Attack on Pelosi's husband highlights concern about hate speech and conspiracies

The shock of Friday's violent attack targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home and injuring her husband Paul Pelosi, sent shock waves through Congress, as other members spoke about facing threats of violence as part of their jobs.

Congressman John Garamendi who represents the district that includes Fairfield and Davis says he once had a gun pulled on him by a constituent and his own family has faced threats of violence.

"One of the fellows who threatened us is now in jail in New York. The threat was not only to us but to other members of Congress," said Garamendi.

The number of cases involving "concerning statements and threats" to members of Congress jumped from 3,939 in 2017 to 9,625 in 2021, according to a Reuters report that cites United States Capitol Police data.

"We need less hate in social media," said Garamendi, "I believe we need a law that holds the social media companies accountable for what they are allowing on their platforms."

Many say they're disturbed by news that the suspected attacker had links online to Q-Anon conspiracies and January 6th "Stop the Steal" insurrection posts.

"This type of hateful speech matters, that it can translate into action, and it's incumbent on all of us to call out hate, regardless of who it's targeting," said Seth Brysk, the Anti-Defamation League's Western Regional Director.

Brysk says AB 587 which recently became a new California law, targets social media hate speech that could incite violence.

"If you have content that violates your own rules, what are you doing when it's reported to you? How much of it is being reported to you? And what types of judgments are you making about that content?" said Brysk.

Some say it isn't just social media companies, though, that need to take action.

"The most extreme elements on the American right, the militia elements for example, that were pre-Trump, marginalized...with no particular role in national politics became mainstream," said Lawrence Rosenthal, Chair of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies.

Rosenthal says what was particularly concerning Friday was the attacker's question to Paul Pelosi, "Where's Nancy?" which echoed the chants by insurrectionists and militant groups at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th last year.

"The distinction between those kind of extremes and ordinary conservatism," said Rosenthal, "That is not as clear as it once was."

Rosenthal says there is a risk when politicians allow or support misinformation.

"Does that create an atmosphere in which individuals, lone wolves, are motivated to do attacks of this nature?" said Rosenthal.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn't post any statements following the attack, but his office said he called Speaker Pelosi and spoke with her privately.

Other top Republicans publicly denounced the attack on Pelosi's husband.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell posted, "Horrified and disgusted by the reports that Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his and Speaker Pelosi's home last night. Grateful to hear that Paul is on track to make a full recovery and that law enforcement including our stellar Capitol Police are on the case."

Louisiana GOP Congressman Steve Scalise, who himself was shot in a violent 2017 attack, also posted a statement on social media stating, "Disgusted to hear about the horrific assault on Speaker Pelosi’s husband Paul. Grateful for law enforcement’s actions to respond. Let’s be clear: Violence has no place in this country. I’m praying for Paul Pelosi’s full recovery."

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or