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DePape's Conspiracy Beliefs in Focus as Trial Begins Over Attempted Nancy Pelosi Kidnapping

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A courtroom sketch of a person with long hair holding a hammer in a plastic bag and pointing at another person as a judge and jury watch on.
A courtroom sketch of federal prosecutor Laura Vartain Horn (right) giving her opening statement in a San Francisco courtroom in the trial of David DePape (left) on Nov. 9, 2023. U.S. District Court Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley (center) looks on as Horn displays the hammer DePape allegedly used to attack Paul Pelosi in his San Francisco home last year. (Vicki Behringer for KQED)

Updated 5:30 p.m. Thursday

David DePape, the man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi, allegedly paid for a subscription service to find details about public figures he intended to target and saved personal information about former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who he variously referred to as evil, a liar and “the leader of the pack” — in a folder labeled “favorite politicians.”

That ominous electronic trail is among the steps DePape took in the week before he rode BART from the East Bay, boarded a San Francisco Muni bus, and arrived at the Pelosi’s Pacific Heights home in the early hours of Oct. 28, 2022, federal prosecutor Laura Vartain Horn told the jury in her opening statement Thursday in a San Francisco courtroom.

DePape, she said, would go on to break into the home and, when he discovered Nancy Pelosi wasn’t there, hold her 82-year-old husband, Paul Pelosi, hostage before striking him in the head with a hammer in front of two San Francisco police officers, who captured the attack on video.

“If you stop me from going after people, you will take the punishment instead,” was one of the threats DePape made to Paul Pelosi, Horn told the jury.

“The defendant unleashed his plan of violence on the next closest thing to the speaker, her husband, Paul,” Horn said as she displayed photos of Paul Pelosi lying in a pool of his own blood.

The prosecution’s case, Horn said, would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that DePape intended to retaliate against Nancy Pelosi “because of her job.”

Conspiracy theory as defense

But DePape, who faces life in prison for two felony counts, including attempted kidnapping of a federal officer and assault on the immediate family member of a federal official, does not dispute anything about what happened that night, said Federal Public Defender Jodi Linker, the suspect’s attorney, in her opening statement.

“This is not a whodunnit,” Linker told the jury. “But what the government fails to acknowledge is the why-dunnit. And the why matters. The why is what makes this a federal case.”

a watercolor sketch showing a judge behind a bench and various people seated while a standing person speaks
Federal Public Defender Jodi Linker (pointing), David DePape’s attorney, gives her opening statement in a San Francisco courtroom on Thursday. (Vicki Behringer for KQED)

The defense strategy has largely been a mystery in the weeks leading up to the start of the trial. That strategy, Linker’s initial arguments suggest, is to convince the jury that DePape’s beliefs are “wholly unrelated to Nancy Pelosi’s official duties.”

Linker began her statement by reciting a litany of DePape’s extremist conspiracy theories: accusing actor Tom Hanks of raping a child, nodding to George Soros’ perceived control of mainstream media, calling out Gov. Gavin Newsom for “trampling on all our constitutional rights.”

“Hunter Biden is so blatantly corrupt, there is simply no end to what he will do,” Linker said, listing more of DePape’s baseless theories. “Adam Schiff abuses children.”

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It was revealed in court Thursday that Schiff, the U.S. Democratic congressman from Burbank, was among those DePape planned to attack.

“Nancy Pelosi is a culture warrior, the face of the Democratic Party,” Linker added to her recitation. “Her army is the Democratic National Committee and her weapon is the mainstream media. … That is tyranny. That is corruption. That is killing the tree of liberty.”

“Members of the jury, many of us do not believe any of that,” Linker concluded. “You may think it’s bogus. You may think they’re harmful lies, lies you think are destroying the country. But the evidence in the trial will show Mr. DePape believes these things. He believes them with every ounce of his being.”

DePape developed these beliefs via a steady diet of video games, “listening to podcast after podcast and watching YouTube video after YouTube video … that fed him lies and prompted him to reveal the truth,” she said.

Both of the charges against DePape presume he was motivated by Pelosi’s official position, not by the outlandish conspiracy theories that drove his actions, Linker argued.

The Pelosi home was only the first stop on DePape’s intended journey, Linker added, and had he not been arrested there, he would have then tried to track down Tom Hanks, Hunter Biden, George Soros, and gender-theory academic Gayle Rubin.

Rubin, who will likely testify in the trial next week, had until now only been identified in court filings as DePape’s “Target 1” — the person he could get to by first kidnapping Pelosi.

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“Why? Because of her writings,” Linker said. “Because he believes she is promoting child molestation.”

Linker said the jury will hear from Target 1, “and she is going to say this is all completely false, that she believes no such things. But David believes it.”

“You will also note this is not a very well thought out plan,” Linker added, underscoring that DePape didn’t make it very far down his target list.

In DePape’s own words

Testimony on the first day of the trial, which stretched into the afternoon, included video and audio of DePape explaining his motivations and admitting to his plan to kidnap Nancy Pelosi and then go after more politicians and academics.

At one point on video captured by a police body camera, DePape even expressed remorse for hitting Paul Pelosi.

“I didn’t really want to hurt him, but, you know, this was a suicide mission,” DePape said. “The shit going on in Washington, D.C. — it’s so fucking sick. I’m not just going to stand here and do nothing.”

He added: “There’s no denying what I did. The cops watched me do it.”

DePape also made a separate, recorded statement to police after his arrest, portions of which were played for the jury on Thursday.

A watercolor sketch showing one woman in a courtroom standing, questioning another women, sitting, while a man, sitting, watches.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Helen Gilbert (right) questions San Francisco Police Lt. Carla Hurley (center), as defendant David DePape looks on during the first day of his trial in San Francisco on Thursday. (Vicki Behringer for KQED)

He described the difficulty he had breaking through the sliding glass door of the Pelosi home, which he hit a total of 16 times before shoving his way through just after 2 a.m., according to court records.

“It was not easy. That’s like, special glass,” DePape said.

On the recording, DePape also described being surprised, after walking through the otherwise empty house, to find Paul Pelosi asleep in his bedroom.

DePape said he had been uncertain about what to do next after learning from Pelosi that his wife was not home and wouldn’t be for several days, according to his recorded statement.

DePape recounted, on the recording, how Paul Pelosi eventually retrieved a cell phone from the bathroom and used it to call 911 and was “pushing me into a corner where I have to do something.”

“I have other targets, and I can’t be soft about him,” DePape said. “If I have to go through him, I will.”

As DePape feared, that 911 call resulted in two officers knocking on the door of the Pelosi home a short time later. Body camera footage made public in late January captured the interaction, with Paul Pelosi and DePape standing awkwardly in the doorway, both with a hand on the hammer DePape brought.

“He [Pelosi] thinks that I’ll just surrender,” DePape said on the police recording. “I didn’t come here to surrender.”

“So basically, I yank it away from him and hit him,” he continued. “I have no idea how many times I hit him.”

In the defense’s cross-examination of police officers on Thursday, it was revealed that after the incident, Paul Pelosi regained consciousness at his home before he was taken to the hospital where he would undergo surgery for a fractured skull.

On police body camera video, played in court, Paul Pelosi appeared lucid while initially being treated in his home, and when asked, correctly noted that the year was 2022 and that he was in San Francisco.

“He hit me in the head with a hammer,” Pelosi told medical personnel.

A sympathetic observer

Gypsy Taub, who was in a relationship with DePape for 15 years, attended Thursday’s hearing and later said she was concerned for him.

Before proceedings commenced on Thursday morning, Taub stood in the courtroom handing out cards for a website promulgating a “Paul Pelosi coverup.” For evidence, she argued that the respective time stamps on the surveillance and body camera videos don’t line up.

DePape and Taub also had two children together, both of whom are now adults and were in the courtroom on Thursday.

Taub, who was recently released from prison after being convicted of stalking a minor, said she had spoken to DePape on the phone on Wednesday night and had just found old photos of him that reminded her how much she loved him.

“I feel sad for him,” she said.

Testimony in the case is expected to continue into next week. Potential witnesses remaining for the prosecution include Paul Pelosi himself, as well as the surgeon who operated on him and federal agents.

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