Political violence is on a bloody and disturbing rise in the United States. Early Friday morning, an intruder broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco home, attacking her 82-year-old husband Paul with a hammer, fracturing his skull. The intruder, David DePape, 42, was arrested. DePape's online presence is a horrifying mix of conspiracy theories, racism, election denial and antisemitism. "Where's Nancy? Where's Nancy?" DePape screamed at Paul Pelosi, using a phrase chanted in the U.S. Capitol during the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Pelosi managed to call 911, leaving the call connected so the dispatcher could hear as he tried to negotiate with the intruder. The dispatcher called on the San Francisco Police to conduct a wellness check. DePape attacked Pelosi as the police arrived, and was quickly arrested. Pelosi was rushed to the hospital. DePape has been jailed, charged with multiple state and federal crimes.
In a primetime address in Union Station in Washington, DC, President Biden said, "We don't settle our differences with a riot, or a mob, or a bullet, or a hammer. We settle them peacefully at the ballot box." That is how it is supposed to go. Donald Trump's demagogic takeover of the Republican Party and his lie that the 2020 election was stolen has propelled the United States into a dark and dangerous era. Racism, xenophobia, Christian Nationalism, and a welter of other bigotries are being whipped up by Republican officials desperate to hold onto power. This toxic stew is backed by an increasingly well-armed and radicalized rightwing minority, masking their criminality behind self-styled militias and patriotic slogans.
"Make America Great Again," Trump proclaims, never saying when in our painful, tumultuous history America was, in fact, "great." That phrase's acronym, "MAGA," has been embraced by Trump's supporters and his many detractors, as both a battle cry of the right and a catchall warning used by defenders of democracy.
"American democracy is under attack because the defeated former president of the United States refused to accept the results of the 2020 election," Biden said Wednesday. "He has made the Big Lie an article of faith of the MAGA Republican, the minority of that party…They have emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials."
Since Trump's 2020 loss, threats against election officials have intensified. The Brennan Center for Justice issued a report in 2021 that detailed reports from states across the country, of numerous confrontations and threats against election workers—many laced with racism and anti-semitism. Republican state legislatures accelerated the voter suppression crusade, passing scores of laws aimed at restricting access to the vote. Early voting, mail-in voting, Voter ID laws and even, in Georgia, a law making it illegal to provide water to someone waiting in line to vote, have all been enacted.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll, released last week, found that two in five voters are concerned about the threat of violence or intimidation at polling places during these midterm elections, and that two-thirds of registered voters expect extremists to carry out acts of violence if they are unhappy with the election results.
In Arizona, masked, armed vigilantes wearing body armor were monitoring a 24-hour ballot drop box location. The League of Women Voters of Arizona went to federal court and won a temporary restraining order against the voter intimidation group, Clean Elections USA. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair Bill Gates and County Recorder Stephen Richer issued a joint statement that included the line, which itself serves as a measure of how bad things have gotten, "Don't dress in body armor to intimidate voters as they are legally returning their ballots." So far, at least six instances of voter intimidation have been reported to the Justice Department by Arizona's Secretary of State.
In rural Nye County, Nevada, election deniers suspicious of ballot-scanning devices successfully compelled the county to adopt hand-counting of ballots. The county clerk resigned in protest, and the hand counting has not been going well. Human errors abound and the process has been ordered halted. But not before Nye County Republican Party Central Committee Vice Chair Laura Larsen, wearing a gun, ejected a legal election observer from the ACLU, attempting to confiscate the person's notes.
The attack on Paul Pelosi was part of a failed attempt to either kidnap or assassinate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, second in line to assume the presidency. In response, prominent Republicans from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to Donald Trump, Jr. joked about that attack.
Normalizing and inflaming political violence, as Donald Trump and his Republican enablers are doing, ensures more bloodshed. The resilience of our democracy depends on free, fair and vigorous participation from all eligible voters. Political violence must be condemned, and countered with massive voter turnout.