WASHINGTON — The man accused of attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer told police he wanted to hold the Democratic leader hostage and “break her kneecaps” to show other members of Congress there were consequences for their actions, authorities said Monday.
In a chilling federal complaint, officials say that David DePape, 42, carrying zip ties and tape in a backpack, broke into the couple’s San Francisco home early Friday morning, went upstairs where 82-year-old Paul Pelosi was sleeping and demanded to talk to “Nancy.”
When Paul Pelosi told the intruder she was not there, DePape said he would wait — even after being told she would not be home for some days.
Both the San Francisco district attorney and police chief strongly rejected mocking jokes and conspiracy theories about the attack sent out by far-right figures and even some leading Republicans just a week before hard-fought congressional elections.
DePape told police of his plans to hold Speaker Pelosi hostage to “talk to her” and viewed her “as the “leader of the pack” of lies told by the Democratic Party, the eight-page complaint says.
“If she were to tell DePape the ‘truth,’ he would let her go and if she ‘lied,’ he was going to break “her kneecaps,” the complaint alleges.
“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,” it says.
DePape is charged federally with influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a federal official by threatening or injuring a family member. He also faces one count of attempted kidnapping of a United States official on account of the performance of official duties.
The announcement of the federal charges came as San Francisco’s district attorney was set to announce state criminal charges as well.
It was not immediately clear whether DePape had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. Family described DePape as estranged, and he was known by some in San Francisco as a pro-nudity activist who appeared to embrace a range of conspiracy theories.
The federal complaint said he has lived for the past two years in a garage at a residence in Richmond, California,
Police were dispatched to the home in the upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood around 2:20 a.m. Friday after Paul Pelosi placed a 911 call. DePape broke into the rear door and made his way upstairs to confront Paul Pelosi, police said. They arrived to see the two men struggling over a hammer, and then DePape struck Pelosi at least once before being tackled by officers.
DePape was arrested Friday on suspicion of attempted murder, elder abuse and burglary in a gruesome attack that has amplified the toxic political climate ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in San Francisco.
Paul Pelosi remains hospitalized in San Francisco after undergoing surgery for a fractured skull and other injuries. Speaker Pelosi, who was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the attack, returned swiftly to California. Unlike presidents, congressional leaders have security protection for themselves, but not their families.
In the ambulance to the hospital, Paul Pelosi told police he had never seen DePape before, the complaint said.
The attack was an unsettling echo of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, when rioters trying to overturn Joe Biden’s election defeat of Donald Trump stormed the halls eerily calling “Where’s Nancy?” The zip ties were another similarity to Jan. 6 when rioters were seen with the ties in the Capitol.
San Francisco’s district attorney, Brooke Jenkins, strongly rejected conspiracy theories about the attack, confirming the assailant was targeting the Democratic leader when he broke into the couple’s home.
“At the time that the suspect had entered the Pelosi home that he was in fact, looking for Ms. Pelosi,” Jenkins told reporters late Sunday in San Francisco.
“We have nothing to suggest that these two men knew each other prior to this incident,” she said.
The district attorney’s remarks came as the attack on the husband of the House speaker was being mocked and dismissed in conservative, far-right social media, even among some Republican leaders. San Francisco’s police chief has also said the attack was targeted at Nancy Pelosi.
Elon Musk over the weekend tweeted, then deleted, a fringe website’s far-flung conspiracy theories to his millions of followers, as his purchase of Twitter has raised concerns that the social media platform would no longer seek to limit misinformation and hate speech.
In the toxic political climate, a week before the midterm elections, tensions are high with record security threats against lawmakers and other officials.
The incident sparked fresh security concerns for lawmakers and other elected officials before the midterms.
With nearly 10,000 threats against members of Congress in the last year, U.S. Capitol Police have advised lawmakers to take precautions. Chief Tom Manger, who leads the U.S. Capitol Police, has said the threat from lone-wolf attackers has been growing and the most significant threat the force is facing is the historically high number of threats against lawmakers, thousands more than just a few years before.
The beating of the speaker’s husband follows other attacks and threats. This summer, a man carrying a gun, a knife and zip ties was arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house in Maryland after threatening to kill the justice. In 2017, Republican Rep. Steve Scalise was seriously injured when a Bernie Sanders supporter opened fire on Republicans at a congressional baseball game practice.
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., was among those making light of the attack on Paul Pelosi, tweeting out a joke about a Halloween costume of the incident.
Story by Lisa Mascaro and Stefanie Dazio. Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.