker is female PEDOPHILE who harassed boy, 14, and who bought sex dolls 'for their sons to use.’”
- Conservative author Chadwick Moore: “I don’t get it. Cops showed up at the Pelosi residence on a ‘wellness check,’not about a break-in. And they found Paul in a domestic argument with a grown man in his underwear? And then the hippie grabbed the hammer from Paul and struck him in the presence of the cops? Sounds gay.”
- Right-wing provocateur Andy Ngo: “#Pelosi assault suspect’s longtime ex-lover: ‘Well when I met him, he was only 20 years old & he didn't have any experience in politics, & he was very much in alignment with my views & I've always been very progressive. I absolutely admire Nancy Pelosi.’”
- Right-wing Twitter account Gunther Eagleman: “I’m thinking, David DePape is a gay male prostitute who was defending himself from an 84 year old drunk and drugged up Paul Pelosi.”
- Former UFC fighter Jake Shields: “If I’m wrong about Paul Pelosi having a gay prostitute problem I’ll admit I was wrong but I won’t apologize. Him and his wife have been plundering our country for the past 40 years so fuck both of them.”
- Shields: “I don’t really care that Paul Pelosi fucks gay prostitutes but I do care he’s been fucking our country for 40 years.”
Claiming mainstream media are shielding the Democrats
- Kirk: “The details of what really happened to Paul Pelosi matter for one simple reason: The entire media establishment rushed to condemn 74 million ‘MAGA Republicans’ within 12 hours of the incident. So, let the truth come out.”
- Popular right-wing Twitter account Catturd: “The Left is going to drop the Paul Pelosi story like a hot potato by tomorrow - watch.”
- D’Souza: “Forget the speculative nonsense in the media. Given the available facts, I believe I’m in a position to solve the mystery of Paul Pelosi and his assailant David DePape.”
- Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro: “The attempt to twist the Paul Pelosi attack into a broader story about supposed extremism in Republican rhetoric (so vote Dem!) is so transparently opportunistic and pathetic. Everyone can see what you're doing, Democrats and the media, and it's disgusting.”
- Shapiro: “Guys, you were wondering just why a nudist activist armed with a hammer would attack Paul Pelosi. Well, the NYT has the answer: it's because Republicans cut an ad in 2006 against Nancy Pelosi.”
- Right-wing misogynist Mike Cernovich: “Kyle Rittenhouse would be in jail if people believed media coverage. His innocence was ON VIDEO! Remember Nick Sandmann? Framed by the media. Jussie Smollette hoax anyone? We can wait on the Paul Pelosi situation. It’s smarter, and more logical and reasonable to wait.”
- Conservative pundit Gleen Greenwald shared a thread about why people should be skeptical about the facts of the attack.
- White supremacist Jack Posobiec: “Actual interview of neighbors from Paul Pelosi's attacker doesn't line up with the mainstream media narrative at all.”
- The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: “I don’t know what the hell happened at Nancy Pelosi’s house and I suspect none of us will ever know for sure. But I do know that trying to paint a hippie nudist from Berkeley as some kind of militant right winger is absurd and will always be absurd.”
- Popular right-wing Twitter account EndWokeness: “David DePape, the Pelosi attacker, lives in this home in Berkeley, CA. Does this look MAGA to you?”
- Conspiracy theorist and disgraced journalist Lara Logan: “Sure - David Depape looks like your typical MAGA supporter….”
Elsewhere on social media, right-wing Facebook pages shared articles amplifying Musk’s tweet, and users in right-wing Facebook groups also amplified the conspiracy theory, with some citing and praising Musk. Right-wing news hosts also spread conspiracy theories and questioned the story.