The assault on Paul Pelosi, husband of Congressional House leader Nancy Pelosi, says a lot about the direction of US politics. The alleged attacker is a man named David DePape. (From all that has been presented so far, the allegation that he is the one seems to be correct, but until tried it’s important not to simply claim he is the one.) DePape has an interesting history, one which is almost a poster child for the violence of the far right in the U.S.
DePape’s early history
According to ABC7 news DePape emigrated to the US from Canada some 20 years ago and settled in the SF Bay Area with a woman named “Gypsy” Taub. At one point, according to Taub, he disappeared for a year. “He came back in very bad shape. He thought he was Jesus. He was constantly paranoid, thinking people were after him,” Taub said. “And it took a good year or two to get back to, you know, being halfway normal.”
In the second decade of this century, DePape was evidently making his living making hemp jewelry. He became involved in nudity activism and was following different conspiracy theories. It went downhill from there. “A pair of web blogs posted in recent months online under the name David DePape contained rants about technology, aliens, communists, religious minorities, transexuals and global elites” (from the same report). There are also indications that he was getting into QAnon theories.
Social Conditions that enabled DePape’s crackup
The absence of the working class as an independent force in society led DePape down the rabbit hole. Had there been such a movement – one with millions of workers out in the streets, campaigning against all the repression and exploitation of capitalist society, one that also included a lively political life with discussion and debate on the issues of the day all based on what is in our interests as workers – thousands of people like DePape would have been drawn. Instead, DePape spun off into outer space.
Millions of workers and middle class people have followed the same path as DePape. Most of them did not live on the margins like DePape did. They have “regular” jobs or businesses like real estate salespeople. But like DePape they live in their own world.
Writing in the Atlantic magazine, columnist Tom Nichols describes the life of a “shut in” diabetic neighbor of his when he was a child. He explains how her isolated life led her down a rabbit hole of the tabloid magazines – which played the role then that much of social media plays today. “We’re now a nation of paranoid shut-ins by our own choice, and our tabloid excitement comes in far greater volume from the internet and cable. Lonely, bored, desperate for anything that will make our lives interesting, and convinced that we should all be at the center of great dramas, we feed on trash strewn before us by clever entrepreneurs who can monetize the movement of our eyeballs and the twitch of our mousing hand,” he writes.
It’s not just that this has been “monetized”; more important us that it’s been weaponized by Trump, Bannon, and their minions. They are responsible for thousands of threats against everybody from local election officials to top national politicians. None of these Republican MAGAist leaders has criticized these threats. It was inevitable that these threats, considered acceptable by the leading forces in the Republican Party, would turn to action. Of course, January 6 was the most visible example, but there is also the actions of tiny conspiratorial groups and individuals like DePape. And once the attack aimed at Nancy Pelosi was carried out these same forces in effect justified it by covering up what was really behind it and/or making light of it. They circulated the lie that this was really a sexual liaison gone bad between Paul Pelosi and DePape. Even Elon Musk helped circulate that lie. Donald Trump jr. both advanced that lie and made light of it by circulating a “Hallowe’en costume” of a pair of underpants and a hammer. This whole lie also has homophobic implications – a twofer for these people. This is how they further encourage these individual terrorist attacks.
Misogyny and Ageism
There is also another point: The far right’s vitriol directed against Nancy Pelosi is only matched by similar vitriol against Hillary Clinton. (Many on the left also direct similar vitriol against these two.) Why are these two figures singled out by the far right? It’s not their politics (which are, indeed, terrible). After all, there are dozens of figures even further to the left, starting with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. And it’s not simply that they have power. U.S. Senate leader Chuck Schumer has more power than either of them, yet he isn’t hated nearly as much. The difference is that these are two past-middle-age powerful women who, by reason of their very age, lack the “sex appeal” of those like Ocasio Cortez. It is a combination of misogyny and “ageism” that enables the intense hatred of these two women.
To return to the main point: the MAGA people are too far gone to be reasoned with. What’s needed is what was absent that led to DePape going down that rabbit hole in the first place: That movement of working class people and the youth. That will distract them, to start with, and tend to push their crackpot and far right ideas into the background of their thinking. On that basis, some of them can actually be made to look at reality and even won over and others will be more or less neutralised as a political force.