They say DePape’s changing beliefs show how today’s extremist threat complicates easy left-right categorization, a shift that baffles the public and a boon for trolls who exploit the disorder to push misinformation and justify violence.
“You get things that just seem contradictory, but when you understand how online exposure to propaganda works, it makes perfect sense,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, who leads the research and innovation lab at polarization and extremism in the American university. “It’s a self-chosen type of radicalization.”
By the time DePape, 42, allegedly broke into the Pelosis residence on Friday and attacked Paul, 82, with a hammer, his writings were laden with far-right messages that pointed to a dark, conspiratorial spiral. His blog posts in October were a mix of bloody imagery and hateful screeds aimed at a variety of targeted groups, including Jews, blacks and trans people, as well as Democrats. He also shared wacky thoughts about an invisible fairy who sometimes appeared as a bird; an alleged former romantic partner, Oxane “Gypsy” Taub, told reporters that DePape was “mentally ill.”
These details have been largely ignored by right-wing figures – including elected Republicans and MAGA stars with millions of followers – who have instead gone back years to paint him as a left-wing “hippie” peddling bracelets. hemp, possibly part of a “false flag” operation aimed at blaming the right for the assault. An alternative, unsubstantiated storyline that DePape and Paul Pelosi had a sexual relationship has erupted in right-wing media, spurred by high-profile figures such as Elon Musk and referenced by Republican officials.
“That moment you realize the LSD nudist hippie hooker was the reason your husband didn’t participate in your fundraiser,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) tweeted alongside a photo. of a distressed looking Nancy Pelosi.
Analysts say such reactions are dangerous, bad faith attempts to score political points while downplaying the seriousness of a violent attack on the most powerful woman in Congress. Federal prosecutors filed attempted kidnapping and assault charges against DePape on Monday, noting that in addition to the hammer allegedly used to strike Paul Pelosi, authorities recovered “a roll of duct tape, a white rope , a second hammer, a pair of rubber and cloth gloves, and zip ties.After being taken into custody, DePape told authorities that his plan was to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage and potentially break her.” her kneecaps” to make an example of her as the “pack leader” of what he sees as lying Democrats, according to court documents.
“To label this guy a left-wing fanatic today is dishonest when the path he chose for the past eight years was clearly Alt Right,” extremism researcher JJ MacNab wrote in an article. Twitter feed who exposed his research on DePape’s far-right descent.
DePape’s turning point appears to have come in 2014 with Gamergate, the vicious campaign of online abuse against female video game developers and critics that was a precursor to the rise of coordinated right-wing or bias-fueled troll attacks.
“How did I get in there. Gamer gate was gamer gate,” DePape wrote, according to research compiled by Erin Gallagher, research assistant at the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard Kennedy School.
Analysts say such shifts often do not occur through a singular seismic event, but through a gradual process, usually online, where people can click through an assortment of fringe ideologies, choosing what resonates. Sometimes this leads to a fusion of extremism – such as white supremacists borrowing militant Islamist expressions – and other times it can lead to a complete reversal of the political spectrum, such as the shift from the far right to the extreme left, sometimes referred to as a “change of sides”. .”
“Switching sides between mutually exclusive or hostile ideologies is really not that rare,” said Daniel Koehler, a terrorism analyst in Germany who has written extensively on the transnational phenomenon.
Koehler, founding director of the German Institute for Radicalization and Deradicalization Studies, has identified key “transition zones” that span disparate ideologies – the main ones being anti-Semitism, misogyny and anti-government beliefs or anti-establishment. These bridges, he said, function “like a sort of ideological highway between these environments that are usually very exclusive and see each other as mortal enemies.”
In Germany, Koehler said, he sees blurring these days in the anti-vaccination and covid-19 denial movements, where far-left protesters have openly mingled with white supremacists.
“There have been times when they produce memes and propaganda that call on anti-fascists or even anarchists to form an alliance against western democratic society,” Koehler said. “They think they could join forces on the common premise of ‘We reject dualism, we reject democracy, we reject a free market society.’ ”
Recent years have provided several examples of such bridges leading to conspiracies and violence, such as white nationalists overlapping with the misogynist “incel” movement or borrowing left-wing climate talking points to stoke fears of the right on racial competition for resources. White supremacist mass shooters in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso both dropped environmentalist themes in the notes they wrote before their deadly attacks.
One of the most high-profile cases involving unclear influences took place in 2020, when 22-year-old Army Pvt. Ethan Melzer was accused of planning an ambush against his own unit. He had scoured ISIS and other jihadist propaganda and even slipped information to someone he believed to be an al-Qaeda operative, prosecutors said. But they allege his primary motivation was violent white supremacy. A federal indictment accused Melzer of passing sensitive military information to other members of a satanic neo-Nazi network, the Order of Nine Angles. The Justice Department described Melzer’s beliefs as “an evil cocktail of ideologies.”
Judith Faessler, extremism analyst at the Bavarian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency of the German state of Bavaria, said the overlap could be used strategically to broaden the movements, finding mutual interests among “incoherent and sometimes conflicting ideologies”.
Extremism may mutate, but the threat of mobilization to violence remains constant.
“A demonized concept of the enemy is being constructed, the worldview becomes dualistic – ‘us’ and ‘them’,” Faessler said. “’They’ want to destroy us. Self-defense is the only way out.”