David DePape, convicted of assaulting Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was influenced by right-wing conspiracy theories. This attack occurred shortly before the 2022 midterm elections. As the 2024 presidential campaign approaches, experts warn of escalating politically motivated violence fueled by conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate,” QAnon, and “Stop the Steal.”
Jacob Ware, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes the significant infiltration of these divisive ideologies into American society. DePape’s assault on Paul Pelosi in October 2022 was driven by his intent to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage, interrogating her about perceived government corruption. DePape’s beliefs were shaped by QAnon, a conspiracy theory alleging a child sex trafficking ring run by Democrats and Hollywood elites, which President Trump has indirectly supported.
QAnon, originating from the far-right fringes, has become a significant element in Republican politics. Many Capitol rioters on January 6, 2021, were QAnon believers. Before QAnon, the “Pizzagate” conspiracy led to a shooting incident at a Washington pizzeria.
Trump’s 2024 campaign rhetoric, including jokes about the Pelosi attack and suggestions of treason against his opponents, has heightened concerns. Threats against political figures have increased, with targets across the political spectrum.
QAnon’s ideology, leaderless and adaptable, continues to evolve, incorporating various conspiracy theories. START researchers found QAnon linked to more extremist offenses than any other group in the U.S. DePape’s radicalization began with GamerGate, a campaign against feminists in the gaming industry, and escalated to political violence.
Experts emphasize the mainstreaming of harmful conspiracy theories through media and online platforms, with inadequate content moderation fueling radicalization. They advocate for reducing political rhetoric’s intensity and addressing the public health aspect of conspiracy theory consumption.