“Ahead of the 2020 election, there was increasing concern about political violence perpetrated by the far right, fears that cascaded following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Since then, members of Congress, judges, and other public officials have faced pointed threats of violence, often from those espousing extremist ideologies.
Pelosi’s attacker subscribed to such beliefs, blogging about antisemitism, anti-Democrat and pro-Trump musings, conspiracy theories about pedophilia, and anti-white racism, as the New York Times reported.
That line of thought, and the way it’s disseminated, are key parts of what’s changed about political violence in recent years. The proliferation of social media — and its use by former President Donald Trump, his acolytes, and those with extremist far-right views — has deepened existing polarization. In part, that’s because consistent contact with extremist messaging on those platforms can make individuals more likely to justify immoral actions, research from Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason has found.
All that has contributed to the uptick in violent threats against political leaders.”
“Threats of political violence have increased tenfold in the five years since Trump’s election, with 9,625 incidents documented in 2021”
“A key source of this vitriol is the demonization of one’s political opponents. That makes people already predisposed toward this kind of behavior more likely to act”
“stochastic terrorism, or violent events which are not individually predictable on their own, but reliably occur due to seeding by a trusted leader.”
“It’s now clear the speaker was the target of Friday’s attack. The assailant broke into the home looking for her, reportedly shouting, “Where is Nancy?” — echoing what insurrectionists called out when they breached the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 — and saying that he would wait “until Nancy got home” as he confronted Paul Pelosi. The speaker’s husband suffered a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands that required surgery after the assailant bludgeoned him with a hammer. The attacker faces federal assault and attempted kidnapping charges. (A spokesperson for the speaker said in a statement that Paul Pelosi is expected to make a full recovery.)
Republicans have dismissed any connection between their rhetoric and the attack. Instead, they’ve blamed Democratic policies on crime and suggested that growing political violence may be the result of general anxiety around election legitimacy. Elon Musk, the billionaire Tesla CEO who was cheered by Republicans when he bought Twitter last week, has advanced a right-wing anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory around the circumstances of the attack. Though he deleted his post, it remained on Twitter long enough to be amplified and repeated by many on the right.
Even before Pelosi became speaker, Republicans in the party and those adjacent to it have demonized her regularly, featuring her in attack ads and lambasting her on Fox News. At least one of her colleagues in the House, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), has directly indicated support for violence against her. And members of right-wing militia groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters have sought her assassination.
Police haven’t gone into further detail about the attacker’s motivations, but his Facebook posts on conspiracy theories around Covid-19 vaccines, the 2020 election, and the January 6 attack provide a window into his radicalization. Other blog posts under his name contained screeds against minorities, politicians, women, and global elites, and content related to QAnon — the false pro-Trump conspiracy theory that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, including prominent Democrats like Pelosi, are running the world.
None of those posts reference Pelosi specifically, but all of them intersect with the ways she has been a familiar target of the right — and not just on the political fringes.”
“In conversations with voters at an early-voting location in Virginia Beach, the economy weighed far more heavily than the attack on the Capitol. While jets from a nearby Naval Air Station roared overhead, those coming and going from casting their ballots didn’t view January 6 as a factor. Mike Malbon told Vox that he had voted for Kiggans. Although he had never voted for Luria, he described himself as a swing voter who had voted for Trump, Obama, and George W. Bush. Malbon said his vote was based on the fact that he was “just not really happy with what the Democrats were doing.” When asked if he’d thought about January 6 while voting, Malbon said, “I’ve thought about it for sure. I probably would never vote for Trump again, I would have otherwise.”
Melinda Salmons, who said she was voting for Kiggans because she thought Luria was in Nancy Pelosi’s pocket, echoed this. When asked about Trump, she told Vox, “Donald Trump doesn’t affect me one way or another. The man is not running. I’m like a lot of people, I like what my pocketbook says. I do not like what he says.””
“The perpetrator’s shouts of “Where’s Nancy?” during the home invasion early Friday morning echoed the chants of pro-Trump rioters who searched the Capitol’s halls for the speaker in a bid to stop the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory.
“This is despicable. There’s no place in America. There’s too much violence — political violence — too much hatred, too much vitriol,” Biden said. “And what makes us think one party can talk about stolen elections, Covid being a hoax, [that it’s] all a bunch of lies, and it not affect people who may not be so well balanced? What makes us think that it’s not going to alter the political climate? Enough is enough is enough.””
“For nearly three hours, according to the committee, Trump watched Fox News as it broadcast live images of the Capitol being breached and the mob attacking law enforcement officers. That matched previous press reports about Trump’s activities at the time.
The committee shared testimony from numerous White House officials reinforcing the fact that Trump did nothing to reach out to law enforcement or military officials during this time. They also provided evidence that, during this period, Trump called Rudy Giuliani, and he called senators to lobby them to support his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
White House staff, including Matthews and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, were beseeching Trump to communicate something to quell the violence as it began to unfold near the Capitol. Trump, also aware of the violence, instead tweeted disparagingly about Vice President Mike Pence.
“The tweet looked to me like the opposite of what we needed at that moment, which was a de-escalation,” Pottinger said. “It looked like fuel being poured on the fire. That is the moment I decided I would resign.”
“I see the impact that his words have on his supporters,” said Matthews, who had previously worked on Trump’s 2020 election campaign. “They latch onto every tweet and word that he says. For him to tweet out that message about Mike Pence, it was him pouring gasoline on the fire and making it much worse.””
“On the eve of former President Donald Trump’s infamous tweet calling for his supporters to show up in Washington on January 6, the West Wing was “unhinged.”
As shown by the select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the December 19 tweet followed an Oval Office meeting where insults, personal attacks, and even challenges to fistfights were exchanged among participants, as a group of outside advisers to Trump tried to persuade him to issue an executive order to seize voting machines and name lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate fraud in the election.
In a text message provided to the committee, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was also in the West Wing at that time, described the meeting to another White House aide. “The west wing is UNHINGED,” she wrote.
Even that fails to describe the fiery nature of the showdown between attorneys from the White House counsel’s office and the likes of Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. Giuliani testified that he called Trump’s White House lawyers “a bunch of pussies” for not zealously backing Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.”