Man charged in Pelosi home attack allegedly told police he wanted to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage

The man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi, the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told police he wanted to hold the Speaker hostage and "break her kneecaps," authorities said Monday.

Charges against Canadian-born David DePape carry sentences of up to 50 years

An older man and woman stand smiling side by side in front of a black door with the number 10 on it.
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi are seen in 2021. David DePape was charged Monday after Paul Pelosi was attacked with a hammer in the couple's San Francisco home over the weekend. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

The man accused of attacking U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband with a hammer told police he wanted to hold the Democratic leader hostage and "break her kneecaps" to show other members of Congress there were "consequences to actions," authorities said Monday.

In a chilling federal complaint, officials say that David DePape, 42, carrying zip ties and tape in a backpack, broke into the couple's San Francisco home early Friday morning, went upstairs where 82-year-old Paul Pelosi was sleeping and demanded to talk to "Nancy."

When Paul Pelosi told the intruder she was not there, DePape, who was born in Canada, said he would wait — even after being told she would not be home for some days. 

Both the San Francisco district attorney and police chief strongly rejected mocking jokes and conspiracy theories about the attack sent out by far-right figures and even some leading Republicans just a week before hard-fought congressional elections.

DePape told police of his plans to hold Speaker Pelosi hostage to "talk to her" and viewed her "as the "leader of the pack" of lies told by the Democratic Party, the eight-page complaint says.

"If she were to tell DePape the 'truth,' he would let her go and if she 'lied,' he was going to break 'her kneecaps,'" the complaint alleges.

"By breaking Nancy's kneecaps, she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other members of Congress there were consequences to actions," it says.

WATCH | Attacker allegedly yelled 'Where is Nancy?':  

Nancy Pelosi’s husband attacked with hammer

3 months ago
Duration 2:53
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul Pelosi, was attacked in their San Francisco home by a man with a hammer, reportedly yelling: "Where is Nancy, where is Nancy?"

Overstayed visa 

DePape is charged federally with influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a federal official by threatening or injuring a family member. He also faces one count of attempted kidnapping of a United States official on account of the performance of official duties.

The announcement of the federal charges came hours before San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced several separate state charges against DePape, including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, elder abuse and threatening a public official.

"This house and the speaker herself were specifically targets," Jenkins said at a Monday evening news conference.

"This was politically motivated," Jenkins said. She implored the public to "watch the words that we say and to turn down the volume of our political rhetoric."

No attorney has been listed for DePape. He is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on the state charges, and prosecutors will ask for him to be held in jail without bail.

DePape is a Canadian citizen who legally entered the United States in 2000 but has stayed long after his visa expired, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Family described DePape as estranged, and he was known by some in San Francisco as a pro-nudity activist who appeared to embrace a range of conspiracy theories.

The federal complaint said he has lived for the past two years in a garage at a residence in Richmond, Calif.

Police were dispatched to the home in the upscale Pacific Heights neighbourhood around 2:20 a.m. PT Friday after Paul Pelosi placed a 911 call. Jenkins said DePape broke into the rear door and made his way upstairs to confront him. Police said they arrived to see the two men struggling over a hammer, when DePape struck Pelosi at least once before being tackled by officers.

She said police body camera footage "shows the attack itself." Police later found a second hammer, along with rope, tape and a diary in DePape's backpack.

Toxic political climate

Paul Pelosi remains hospitalized. Speaker Pelosi, who was in Washington at the time, returned swiftly to California. Unlike presidents, the congressional leaders have security protection for themselves, but not their families. 

On Twitter Monday night, she said her husband was "making steady progress on what will be a long recovery." 

In the ambulance en route to the hospital, Paul Pelosi told police he had never seen DePape before, the complaint said.

The attack was an unsettling echo of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, when rioters trying to overturn Joe Biden's election defeat of Donald Trump stormed the halls eerily calling "Where's Nancy?" The zip ties were another similarity to Jan. 6 when rioters were seen with the ties in the Capitol.

Trump supporters protest inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The attack at Pelosi's home had echoes of the Washington insurrection, when rioters trying to overturn Joe Biden's election defeat of Donald Trump stormed the halls calling 'Where's Nancy?' (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

In the toxic political climate, a week before the midterm elections, tensions are high with record security threats against lawmakers and other officials.

The beating follows other attacks and threats against high-profile and political figures in the U.S. This summer, a man carrying a gun, a knife and zip ties was arrested near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house in Maryland after threatening to kill him. In 2017, Republican Rep. Steve Scalise was seriously injured when a Bernie Sanders supporter opened fire on Republicans at a congressional baseball game practice.

Dismissed by far right

San Francisco's district attorney Brooke Jenkins also rejected conspiracy theories about the attack, confirming the assailant was targeting the Democratic leader when he broke into the couple's home.

"At the time that the suspect had entered the Pelosi home that he was in fact, looking for Ms. Pelosi," Jenkins told reporters late Sunday in San Francisco.

"The other thing is we want to make it clear that there were only two people in the home at the time that the police arrived, Mr. Pelosi and the suspect, there was no third person present," she said.

"We have nothing to suggest that these two men knew each other prior to this incident."

The district attorney's remarks come as the gruesome attack is being mocked and dismissed in conservative, far-right social media, even among some Republican leaders and those at the highest levels of social power. San Francisco's police chief has also said the attack was targeted.

Elon Musk over the weekend tweeted, then deleted, a fringe website's far-flung conspiracy theories to his millions of followers, as his purchase of Twitter has raised concerns that the social media platform would no longer seek to limit misinformation and hate speech.

Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., was among those making light of the attack on Paul Pelosi, tweeting out a joke about a Halloween costume of the incident.

With a file from Reuters