Discover more from Wonkette
Why Would We Send Paul Pelosi's Hammer Attacker To Regular Prison?
He's clearly unwell.
Thursday was the first day of the David DePape trial. DePape, if you will recall, was the guy who went and attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer as part of his larger plan to kidnap Nancy Pelosi herself, which itself was part of a larger plan to go after his primary target, feminist queer theory writer Gayle Rubin, whose “writings on feminism, gender roles, pornography and age of consent laws” he believed promoted child molestation. (No, Gayle Rubin is not “pro-child molestation.”)
It was a truly, truly horrifying incident, in myriad ways. First there was the horrific violence of the attack, and then there was the way the Right quickly worked together to land on a conspiracy to explain it — when they weren’t actually and in public howling with laughter at an old man being bludgeoned in the head with a hammer. I will never forget watching it actually unfold in real time on message boards and Telegram, crafting the story exquisite corpse-style until it turned into a whole narrative about how DePape was clearly Pelosi’s secret loverman and they were in a mutual hammer fight. Then it was published as an article by a conspiracy site and Elon Musk tweeted it in response to Hillary Clinton’s statement about the incident, with the commentary “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.”
In fact, David DePape had a lot in common with the people who crafted that story about him — he was obsessed by the same conspiracy theories and those conspiracy theories were the things that led him to Nancy Pelosi’s house that night.
Loving this post? Not a free or paid subscriber yet? Let’s fix that!
DePape’s attorney, federal public defender Jodi Linker, told the jury about these conspiracy theories he believed “with every ounce of his being" — specifically QAnon-adjacent beliefs about Tom Hanks and other “elites” being involved with child sex trafficking, George Soros controlling the world, and odd beliefs about Hunter Biden, Gavin Newsom, and Adam Schiff.
Linker isn’t making a case for Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity — she’s arguing that he didn’t attack Paul Pelosi as revenge for Nancy Pelosi’s actual actions in Congress, but rather as due to the ridiculous conspiracy theories he believed. This matters, as that specific intent is attached to both of the federal charges he is facing.
This brings up a host of problems, none of which can really be properly addressed by a criminal trial.
Firstly, we are living at a time when there is widespread belief in things that were previously only believed by those with severe delusional disorders. Things that are so horrible, so vile that if they were true, violence would not necessarily be an unexpected or even a fully irrational response. That is precisely why they are not just harmless beliefs or differences in opinion.
According to his lawyer, DePape developed these beliefs on a steady diet of conspiracist YouTube videos and podcasts, like many others. While belief in conspiracy theories is not, in and of itself, a mental illness, it’s not exactly mentally healthy. It can cause, obviously, serious psychological distress even in those with no actual pathology — and that, in combination with the actual mental illness and drug abuse history of someone like David DePape, can be dangerous. While somewhere betweent 10 and 20 percent of those convicted of murder in the United States suffer from untreated mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, that number shoots up to 33 percent with mass killers and up to 68 percent with those who have committed QAnon-related crimes.
I had initially intended to write more about the conspiracy aspect of this trial, but upon reading more about it, I just went very, very cold. Because why is our answer to “What should we do about this person who did a horrible thing related to an obviously serious psychiatric condition?” the same as our answer to “What should we do about this person who was 100 percent in their right mind when they planned and executed the murder of their spouse?” or even “What should we do about this person who scammed elderly people out of their life savings?”
These things are not the same.
Like, what are we gonna do here? We’re going to throw this guy in prison, where he almost definitely will not get the care he needs but will very likely add PTSD or the related Post-Incarceration Syndrome to the list of his problems, and then, after however many years, let him back into the world. If the problem is public safety, this is clearly not the answer.
The subject of crime and mental illness is tough regardless of which side you come at it from. Many people are quick to point out (fairly and correctly!) that we don’t want to stigmatize those with mental illness and that they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators and more likely to be victims than those who are not mentally ill.
This is true. It’s also true that sometimes people are a danger to themselves or to others and that the way we deal with mental illness in this country, in general but also as it pertains to “crime,” is ludicrous and cruel.
It’s also true that at least 43 percent of those in our state prisons have a diagnosed mental illness (so, not counting those who have not been diagnosed) and that we are using prisons as a substitute for actual mental health care.
Others get enraged over the idea that someone who committed a horrific crime would be sentenced to a “cushy” asylum rather than to a prison, or fearful that criminals would go full Vinny the Chin and show up to court in a bathrobe, hoping to be deemed legally insane and go to said “cushy” asylum. Nevermind the fact that our few public mental health facilities are far from “cushy.”
I will admit. I do not personally care that much about people being punished, I care that they do not hurt people — and it truly does not seem like our system of punishment is remotely conducive to that goal. In fact, it seems like most of the time, it makes it worse.
A study that came out in 2022 found that 42 percent of adults who needed mental health care in the previous year were not able to get it, because of costs and other barriers. I get it! Psychiatrists and psychologists are very expensive and so many of them do not take health insurance or Medicaid. One of the few things Americans very widely agree on is that they want more funding for mental health care. We all know this is a problem, and yet instead of adequately funding mental health care, we just let people flounder and then just throw them in prison when that goes as poorly as expected.
In a 2013 statement celebrating the implementation of a mental health parity bill, Nancy Pelosi herself said, "There is no shame in mental illness. The only shame is in denying those grappling with addiction or mental illness the same dignity and care as those with a physical ailment." Granted, our access to care for physical ailments is not great in this country either, but it’s a lovely sentiment all the same.
Charging David DePape with attacking Paul Pelosi because he was mad about Nancy Pelosi’s political activities is more or less the United States justice system responding to the crime it wishes it were dealing with rather than the far more complex situation it is actually dealing with. And it’s not going to help anything.