Closing arguments began Wednesday in the San Francisco trial of David DePape, who faces federal kidnapping charges for an October 2022 break-in at then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home that resulted in her husband Paul being brutally beaten with a hammer . .
The case underscores the growing influence – and danger – of online conspiracies intermingling with American politics. As The independent reported at the time, the attack on Paul Pelosi quickly became fodder for online conspiracies ranging from Anonymous to Elon Musk.
Here's what you need to know.
Who is David DePape?
Mr. DePape is a 43-year-old man who was living in the Bay Area city of Richmond at the time of the attack, supporting himself by doing odd carpentry jobs.
According to social media posts reviewed by The independentappeared to have published an online blog expressing a range of transphobic, anti-Semitic and racist views alongside conspiracy theories linked to Covid-19 and QAnon.
Why is David DePape on trial?
On Oct. 28, 2022, the 43-year-old broke into the Pelosis mansion in San Francisco, according to the police and Mr. DePape's lawyers.
Once inside, he asked Pelosi where his wife was, collected conspiracy theories and later hit Pelosi with a hammer as police arrived, according to body camera footage.
The then 82-year-old suffered a fractured skull and injuries to his arm and hands.
The Canadian is charged with attempted kidnapping of a federal official and assault on a family member of a federal official. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
The attack on Paul Pelosi can be seen in newly released police body camera footage
After his arrest, Mr. DePape told police in a jailhouse interview that he planned to arrest Nancy Pelosi and question her about various conspiracies and lies that the shooter believed she was involved with.
“I'm not trying to get away from it. I know exactly what I did,” he told police.
“If she was telling the truth, I would let her go scot-free,” he said on the recording. “If she lied, I'd break her knees.”
The key arguments in David DePape's trial
The federal case hinges on whether officials can prove the 43-year-old attacked Pelosi as a direct result of the House Speaker's work in Congress or as an attempt to obstruct, intimidate, interfere or retaliate against her for it.
The 43-year-old's defense does not dispute that Mr. DePape was the one who attacked Paul Pelosi. Rather, they argue it was not because of Nancy Pelosi's official role, but rather as part of a “weird” line of QAnon-based conspiracy beliefs that includes figures from actor Tom Hanks to Hunter Biden, the president's son.
“You may think it's all lies, harmful lies that are actually destroying the country. But the evidence in this trial will show that Mr. DePape believes these things, he believes them with every fiber of his being,” federal public defender Jodi Linker told jurors during opening deliberations, according to The Los Angeles Times. “He believes strongly and completely, and it's those beliefs, completely unrelated to Nancy Pelosi's official duties in Congress, that drove him to act that night.”
Prosecutors, meanwhile, rejected that argument, saying it was clear Mr. DePape went after Pelosis because of the President's position.
“It was a brutal plan — a plan to kidnap Nancy Pelosi to hold her hostage, to break her knees, to teach her a lesson,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Vartain Horn told the court at the start of the trial, arguing that the DePape saw Ms. Pelosi as “evil, a liar and ringleader” of a group of high-profile figures who co-opt a conspiracy theory that led to the attack.
What has David Depp said in the trial so far?
On the stand, Mr. DePape gave lengthy testimony on Tuesday, offering a mix of apologies and conspiracy claims — at one point even crying as he said the various elites in his conspiracy narrative would be pardoned.
The 43-year-old described his transition from left-wing views, including a previous “strong anti-Trump bias”, to falling down the conspiracy rabbit hole, watching hours of right-wing commentary from the likes of Tim Pool and James Lindsay.
Ultimately, he testified, he decided to go after Ms. Pelosi as a means of getting her to admit to alleged lies and corruption. He told jurors his plan was not to kidnap her, but to interrogate her on camera in a unicorn outfit.
“The choice is hers,” he said. “There is an alternative path to resolution that does not involve violence.”
He also said he wanted to use the break-in to lure out a University of Michigan gender studies professor who he believed was trying to “turn our schools into pedophile molestation factories.” Along the way, he also said he hoped to go after California Gov. Gavin Newsom because of his “footstep [the] 2nd Amendment.”
Despite eventually coming down hard on Mr Pelosi, Mr De Pape also expressed remorse for the hammer blows. The 43-year-old said he only went after Pelosis to “get my other targets.”
“I felt really bad for him because we had a good relationship and Paul was never a target,” she testified, according to NBC News.
The attacker said he decided to hit Pelosi once police arrived with his plan “basically ruined.”
“When he was like on the ground and breathing, I really feared for his life,” she added. “And later in the hospital, I felt really bad for him, because we had a really good relationship and things were going really well until the last second.”
What did Paul Pelosi testify?
On Monday, Paul Pelosi himself took the floor, describing his horror at finding an unknown man standing at his home asking for his wife.
“It was a terrible shock to recognize that someone had broken into the house, and looking at him and looking at the hammer and ties, I recognized that I was in serious danger, so I tried to remain as calm as possible.” he said in court, according to the Associated Press.
He described how Mr. DePape was clearly looking for Ms. Pelosi.
“We had some discussion with him saying that she was the leader of the pack, he had to get her out and that he would wait for her,” Mr. Pelosi said.
Mr. Pelosi was able to call 911 as Mr. De Pape looked on, notifying the police of the break-in.
Since the break-in, Mr. Pelosi testified that he has tried to think about the traumatic incident as little as possible.
“I have not discussed this incident with anyone. And I have encouraged my family not to,” he said Monday, according to CBS News. “I tried to put it out of my mind [the prosecutor’s] meeting with you and your partners I talked about it. I did my best not to experience it again.”
What other witnesses were there at David DePape's trial?
Law enforcement sources provided other testimony that helped fill out the record about what happened during the Oct. 28 burglary.
FBI Special Agent Stephanie Minor, who helped investigate the attack, told the court how evidence showed DePape began planning the burglary in August, buying body cameras, a USB stick, a backpack and a sleeping bag.
A police officer, meanwhile, described the sickening sound of hearing the hammer hit Paul Pelosi's skull.
Jurors were shown police body camera and surveillance video from the burglary.
Once the jury returns a verdict for David DePape, he will proceed to a separate state trial where he has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary, among others.
A trial date has not yet been set for the state charges.
Alex Woodward contributed reporting to this story.