Pelosi, ridiculed by Republicans for years, is one of the main targets of threats

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) walks to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 8, 2021. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — In 2006, as Nancy Pelosi was poised to become the first woman to serve as the House Speaker, Republicans concocted a spoof movie about an evil Democratic empire headed by “Darth Nancy.”

In 2009, the Republican National Committee ran an ad featuring Pelosi’s face and the barrel of a gun pointed at her — complete with the sound of a gunshot and blood on the screen. It was a parody of the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” in that the second person in line for the presidency was cast as Pussy Galore.

This year, a Republican running in the Arizona Senate primary paid for an ad in which he engages in a Western-style duel with Democrats and shoots a goggle-eyed, masked woman named “Crazyface Pelosi” who threatens him with a knife.

The name evokes one of the many disparaging nicknames former President Donald Trump used for Pelosi, “Crazy Nancy.”

The Oct. 28 attack on Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, which left him with a fractured skull and was reportedly part of a planned attack on the president herself, culminates a years-long campaign by Republicans to demonize and dehumanize to Nancy Pelosi with increasingly unpleasant actions.

For nearly two decades, Republicans have characterized Pelosi, the most powerful woman in American politics, as the most sinister Democratic villain of all, making her the evil star of their advertising and fundraising appeals in the hope to provoke its main promoters. This rhetoric and images have helped intensify the flare-ups of anger toward Pelosi on the right, fueled increasingly in recent years by a toxic mix of conspiracy theories and misinformation that has grown on the internet and social media, with little resistance from politicians. elected Republicans.

Pelosi is now one of the most threatened members of Congress in the country.

In the aftermath of the horrific attack on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, many lawmakers and Republican leaders condemned the violence, but almost none spoke out against the vicious political discourse that has led to an unprecedented wave of threats against elected officials. Rather, most sought to associate the incident with the high crime rates across the country that the party has made the core of its campaign message ahead of midterm elections in days.

“You can’t claim that people who say things like ‘Let’s fire Pelosi’ or ‘Let’s take back the House’ really mean, ‘Engage in violence.’ It’s just unfair,” said Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, on “Fox News Sunday.” “Also, I think we need to recognize that violence has increased in all spheres.”

However, it is clear that the actions directed at Nancy Pelosi, who was not at home during the attack, are not a case of random violence. The suspect, David DePape, 42, who is accused of yelling, “Where’s Nancy?” after entering the couple’s home, he was wearing zip ties when he entered the home, according to a person familiar with the investigation. He is apparently obsessed with some right-wing conspiracy theories, including false claims about the 2020 election being stolen and the January 6, 2021 attack, as well as concerns around the topics of pedophilia, anti-white racism and the control of the internet by the “elites”. In recent years, Pelosi has played a prominent role in such viral falsehoods about the doings of Democrats, including QAnon, and has been baselessly accused by the Republican leadership of the January 6, 2021 attack.

“How did it get there?” Mona Lena Krook, a political science professor at Rutgers University who began studying violence against women in politics in 2014, wondered about the suspect. “It has to do with what you see in the media, things you see on social networks, the people she lives with made her feel that it was necessary to attack her and it was justified.”

Pelosi, a wealthy woman from the progressive stronghold of San Francisco and the leader of her party in the House of Representatives for 20 years, has long been a singular target for her political opponents.

“It’s the gender. It’s the class. The idea of ​​a rich and liberal woman from San Francisco. That’s the whole package,” said David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “The difference is that what started as a strategy to raise money and dishonestly generate turnout has now turned into a much more deadly situation.”

Even in 2012, when Pelosi was the minority leader and less powerful than Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader at the time, there were six times as many ads on Republican television mentioning Pelosi as Reid, according to Wesleyan Media Project, an organization that monitors political ads.

As she has risen to prominence, Pelosi has become a more frequent target. Since 2018, Republicans have spent more than $227 million on advertising focused on her, according to data provided by AdImpact, an organization dedicated to tracking political advertising. They were broadcast approximately 530,000 times. This year alone, Republicans spent more than $61 million on ads mentioning Pelosi, which were aired some 143,000 times.

The insistence on insulting Pelosi has had mixed political results: the Democrats managed to win a majority in the House of Representatives twice in the last 16 years, in which the attacks against them increased.

But they have continued, even though Pelosi has become a denigrated figure in the space dominated by the far right on the internet and social media platforms. Before taking office, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, who at the time was an outspoken supporter of QAnon, called Pelosi “guilty of treason,” adding, “It’s a crime punishable by death. it is betrayal.” He liked a Facebook post in favor of putting “a bullet in the head” of Pelosi, according to posts revealed by CNN.

These statements have had no consequence among Republican leaders. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican and Minority Leader, reprimanded Greene for her comments but refused to punish her, instead giving him a more prominent role in her conference.

When asked to discuss the issue in an interview with Breitbart radio on Oct. 28, McCarthy said it was “wrong” and condemned the political violence, noting that he had sent Pelosi a text message.

For those close to Pelosi, the attack on her home is something they have long feared. Few lawmakers have been mocked and threatened as often as Pelosi, according to a New York Times analysis of people accused of threatening lawmakers since 2016, which found that the president had been the target of more than one in 10 . Threats serious enough to bring charges appear to have increased after the 2020 presidential election and in January 2021, around the time of the attack on Capitol Hill and the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

However, Republicans have attacked Pelosi long before. In 2010, John Dennis, who ran against Pelosi when she was seeking re-election, circulated an ad campaign in which one actress portrayed Pelosi as she presided over an animal sacrifice and another portrayed her as the wicked witch from “The Wizard of Oz.” ad, Dennis threw a bucket of water marked “freedom” to melt it.

Instances to ridicule Pelosi have increased in recent years, when she has positioned herself as the most contrasting Democrat with Trump. While the left made her an icon and admired the style of her sunglasses, Trump said she was “crazy as a goat” and circulated a photo of her scolding him at the White House, with the caption ” Nervous Nancy”, in addition to saying that she had suffered “a deranged loss of control”.

Pelosi for years has ignored the attacks and taken them as a test of courage.

“If it wasn’t effective, it wouldn’t be a target,” Pelosi told Time magazine in 2018.

“He would shake his shoulder and say, ‘It’s just a little dust on my coat,'” said Brendan Daly, a former spokesman for Pelosi. “I think he always took pride in those episodes.”

But in a letter to colleagues on Oct. 29, the president said she and her family were “heartbroken and traumatized by the life-threatening attack” on her husband.

Pelosi has usually taken the poison against her philosophically. She understood when some Democratic candidates had to distance themselves from her in order to win elections and has taken her attacks as part of her political identity, people close to her explained.

When Biden addressed House Democrats in March during his retreat in Philadelphia, he lamented mistreatment across the country, including accusations that he is referred to as an expletive. “Little kids giving me the finger,” Biden said. “Maybe you don’t get that kind of response when you go to some places.”

Pelosi interrupted to say, “I do.”

The group let out a laugh.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

Pelosi, ridiculed by Republicans for years, is one of the main targets of threats