A man armed with a hammer broke into the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fractured the skull of her husband, Paul. Some conservative figures — including Donald Trump Jr. — have shared social media posts claiming with no evidence and contrary to police reports that the man was a prostitute known to Paul Pelosi. He wasn’t.
Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked by an intruder with a hammer in the couple’s San Francisco home in the early morning hours of Oct. 28.
Following the attack, Pelosi needed surgery “to repair a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands,” according to a statement from the speaker’s office.
Federal agents have charged David DePape, 42, whom local police had identified as the intruder, with assault of an immediate family member of a U.S. official with the intent to retaliate against the official on account of the performance of official duties, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, and attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official on account of the performance of official duties, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, according to the Department of Justice.
Elon Musk, for example, tweeted and then deleted a link to a story on a dubious website that baselessly suggested DePape was a prostitute. The claim then trended on Twitter, according to Ben Collins, who covers disinformation and extremism for NBC.
Donald Trump Jr. also promoted the completely unfounded claim. He posted — and later deleted — a sexually explicit cartoon image on Instagram and included a message that said: “Dear fact checkers this has nothing at all to do with anything going on in the news and simply posting a cartoon of what appears to be an altered South Park scene.”
But his 6.2 million followers showed their understanding of the post in the comments, saying things such as, “I dunno man, it doesn’t appear altered.. looks like a still from the Pelosis security cam to me.”
Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza posted a more suggestive claim on Twitter, asking: “How did Pelosi know his attacker’s name? He told the police the assailant’s name was ‘David.’ He also said David was his ‘friend.’ This is on the police recording and you can listen to it yourself. So how do you explain these two telling facts?”
Any suggestion that Pelosi hired DePape as a prostitute or that Pelosi knew him in any capacity is false.
Robert Rueca, spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, told us in an email that officers found no “evidence that shows that the victim and the suspect knew each other.”
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins had said the same thing in a local TV news interview on Oct 30.
And DePape himself told FBI officers in a recorded interview that he had broken into the home with the intention of holding Nancy Pelosi hostage and breaking her kneecaps if she “lied” to him. He wasn’t there for Paul Pelosi.
What We Know About the Break-In
Sometime before 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 28, DePape used a hammer to break the glass on the back door of the Pelosis’ home, DePape told the FBI.
He entered the house and went up to the second floor where Paul Pelosi was in bed alone. Nancy Pelosi was not in San Francisco at the time.
DePape “told Pelosi to wake up,” according to the charging documents from the FBI. DePape then “told Pelosi that he was looking for Nancy.”
At about 2:23 a.m., Paul Pelosi called 911.
The circumstances around the call are still unclear, but according to the charging documents and statements from police at press conferences, Pelosi was able to go into the bathroom where he dialed 911. DePape became aware of the call at some point and, without being able to relay specifics of the home invasion, Pelosi conveyed to the dispatcher that there was a problem.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott repeatedly praised the 911 dispatcher who took the call, explaining at an Oct. 28 press conference that the dispatcher’s experience and intuition told her that, although the report qualified for a wellbeing check, “something more was going on.”
The dispatcher escalated the call to officers, Scott said, adding, “she went that extra step.”
This might be where claims like D’Souza’s originated.
Recorded audio of radio communications between the dispatcher and officers circulated on conservative media. In the audio, which identified Pelosi as “RP,” or “reporting person,” an officer can be heard saying, “RP stated that there’s a male in the home and that he’s going to wait for his wife. RP stated that he doesn’t know who the male is, but that he advised that his name is David and that he is a friend. RP sounded somewhat confused.”
Scott explained in the press conference that dispatchers “can’t report anything other than what’s being told” to them over the phone.
“An experienced dispatcher with good instincts, they know how to read between the lines, but they have to report what’s being told,” he said.
So, any recording of officers getting initial information from dispatch would reflect only what had been relayed over the phone, which, in this case, came from Pelosi as he was trying to surreptitiously report the break-in while DePape was present.
When responding officers arrived at the home minutes later, they witnessed Pelosi and DePape in a struggle over the hammer, ending with DePape hitting Pelosi in the head.
Also, contrary to claims that DePape was in his underwear when officers arrived — like this one from conservative commentator Terrence K. Williams — according to the charging documents, DePape was clothed and, specifically, wearing shorts.
Update, January 27: The San Francisco Superior Court on Jan. 27 released U.S. Capitol Police surveillance video showing DePape breaking into the Pelosi home, and San Francisco Police body-cam footage showing DePape, in short pants,lunging at Paul Pelosi with a hammer when officers arrived.
What We Know About DePape
DePape, raised in British Columbia, Canada, moved to the U.S. about 20 years ago to pursue a romantic relationship, according to news organizations that interviewed several members of his family, from whom DePape was estranged.
At times homeless, DePape, prior to the attack on Pelosi, was living in the garage of a house in Richmond, California, according to the criminal complaint filed against him. Richmond is less than 20 miles from San Francisco.
DePape’s ex-girlfriend, Oxane “Gypsy” Taub, a public nudity activist with whom DePape raised three children, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that DePape has struggled for years with mental illness and drug abuse. Taub did the interview from a California women’s prison where she is serving a sentence for stalking and attempting to abduct a minor in 2018.
News outlets have reported that DePape, in recent months, wrote dozens of troubling posts on his Facebook page and also allegedly posted numerous writings on a blog and website believed to have been registered in his name. According to news outlets that reviewed the sites, which have since been removed, the posts often repeated baseless conspiracy theories and made disparaging comments about religious and minority groups.
“A WordPress blog that DePape maintained titled God Is Loving railed against censorship by an elite cabal of tech companies, government officials and media outlets,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported, for example. “As recently as Aug. 25, DePape posted entries with such headlines as ‘Communist Voodoo Science’ and ‘The Woke are racists with a guilty conscience.'”
“On a separate website, DePape’s posts became more erratic,” the Chronicle said. “He espoused vaccine conspiracy theories and claims about election fraud, writing that any journalist who disputed such claims ‘should be dragged out into the street and shot.’ Days before the alleged hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, DePape published a post saying the war in Ukraine was a ploy to benefit Jewish people.”
The Associated Press reported: “There appeared to be no direct posts about [Nancy] Pelosi, but there were entries defending former President Donald Trump and Ye, the rapper formally known as Kayne West who recently made antisemitic comments.”
When DePape entered the Pelosis’ house in the early morning on Oct. 28, he “was prepared to detain and injure Speaker Pelosi,” according to the federal charging documents.
He had arrived with zip ties, tape, rope and at least one hammer.
According to the federal criminal complaint, DePape told officers “that he was going to hold Nancy hostage and talk to her. If Nancy were to tell DePape the ‘truth,’ he would let her go, and if she ‘lied,’ he was going to break ‘her kneecaps.’ DePape was certain that Nancy would not have told the ‘truth.'”
DePape told FBI interviewers that “he viewed Nancy as the ‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic Party,” according to the complaint. He “also later explained that by breaking Nancy’s kneecaps, she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other Members of Congress there were consequences to actions.”
DePape used rhetoric common in right-wing media during the interview described in charging documents. He told officers that he didn’t leave the house after Pelosi’s call to 911, “because, much like the American founding fathers with the British, he was fighting against tyranny without the option of surrender.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
San Francisco Police Department. Press release. “San Francisco Police Arrest Suspect in Violent Assault at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Residence 22-153.” 29 Oct 2022.
Hammill, Drew. Spokesman, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Press release. “Pelosi Spokesperson Statement on Paul Pelosi’s Successful Surgery Following Violent Assault.” 28 Oct 2022.
San Francisco Police Department. “San Francisco Police News Conference on Attack Against Paul Pelosi.” C-SPAN. 28 Oct 2022.
Department of Justice. Press release. “Man Charged with Assault and Attempted Kidnapping Following Breaking and Entering of Pelosi Residence.” 31 Oct 2022.
Stocking, Galen, et al. “The Role of Alternative Social Media in the News and Information Environment.” Pew Research Center. 6 Oct 2022.
Rueca, Robert. Spokesman, San Francisco Police Department. Email to FactCheck.org. 31 Oct 2022.
KPIX CBS SF Bay Area. “S.F. DA Jenkins swats back misinformation about Pelosi attack.” YouTube. 30 Oct 2022.
U.S. v. David Wayne DePape. Complaint. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Tolan, Casey, et al. “Alleged Paul Pelosi attacker posted multiple conspiracy theories.” Cnn.com. 28 Oct 2022.
Biesecker, Michael and Bernard Condon. “Suspect in assault at Pelosi home had posted about QAnon.” Associated Press. 29 Oct 2022.
Lin, Summer, et al. “Accused Pelosi attacker David DePape spread QAnon, other far-right, bigoted conspiracies.” Los Angeles Times. 28 Oct 2022.
Swan, Rachel, et al. “Paul Pelosi attack: From nudist activism to online hate, suspect David DePape’s strange descent.” San Francisco Chronicle. 28 Oct 2022, updated 31 Oct 2022.