Republican officials spread fringe conspiracy theories and falsehoods

The home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco

Within hours of the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the speaker of the House, Republican officials, conservative activists and right-wing media outlets began circulating unfounded claims — nearly all of them sinister, and many homophobic — casting doubt on what had happened.

Among the Republican officials who quickly joined in, rushing to suggest that the bludgeoning of an octogenarian by a suspect obsessed with right-wing conspiracy theories was something else altogether, dismissing it as an inside job, a lover’s quarrel or worse.

The misinformation came from all levels of Republican politics. A U.S. senator circulated the view that “none of us will ever know” what really happened at the Pelosis’ San Francisco home.

A senior Republican congressman referred to the attacker as a “nudist hippie male prostitute,” baselessly asserting that the suspect had a personal relationship with Mr. Pelosi.

Former President Donald J. Trump questioned whether the attack might have been staged.

The world’s richest man helped amplify the stories. But none of it was true.

The flood of falsehoods showed how ingrained misinformation has become inside the G.O.P., where the reflexive response of the rank and file — and even a few prominent figures — to anything that might cast a negative light on the right is to deflect with more fictional claims, creating a vicious cycle that muddies facts, shifts blame and minimizes violence.

The same thing happened after the Jan. 6, 2021, attempted coup d’etat at the Capitol, which was inspired by Trump’s lie about a stolen election, and in turn gave rise to more falsehoods, as Republicans and their right-wing allies tried to play down, deny or invent a different story for what happened, including groundlessly blaming the F.B.I. and antifa.

Mr. Pelosi’s attacker clearly believed some of those lies.

“This is the dynamic as it plays out,” said Brian Hughes, a professor at American University who studies radicalism and extremism. “The conspiracy theory prompts an act of violence; that act of violence needs to be disavowed, and it can only be disavowed by more conspiracy theories, which prompts more violence.”

The Justice Department moved swiftly to bring criminal charges against the suspect in the attack, David DePape, 42, who prosecutors said broke into the Pelosi home intending to kidnap Ms. Pelosi and shatter her kneecaps, and assaulted her husband with a hammer, leaving him with a cracked skull. The San Francisco district attorney said it was imperative for prosecutors to present the facts to the public, given the misinformation circulating widely about the case.

But by then, it was far too late. In a pattern that has become commonplace, a parade of Republicans — helped along by right-wing media personalities including the Fox New host Tucker Carlson, and prominent people including the newly installed Twitter owner Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man — had already abetted the viral spread of lies about the attack, distorting the account of what happened before facts could get in the way.

Finding life on far-right websites and the so-called dark web, conspiracy theories and falsehoods leaped from the fringes to the mainstream.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas amplified doubts that all facts were being disclosed.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia suggested Mr. Pelosi knew his attacker.

Representative Clay Higgins of Louisiana suggested the attack involved male prostitution.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson raised doubts about the details of the attack.

Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers suggested the attack might have been staged.

Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini suggested that the Pelosis are hiding vital information.

Dinesh D’Souza claimed the attack involved an extramarital gay affair and New York Representative Claudia Tenney amplified a conspiracy theory about an extramarital gay affair.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, discredited commentator Glenn Beck, Fox News host Pete Hegseth, Michael Savage and Megyn Kelly raised doubts that all facts were being disclosed.

Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter amplified a conspiracy theory about male prostitution.

Deposed President Donald J. Trump and GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone suggested the attack was staged.

NBC News reporter Miguel Almaguer on the “Today” show reported that the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave police no indication he was in danger when he answered the door. In fact, San Francisco police have said that Mr. Pelosi was struggling with the intruder, DePape, when they first saw them.

All of them had known they were lying or at least made their remarks without a hint of credibility attached to them, but in the quest for power these GOP spokespeople lied in order to gain power in what has become the most transparent yet effective frauds in history.

The innuendo and lies filtered down to the mindset of ordinary Republican voters almost immediately, and the Democratic political establishment as well as the mainstream media was almost utterly silent in response.

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