David DePape (center) breaks down crying on the witness stand in a San Francisco courtroom while being questioned by Assistant Federal Public Defender Angela Chuang (right), as District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley observes, on Nov. 14, 2023, on the third day of his federal trial. DePape is accused of assaulting Paul Pelosi with a hammer last year and attempting to kidnap his wife, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Vicki Behringer for KQED)
Just over a year ago, David DePape of Richmond broke into the San Francisco home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with plans to don an inflatable unicorn costume, interrogate her in her own home on camera about a right-wing conspiracy concerning President Donald Trump called “Russiagate,” then break her kneecaps, and have her wheeled into Congress to expose what he called “lies” told by the “ruling class,” a “cabal” of politicians, academics, celebrities and more.
That is the “grand plan” DePape, 43, revealed to a jury on the third day of the federal trial against him in San Francisco on Tuesday morning, over the course of more than an hour’s worth of questioning from his federal public defenders.
DePape, accused of bludgeoning Paul Pelosi and attempting to kidnap Nancy Pelosi, faces life in prison for charges of attempting to kidnap a federal officer and assaulting a family member of a federal official. He has pleaded not guilty. Court proceedings began on Thursday.
DePape occasionally broke into tears, blew his nose and held the bridge of his nose as if in pain during various parts of his testimony, including recalling when he used to have “strong anti-Trump vibes,” views that changed after he began a steady diet of far-right-wing media.
DePape told jurors on Tuesday that his plan included luring one of his highest targets, a sexuality and gender academic named Gayle Rubin, known to the court as “Target 1,” to Pelosi’s home using the speaker’s celebrity as a draw, then continuing on to target Gov. Gavin Newsom and several public figures, and ultimately President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
“The grand plan was to expose everything at the end with Hunter Biden,” DePape told jurors.
Once DePape exposed what he considered the “truth,” he planned to ask President Biden to pardon all the people he considered criminals.
“That was the grand end of my plan, to get Joe Biden to pardon all the criminals for all their criminal conduct,” DePape said.
He said exposing the “truth” and then pardoning those responsible for various crimes – from what he called Democratic party lies to converting schools into molestation “factories” – would ultimately unify the country.
He said the so-called criminals on his target list included actor Tom Hanks, Hunter Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff, former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire George Soros, among others. Some of the names of his targets were revealed for the first time in court Tuesday, including Barr and Sanders.
On the stand, Depape accused one of his targets, Rubin, of trying to create “pedophiliac molestation factories” out of schools across the United States.
Rubin, a University of Michigan anthropology and women’s studies professor, has been the target of conspiracy theories from extremist YouTubers, writers and podcasters for her groundbreaking academic work as an anthropologist writing about feminist and queer theory. Rubin also testified in court Tuesday under the pseudonym “Target 1,” and said her workplace took measures to ensure her safety after she learned from the FBI that DePape had intended to lure her to the Pelosi home.
DePape had a slip of paper in his pocket with Rubin’s address and phone number on it when he arrived at the Pelosi home last year. DePape’s attorneys handed Rubin that slip of paper in court, and Rubin confirmed it was her address and an older phone number that DePape had intended to call after kidnapping Pelosi.
Actually, DePape said, “I was thinking of going to her house first. The reason was proximity. She was closest to BART,” he said of Rubin’s home. Ultimately though, her home seemed too well fortified, he said, and he settled on visiting Pelosi first.
DePape’s fascination with Rubin sprang from podcaster James Lindsay, DePape said, referring to the right-wing media personality.
“James Lindsay reads her papers, and what I got is she’s trying to turn our schools into molestation factories,” DePape said, repeating unfounded and baseless accusations that have long been shown to be rooted in bigotry against the LGTBQ community.
When he listened to Lindsay’s podcasts about Rubin, DePape said “I was outraged.”
And DePape’s radicalization wasn’t limited to Rubin.
He told the jury he came across most of his newfound political ideas after listening to mostly right-wing political YouTubers for entire weekends at a time and a minimum of six hours per day on weekdays, including Lindsay, Jimmy Dore and Glenn Beck. He would listen to the YouTubers’ political screeds while playing muted video games for hours on end in the Richmond garage he lived in, which had no toilet, shower or bed.
Those podcasts introduced him to the unfounded ideas that Tom Hanks had raped a young girl, and that Rep. Adam Schiff was somehow linked to child traffickers. More traditional right-wing attacks on Democrats would mix in with his more extreme conspiracy theories, too.
“I fucking love Hunter Biden. He’s like so blatantly corrupt. He doesn’t even try to hide his nepotism,” DePape said on the witness stand.
It was video games that first led DePape down that rabbit hole of far-right-wing personalities who he said expose the truth to help him see “both sides of the story” in current events, and that eventually led him to believe wide-ranging conspiracy theories.
DePape said he had been looking up video game tips on YouTube when he first encountered information about “gamergate,” a nearly decade-old social media harassment campaign led by misogynistic male gamers who targeted and threatened violence against women in the video game industry. He then began intensely researching their many spurious claims about feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, which led him to discover additional targets, DePape said.
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“I’d look up a [strategy to defeat a video game] boss, and it’d be a total different person, and these people would talk about how toxic Anita Sarkeesian is, over and over and over,” DePape said. “I wanted to find out what was going on here. I wanted to get both sides of the story.”
That, DePape said, led his research “deeper and deeper and deeper.”
It’s those same YouTubers, podcasters and others, DePape said, whose ideas slowly brought him from his more left-wing ideals to Pelosi’s home in the early morning of Oct. 28, 2022. Perhaps reflecting the roots of his conspiracy theories, he had a gray Nintendo Switch in his backpack that night, alongside the zip ties and rope he took with him to restrain Nancy Pelosi.
Before DePape’s testimony Tuesday morning, a neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Huang, testified for the prosecution. He described in gory detail how parts of Paul Pelosi’s skull were shifted by the impact of DePape’s at least three hammer blows.
One photo displayed in court showed Paul Pelosi’s head from the side, with what appeared to be a large portion of the front of his skull flattened from his injuries and a roughly 4-inch laceration going across the back-right part of his skull, which was shaved.
DePape said he hadn’t gone to the Pelosi home that night intending to hurt Paul Pelosi, just his wife. But he said he was willing to “go through” the then-82-year-old because the old man was stopping him from prevailing in his plan against “evil.”
Hearing the medical report about Paul Pelosi’s injuries was “really chilling,” DePape said from the stand.
After he assaulted Pelosi and saw him lying on the ground breathing heavily, “I felt really scared for his life,” he said.
Closing arguments are expected to take place Wednesday morning.
This story has been updated.
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