By Sean Quigley
On Oct. 28, 2022, Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, was attacked within his own home during a politically motivated break-in and subsequently hospitalized. The perpetrator was reportedly on a suicide mission and had been planning to kidnap Nancy Pelosi, question her, and break her kneecaps with a hammer if she lied.
Political violence, particularly violence perpetrated by the right, has emerged in force in the U.S. following the wake of both the presidential tenure of Donald Trump and the election of Joe Biden to the executive office in 2020. This violence, urged on by the promotion of conspiracy theories in mainstream politics, threatens the very foundation of our democracy.
The most notable instance of political violence in recent years came on January 6, 2021, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the U.S. capitol. The riots followed a rally held by Trump, who, during the months leading up to his speech, had repeatedly denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election, which he lost to current president Joe Biden.
During the rally, the former president urged his supporters to converge on the capitol to “peacefully and patriotically” protest. Trump’s supporters did not protest peacefully, and almost immediately clashed with capitol police. The main goal of many rioters was to find the senate and confront or even kidnap politicians who they thought were responsible for Trump’s losing his position as president, with some rioters even bringing plastic zip ties to the confrontation.
One of the main political factions that contributed to the capitol riot was the Proud Boys, a group with ties to the alt-right and white nationalism that has gotten into violent clashes with protesters on multiple occasions. The Proud Boys and a slew of other violent alt-right political factions were either created or gained significant traction during Trump’s presidency as a result of the president’s right-oriented viewpoints.
Another similar group, known as Patriot Front, an openly white supremacist organization, gained notice several months ago after several of its members were arrested for conspiracy to riot near a local pride parade in Idaho.
One of the most dominant causes of political violence in the U.S. has been the spread of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories first cemented themselves in the alt-right circle of American politics with the advent of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory in 2016, which claimed that then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other democrats secretly ran an international child trafficking ring.
The legacy of Pizzagate continued in 2020 with Qanon, a conspiracy theory claiming the involvement of Democratic politicians and celebrities in child trafficking and satanism. The influence of Qanon has continued to spread across the republican party, influencing the beliefs and campaigns of right-wing politicians, and most importantly, perpetrators of violence such as Paul Pelosi’s attacker and many of the Trump supporters on January 6.
Unnervingly, Instances of political violence on the right have been increasingly normalized by high-profile figures on the right. After Paul Pelosi was hospitalized Donald Trump Jr., the son of former president trump, retweeted several photos and comments on his Twitter mocking the attack.
With the increasing use of violence among right-wing extremist groups on the rise, it is no wonder many people consider our democracy to be in danger. Time will only tell if the guide rails of our government will hold under the weight of modern extremism and conspiracy theories.