The skepticism hasn’t stayed in right-wing echo chambers, but has also seeped into the feeds of popular online figures, including new Twitter owner Elon Musk.
“There is a small possibility that there is more to this story than meets the eye,” he said. wrote Sunday morning, pointing his 112 million followers to a sensationalized account of the episode posted by a site known for spreading far-right disinformation.
The rush to cast doubt on the assault on Pelosi’s husband illustrates how influential right-wing figures are aggressively seeking to dissuade the public from believing the facts about the violence, using the event to promote conspiracy theories and cause distrust. The Speaker of the House has long been a bugbear for the rightwho has stepped up his rhetorical blitz on her in recent years — even as extreme threats against members of Congress have increased.
These disinformation mongers, said longtime Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron, deceive their vast audiences by using rumors and lies about everything from the integrity of elections to the details of a police report.
“They are creating a dystopia in which lying and physical violence are part of our politics,” he said.
Dinesh D’Souza, whose recent film “2000 slippersbolstered his right-wing bona fides by pushing Trump’s debunked claims of widespread voter fraud, spread lies and innuendo in a viral Twitter thread suggesting the attack on Paul Pelosi was a form of intentional misrepresentation sometimes called “false flag”.
The basis of his skepticism seemed to be erroneous statement by a Fox affiliate, which later added a correction to its article, that the attacker was in his underwear at the time of his arrest. In fact, the suspect, identified by law enforcement as David DePape, 42, demanded to know: “Where’s Nancy?” – a call echoing the exclamations of pro-Trump protesters who raped the Capitol on January 62021 – before bludgeoning her husband with a hammer.
Authorities said they were examining writings DePape seems to be the author who interweaves delusions about fairies and the occult with Holocaust denial and screeds against black and transgender people.
D’Souza did not accept those details. Neither did many of his 2.5 million Twitter followers, according to their responses, which included “amen” calls.
“The left is going crazy because not only are we not buying Paul Pelosi’s wacky, implausible story, but we are even laughing at its ridiculousness,” he wrote early Sunday morning. “What this means is that we are no longer intimidated by their false pieties. Their control over us has finally been broken.
Musk, who calls himself “Chief Twit,” also seemed unconvinced by the official story that formed in the days following the attack. In response to a Tweeter of Hillary Clinton condemning the attack and claiming it resulted from “hateful and deranged conspiracy theories” propagated by Republican politicians, he instead pointed to a story in the Santa Monica Observer claiming without evidence that Paul Pelosi was drunk at the time assault and “in an argument with a male prostitute. Musk, who later deleted the tweet, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The Santa Monica Observer website, describe by fact-checkers as an untrustworthy source favoring the far-right, was offline Sunday morning. But one archived version of the story promised to explain “what really happened early Friday morning in San Francisco”.
He unfolded a sinister story about nudists and a tryst gone horribly wrong. He also speculated about Pelosi’s health and the safety of the home he shares with the Speaker of the House in San Francisco’s upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood. And it featured tweets reposted by Sebastian Gorka, a former White House adviser to Trump who attended an inaugural ball in 2017 wear the badge of a Hungarian nationalist group historically linked to the Nazis.
Gorka did not respond to a request for comment. An email sent to an address in the Santa Monica Observer yielded no response.
The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times has called the site “notorious for posting fake news,” pointing to its fantastic claim, in 2016, that Clinton was dead and had been replaced by a lookalike.
Similarly, misleading claims filled social media over the weekend in response to the attack on Pelosi.
Dozens of tweets included claims that the attack was a false flag, some of which directly responded to messages from the Speaker of the House. “@SpeakerPelosi Accountability is coming,” one user warned. “Tired of your lies and false flags. Your traitor. Another wrote: ‘I don’t know why the story of Paul Pelosi collapsing is such a surprise. False flag attacks are a common tool of the left.
Many have focused on the high stakes next month mid Road elections, which will decide the control of Congress.
“It was way too much of a coincidence,” wrote one user whose bio included the rallying cry “#MAGA.” “A week before a big election, to make Pelosi a figure in need of sympathy, after having been a b—liar, mean, aggressive, vindictive and bullying for decades. She doesn’t get a pass.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Elected officials and other popular right-wing figures have also mocked Pelosi’s husband even as he remains hospitalized with his injuries.
Wendy Rogers, a Republican Arizona state senator who set fundraising records in his state while aligning himself with right-wing extremists, shared a fake Amazon listing for a “Paul Pelosi Fake Attack Novelty Item Headpiece.”
Garrett Ziegler, a former White House aide to Trump, directed his more than 125,000 Telegram subscribers to a meme that sexualized assault.
Larry Elder, a conservative radio host who mounted a failed bid for California governor in last year’s recall election, responded to the onslaught by ridiculing Pelosi for a charge driving under the influence earlier this year. “First he gets arrested for DUI, then gets mugged in his home,” the commenter wrote on Twitter. “Hammered twice in six months.”
Republican leaders have evaded questions about the role of misinformation in fueling political violence.
When asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday whether Republicans should “do more to reject conspiracy theories and dangerous rhetoric,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the branch of Senate GOP campaign, said it was important to “condemn the violence.” and convince those preparing to vote that the upcoming midterm elections would be “free and fair.”
Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.