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Conservative figures push bogus Pelosi attack theory as local police chief debunks it

Conservative figures push bogus Pelosi attack theory as local police chief debunks it



CNN

Prominent figures on social media, including some of the loudest voices on the political right, are pushing a twisted and false conspiracy theory about the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, in an apparent attempt to change the narrative about the attack.

The claim that big names like Elon Musk, Donald Trump Jr. and Dinesh D’Souze promoted to her millions of followers: Paul Pelosi and the man who attacked him were gay lovers who got into a fight.

The bogus theory goes back to an inaccurate early news report and a handful of evidence wildly taken out of context by its proponents. That contradicts the explanation given by police and federal law enforcement — that the suspect in the attack, David DePape, broke into Pelosi’s home and attacked him.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Pelosi knew this man,” San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said in an interview with CNN. “In fact, the evidence suggests just the opposite.”

But the explosion of social media posts debating the theory shows how quickly conspiracies can spread and how eager some political actors are to use untruths to advance their agendas – even as violent threats against MPs have multiplied in recent years.

The conspiracy involving Nancy Pelosi, long a conservative lightning rod and a major player in GOP attack ads, was a particularly attractive target for right-wing conspirators, according to Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an American University professor who studies polarization and extremism.

“We have a population that is unable to discern what is true and what is not, and this spread of misinformation from credible sources undermines that,” Miller-Idriss said. “People are willing to accept conspiracy theories when they reinforce the narrative they already have in their heads.”

According to police and an FBI affidavit included in a federal criminal complaint, DePape broke through a glass door at Pelosi’s San Francisco home early Friday morning, then went into a bedroom to confront Pelosi, saying he wanted to talk to his wife. Pelosi was able to call 911, and officers who arrived on the scene saw DePape hit him with a hammer.

Proponents of the “homosexual” theory have pointed to a plethora of alleged evidence based on falsehoods and twisted stories. DePape is said to have been in his underwear when police arrived on the scene – but the local TV station that originally reported it has since corrected its story and removed the claim. Others suggested a third person answered the door to Pelosi’s home, but police denied that.

Many theorists latched onto the recording of an 911 dispatcher saying Pelosi called DePape a “friend” and “sounded a little confused.”

But Pelosi appeared to be using coded language on the 911 call to make it clear he needed help, a law enforcement source previously told CNN. The complaint alleges that Pelosi told officers he had never seen DePape before.

The complaint also included an interview police conducted with DePape in which he admitted to breaking into the home and said he surprised Pelosi. According to the lawsuit, DePape said he wanted to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage because he considered her the “leader of the pack” of lies told by the Democratic Party, and claimed he was “fighting tyranny without surrender.” ”

Scott, the San Francisco chief, called the attacks’ conspiracies “pathetic” and “disturbing.”

“We’ve spent a lot of energy just pushing back really ridiculous conspiracy theories to make sure people stay focused on our team,” he said. “These things are harmful to society, they’re harmful to the victims – it’s really sad that we’re here in this place, but we are.”

Despite the lack of evidence, it took less than 24 hours after the attack for the “gay lover” theory to take root in right-wing social media circles.

There have been at least 19,000 tweets mentioning the words “Pelosi” and “gay” since the day of the attack, garnering a total of more than 700,000 likes, according to a CNN analysis — and that doesn’t include tweets that refer to the theory without the word or tweets that deleted in the meantime.

One of the first widely circulated tweets supporting the theory appeared to arrive at 11:36 a.m. on Friday, the day of the attack, garnering more than 2,700 retweets.

That evening, Raheem Kassam, a former Breitbart writer and co-host of Steve Bannon’s podcast, tweeted, “Still pretending it wasn’t Paul Pelosi’s gay lover,” earning over 1,000 retweets.

Other conservative figures such as Donald Trump, Jr., Sebastian Gorka, and Dinesh D’Souza followed suit over the next few days, either explicitly endorsing the theory or calling for approval. Rep. Clay Higgins, a GOP congressman from Louisiana who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, tweeted a photo of Nancy Pelosi and called DePape a “male prostitute,” before deleting his tweet.

Musk helped bring the conspiracy to a much wider audience. On Sunday morning, the billionaire, who just finished buying the social network, responded to Hillary Clinton’s tweet about attacking Pelosi, writing “there is a slight possibility that there is more to this story than meets the eye.” He linked to an article in the Santa Monica Observer, an obscure website, that claimed DePape was a male prostitute and that Pelosi had a drunken altercation with him. The website has published fake news before, such as the claim during the 2016 election that Clinton had died and had been replaced by a doppelganger for the debate.

Musk deleted the tweet about 2 hours later that day — but by then it had already racked up more than 28,000 retweets and 100,000 likes.

Conservative figures gleefully praised Musk for sharing the post. “[email protected] just posted a link that says Paul Pelosi may have been drunk and with a gay prostitute,” Lavern Spicer, a former GOP congressional candidate, tweeted. “I have never respected him more than I do now.” Her message was retweeted more than 11,000 times.

Gene DePape, the alleged gunman’s stepfather, said it was terrifying to see his stepson turned into a conspiracy theory figure and used as a political talking point. He told CNN that he spent hours scrolling through news on his Facebook over the weekend, where he first saw posts claiming his estranged stepson had been an affair with Pelosi.

“It’s pretty sick,” he said.

David DePape’s own social media and blog posts show that he himself was riddled with conspiracy theories in the months and years before the attacks—from QAnon musings to anti-Semitic rants to claims of an impending takeover by the global elite.

DePape’s Facebook posts since last year support a series of right-wing falsehoods. He posted multiple videos made by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell falsely claiming the 2020 election was rigged, linked to websites claiming Covid vaccines are deadly, and shared videos questioning the attack 6 .January 2021 CNN reviewed posts before the social network took down the page, and several of DePape’s relatives confirmed that the page belonged to him.

On other blogs purportedly written by DePape, he also posted anti-Semitic screeds and endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Some conservatives’ embrace of the “gay lover” theory has muddied the waters in a story that has led to bipartisan condemnation and sympathy for Pelosi — and distracted from discussion of how other right-wing conspiracies may have inspired the violence.

Miller-Idriss, a professor at the American university, said that prominent figures carelessly spreading misinformation can lead to a wider impact on society.

“It’s dangerous because it undermines people’s sense of truth, it helps them further detach themselves from reality,” she said. “It’s a situation where they spread it — and pass it on.”



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