Around 3 a.m. on October 28, David DePape attacked Paul Pelosi, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband, with a hammer. During the attack, DePape yelled “Where’s Nancy?” raising concerns that his true intent was political assassination of the second-in-line to the presidency. The potential political motive for this brutal act led to questions about who DePape is and what he believes in, with early reports focusing on his “strange descent” and “political metamorphosis” from a one-time Green Party supporter to a spreader of right-wing conspiracy theories.
While he affiliated with the Green Party in his San Francisco voting records back in 2013, he has since posted on a range of conspiracy theories, including QAnon and 2020 election rigging, on two separate blogs and Facebook. Similar to Jake Angeli (aka ‘Q Shaman’), another infamous QAnon supporter, DePape’s blend of conspiracy theories, right-wing politics, and new age spirituality has caused confusion.
DePape’s posts, from a now-suspended WordPress blog named “God is Loving,” incorporate a range of conspiracy theories, including that Covid-19 vaccines are poison, and that the disease is a hoax created to force a ‘great reset’ to socialism. Some are antisemitic and racist. Others reference online misogyny such as the word “wamen” used for women (a PewDiePie reference) and Gamergate. He defends Donald Trump and Kanye West, and claims the 2020 election was rigged and that ‘Big Tech’ is censoring people.
Sprinkled throughout are posts about the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis and contact with aliens, common beliefs in new age spirituality. Posts from 2007, which are still visible, also reference themes in new age spirituality, mostly about the nature of God and how spirituality is different from organized religion. By 2022, the posts had become predominantly occupied with conspiracy theories.
A second blog run by a user called David DePape was found on a site called “frenlyfrens.com,” a term known to be a white nationalist dog whistle. This blog contains more memes and more poorly-spelled half-thoughts (a post titled “how ter B a Christian,” with no content below the title) on subjects ranging from climate denial to aliens, guns, and mathematician and social media culture warrior James Lindsay. There are more references to Gamergate, pizzagate, and “wamen,” as well as allegations that the Ukraine war is being fought so that Jewish people can buy the land.
Violent ideations are implied in the posts. For example, he states that “any journalist” saying that there is no evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election “should be dragged out into the street and shot.” Under a “Spirituality” tag are posts discussing quantum mechanics and consciousness; gnosticism; and the statement that “belief creates reality”—all common ideas in new age spirituality.
The link between spirituality and conspiracy theory is by now so well-known that it has its own term: “conspirituality.” What are called conspiracy theories by outside observers operate in new age spirituality as a form of theodicy for why their predicted new age of peace, light, and love has yet to emerge.
There’s a long history of right-wing esotericism informing the “secret teachings” that DePape espoused, drawing together UFOs, Atlantis, and antisemitism. The Manichaean understanding of world politics and history as determined by a battle between the forces of good and evil, mostly obscured from public view, is also important. DePape’s posts link the Jesuits to the Illuminati and the dark cabal, a secret group of Jews who manipulate world events for their own gain. Believers see the fingerprints of this shadowy group on all major world events.
DePape mentions the “Fall of the Cabal,” a 10-part viral video series now taken down from YouTube, that connects the Covid-19 to pre-existing conspiracy theories about the dark cabal. The pandemic was absorbed into a network of antisemitic, conspiratorial ideas that form an explanatory model for why events are occurring, a model that directly challenges or counters narratives from the media, governing institutions, and the social consensus reality.
That DePape was both active on the far-right image board /pol/ on 4chan and linked to a house in Berkeley, California with a Pride rainbow weed symbol flag and a “Berkeley stands united against hate” sign is the source of much confusion from commentators so far. The juxtaposition of these symbols does appear, on the surface at least, to be contradictory. Of course, DePape no longer resides at that house. He did in 2013, when the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed his acquaintance Gypsy Taub, a nudity activist, about her upcoming wedding (at which DePape was to be the best man). In that article, it states that DePape made hemp jewelry for a living. Associating with nudity activists, particularly Taub, seems to locate DePape in San Francisco hippie culture.
Taub is a self-described rebel, Deadhead, and homeschool mom with a school bus who met her husband Jaymz Smith at a Rainbow Gathering and saw him as the reincarnation of her previous husband, Sergey. As well as yoga and raw food, she was interested in 9/11 truther theories, once running a public access TV show Uncensored 9/11, which she presented naked. In her subsequent show My Naked TV, no longer on public access, she and a guest would talk for half an hour naked, about almost anything. (There’s also a website, in which Taub leaves her own digital trail of blog posts.)
Despite the media focus on the connection between Taub and DePape, however, she clearly hasn’t been involved in any of his recent actions since she’s been in the California Institute for Women for stalking and the attempted kidnapping of a 14-year-old boy since 2021.
DePape’s association with Taub and his voter affiliation with the Green Party in 2013 form the basis for claims that he experienced a rapid swing from left-wing to right-wing, with a crucial pivot around 2014 due to Gamergate. Some commentators have felt comfortable labeling DePape “a far-right extremist.” Others have called this impulse to label based on a digital trail of crumbs futile.
If DePape’s ideology seems obscure, the other go-to explanation has been that he’s psychotic and that his mental illness was exacerbated by drug use and homelessness. He was apparently communicating with an entity he identified as a fairy. Several of his blog posts are images of what appear to be fairies, posted without comment. Such strange beliefs that transgress political dichotomies and seem delusional are familiar terrain in the study of religion.
Failing to understand the crossover between new age spirituality and conspiracy theories, many assume that those who present as hippies are necessarily left-wing, an assumption that only enables the political Right to deny responsibility. Almost immediately as details of the Pelosi attack emerged, a conspiracy theory about DePape emerged that he and Paul Pelosi were somehow sexually involved. Over the weekend, the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, tweeted and then deleted an article making this allegation from the fake news site the Santa Monica Observer. The conspiracy theory transmuted accusations of increasing right-wing political violence into a tawdry story of a domestic dispute between two men, coupled with an attempt to associate addiction and homosexuality with degeneracy.
On social media, this conspiracy theory spread, along with frequent use of the images of the Berkeley house with the Pride/weed flag and school bus (which displayed a sign about the psychoactive substance ibogaine as a “natural addiction treatment”), to claim DePape is both gay and left-wing, and that the attack on Pelosi was therefore not perpetrated by anyone on the Right.
What’s formed is essentially a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theorist, and it fuels a form of false equivalence—that ‘both sides’ have a problem with political violence—coupled with the familiar sense of bewilderment that disinformation brings. A sense that we can never really know the truth, so we should probably give up because comprehension is futile.
The problem with the narrative of the Left-Right political binary is that it requires that every violent act must be perpetrated by one side or the other. The perpetrator must be placed as either Democrat/Left/socialist or Republican/Right/fascist. Religion sits uneasily in this narrative of political polarization. Despite the association between hippies and left-wing politics, new age spirituality is not left-wing in the sense of forwarding collectivist solutions to systemic social problems.
As I argue in my book, new age spirituality is co-produced by the same historical conditions as neoliberalism. Individualism is a key characteristic of both, especially a profound sense of individual responsibility. If belief creates reality, as DePape posted on his blog, then everything happens for a reason that each of us determines with our thoughts, actions, and behavior. This way of thinking lends itself to prosperity consciousness; that rich people have created that wealth for themselves, that they deserve it, and likewise that the poor deserve their lot. This is not the type of thinking that supports collectivist politics.
More generally, there’s a tendency for a form of anti-politics to develop, in which all parties are as bad and corrupt as each other. Politicians are seen as third-dimensional entities that will disappear with the ascension to the fifth dimension, a form of spiritual evolution and enlightenment that’s the animus of new age spirituality. There’s also significant overlap with libertarianism, a shared space of socially progressive, fiscally conservative, anti-government politics. Those overlaps would naturally include nudity activism because personal freedom is paramount. The unifying theme that “I can do what I want, so can everyone else” forms a naive (at best) understanding of how harm occurs in society. The peace, light, and love ideology also masks a dark, violent side.
What’s often overlooked about new age spirituality is its roots in White supremacy, that long history of right-wing esoteric ideas that fuels the antisemitism, racism, and misogyny running through conspirituality. The violence committed by people who engage in conspiracy theories is frequently sensationalized by both the media and social media, and their pasts are pored over for hints and signs of when they crossed the line into fanaticism. This allows us to put them into an ideological box: left-wing or right-wing.
Yet it’s possible, even common, for people to believe in conspiracy theories without committing acts of violence. Despite the fact that 9/11 truthers have existed for 20 years, there’s yet to be an assassination attempt on George W. Bush or anyone else. Believing in weird, beyond the norm, outlandish things isn’t a predictor of violence by itself. Some of American society’s most violent ideologies (misogyny, racism, homophobia, antisemitism) are almost entirely normalized through systemic White supremacy. DePape engaged in these normalized forms of violent ideology, as well as entertaining ideas about fairies, aliens, and Atlantis.
It’s crucial to look beneath the most violent acts that pierce above the surface—the rest of the iceberg. There are whole communities that engage in violent speech without engaging in violent acts, but implicit supremacism (of men or White people or heterosexuals or Christians) feeds, enables, and supports explicit, violent supremacism. Explicit QAnon conspiracy theories that prominent Democrats are blood-drinking, demon-worshiping, child traffickers are supported by generalized cultural assumptions that elites are exploitative and criminal.
Such conspiracy theories are fed by a sense of righteousness, of fighting on the side of the good against an evil cabal. People involved in new age spirituality are also fed by a sense of self-righteousness, a form of purity culture, that they make the right choices with their clean diets and spiritually superior practices. Therefore when bad things happen, there must be someone else to blame, and they have the right to punish evildoers. They only need to take a small step to find themselves in explicit White supremacy and fascism. Conspirituality is in the same digital ecosystem as QAnon and other more explicitly fascist conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories are stories about why bad things happen that people believe in because they find that story convincing. Nancy Pelosi has been identified explicitly with the dark cabal in QAnon and the wider online ecosystem of conspiracy theories. The relevant question isn’t how and when did this individual become violent; the question is why is the supportive groundswell growing larger and more violent, feeding more individualist responses in the form of stochastic terrorism? Until we address the systemic causes underneath those responses, the violence is likely to escalate.