The attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband echoed threats pro-Trump rioters made during the Capitol riot. An expert on authoritarianism warns there could be more to come.

The attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband echoed threats pro-Trump rioters made during the Capitol riot. An expert on authoritarianism warns there could be more to come.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 28: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) takes measurements around Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi's home after her husband Paul Pelosi was assaulted with hammer inside their Pacific Heights home early morning on October 28, 2022 in San Francisco, California, United States.Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • The attack on Paul Pelosi could be a sign of more violence to come, per an expert on authoritarianism.
  • Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an NYU history professor, said the attack could be a continuation of the January 6 insurrection.

The attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband by a man who apparently subscribed to far-right conspiracy theories about everything from the war in Ukraine to the 2020 election is a likely harbinger of more violence against liberals, a leading expert on authoritarianism told Insider.

Paul Pelosi, the Democrat's 82-year-old husband, was attacked with a hammer early Friday morning in the couple's home. A man police have identified as David DePape is in custody and has been charged with attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, and burglary.

Police have not identified a motive. However, the attacker reportedly said, "Where is Nancy?" an echo of the rioters who breached the US Capitol. Their web history also suggests a partisan motive.

On social media and his personal blog, Depape promoted Holocaust denial, shared videos from right-wing thinkers such as Jordan Peterson, and suggested that former President Donald Trump pick ex-Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard as his next running mate.

DePape, a 42-year-old, also shared videos attacking the congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.


Speaking to Insider, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarianism and a history professor at New York University, suggested that Friday's attack — which has left Mr. Pelosi in the hospital with a fractured skull and other injuries — was a continuation of the violence at the US Capitol last year that aimed to overturn the results of the presidential election.

"We know that Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House and third in line for the Presidential succession, was a main target of insurgents on January 6," Ben-Ghiat said. "The attacker who injured Paul Pelosi was looking for Nancy Pelosi, likely wanting to finish the job."

Ben-Ghiat, who specializes in Italian history — and the rise of fascism there — argued that the attack was a product of a right-wing ecosystem that depicts liberals, leftists, and Democrats as not just misguided by actually evil. In a recent broadcast, for example, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson said the Democratic Party was a "child sacrifice cult," an attack on the party's abortion rights stance that mirrors the rhetoric of QAnon conspiracy theorists — and antisemitic tropes — that Democrats literally drink the blood of children.

"Republicans and Fox News have long depicted Democrats as mortal enemies, and political violence happens in exactly these circumstances: when people feel that the political opposition poses an existential threat and must be eliminated through violence," Ben-Ghiat said. "Look for more such actions as the GOP continues to embrace violence and brings extremists from the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys into the ranks of the party."

That assessment is shared by Wendy Via, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, a group that seeks to reduce political violence it sees as generated by demagogues.


"The vitriol that demeans and dehumanizes people combined with the rampant lies that the 2020 election was stolen are inspiring violence and setting an already polarized nation more on edge," Via said in a statement following the attack. She argued that the incident is a warning of more to come.

"Election deniers, conspiracy theorists, and white supremacists — largely inspired and emboldened by Trump and his allies — are ready to take up arms if the midterm elections don't go their way," she said, "and are willing to threaten, harass, and commit violence ahead of the elections to intimidate voters who are simply trying to exercise their civil right to vote."