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Canadian man who allegedly attacked Nancy Pelosi's husband to be charged Monday

Paul Pelosi is recovering in hospital after surgery for a skull fracture and arm injuries after an intruder broke into the U.S. Speaker's California home and attacked her husband with a hammer.

Assault at California home follows warnings of potential violence against U.S. politicians ahead of elections

An older man and woman stand smiling side by side in front of a black door with the number 10 on it.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi are pictured outside 10 Downing Street in London on Sept. 16, 2021. Paul Pelosi is recovering in hospital after he was attacked by a hammer-wielding assailant at their home in San Francisco on Friday. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

The man accused of attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband carried zip ties with him when he broke into the couple's San Francisco home, a person briefed on the investigation told the Associated Press. CNN reported the alleged assailant also carried duct tape, quoting a law enforcement source.

The attack on Democratic leader's 82-year-old husband, Paul Pelosi, less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election that will determine control of Congress was a jarring reminder of the nation's toxic political climate.

Police said the suspect, identified as Canadian-born David DePape, confronted Paul Pelosi in the family's Pacific Heights home early Friday and, the AP has reported, demanded to know, "Where is Nancy?"

The two men struggled over a hammer before officers responding to a 911 call to the home saw DePape strike Paul Pelosi at least once, police said.

Police have not offered a motive for Friday's assault on Paul Pelosi, who according to his wife's office underwent surgery for a skull fracture and injuries to his hands and right arm, though doctors expect a full recovery.

There were no updates on his condition over the weekend.

A police car parked on an inclining street in front of a tall brown brick house.
A San Francisco Police Department vehicle parked outside the Pelosis' home in San Francisco on Saturday. Police are still investigating what motivated the attack on Paul Pelosi. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

The 82-year-old House speaker herself, a Democrat who is second in the constitutional line of succession to the U.S. presidency, was in Washington at the time of the assault.

She flew to San Francisco hours after the attack to be with her husband, and released a statement on Saturday saying her family was "heartbroken and traumatized by the life-threatening attack on our Pop."

Earlier in the day, Paul Pelosi Jr., the couple's son, was seen outside Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where his father, a real estate and venture capital executive, was being treated. Asked by a reporter for an update on his father, he replied: "So far, so good."

Suspect grew up in Canada

Police identified the man arrested at the scene as David DePape, 42. He, too, was taken to a San Francisco hospital, but it was not made clear whether he was there for medical or psychiatric care or both.

Online sheriff's records showed he was booked into custody on suspicion of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, battery, burglary, threatening a public official or family member, and other felonies. Formal charges will be filed on Monday, and his arraignment is expected on Tuesday, according to the San Francisco district attorney's office.

A screen grab taken from video shows damage to a door at Nancy and Paul Pelosi's home in San Francisco on Friday. (Reuters)

DePape grew up in Powell River, B.C., before leaving about 20 years ago to follow an older girlfriend to San Francisco.

His stepfather, Gene DePape, told The Associated Press that DePape lived with him in Canada until he was 14. He said he hadn't seen DePape since 2003 and tried to get in touch with him several times over the years without success.

In the search for a motive, attention turned to the suspect's apparent internet profile.

In recent posts on several websites, an internet user named "daviddepape" expressed support for former President Donald Trump and embraced the cult-like conspiracy theory QAnon. The posts included references to "satanic pedophilia," anti-Semitic tropes and criticism of women, transgender people and censorship by tech companies. Reuters could not confirm the posts were created by the suspect arrested Friday.

Experts on extremism said the attack could be an example of a growing trend they call "stochastic terrorism," in which sometimes-unstable individuals are inspired to violence by hate speech and scenarios they see online and hear echoed by public figures.

A police officer stands outside the Pelosis' San Francisco home on Friday. The suspect is set to be formally charged on Monday. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/The Associated Press)

Cryptic 911 call

The chief said police were dispatched for a wellbeing check on the basis of a cryptic emergency-911 call from the residence. Other news outlets reported the call was placed by Paul Pelosi.

Scott, the San Francisco Police chief, credited the 911 operator with discerning that "there was more to this incident than what she was being told" by the caller, thus dispatching the call at a higher priority than normal. Scott called her decision "life-saving."

CNN reported that Paul Pelosi had called emergency-911 and spoke in "code," not saying directly that he was under attack but leading the dispatcher to conclude something was wrong.  Politico, citing a person familiar with the situation, reported separately that Pelosi had told the intruder he needed to use the bathroom, and then furtively called 911 from there, where his cellphone had been charging.   

WATCH | Attack on Pelosi's husband condemned by Republicans: 

Republicans condemn Pelosi attack, but deflect concerns about rhetoric

3 months ago
Duration 2:17
Republicans have been quick to denounce the brutal hammer attack on the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but have also deflected questions about any links between violent rhetoric and political violence.

According to Scott, police arriving at the front door glimpsed DePape and Pelosi struggling over a hammer. As the officers yelled at both men to drop the tool, DePape yanked the hammer away and was seen striking Pelosi at least once, the chief said.

The officers then tackled, disarmed and arrested DePape, Scott said.

Warnings of pre-election violence

The incident came a day after New York City police warned that extremists could target politicians, political events and polling sites ahead of elections.

The U.S. Capitol Police, which reported 9,625 threats against lawmakers of both parties in 2021, up nearly threefold from 2017, urged congressional offices in a memo on Saturday to take extra security precautions given the heightened risks they face.

A worker carries a sheet of plywood from the Pelosis' home in San Francisco on Friday. Police say an intruder broke into the house through a rear door before attacking Paul Pelosi. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/The Associated Press)

As a Democratic leader in Washington and longtime representative from one of America's most liberal cities, Nancy Pelosi is a frequent target of Republican criticism.

Her office was ransacked during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, some of whom hunted for her during the assault.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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