David DePape’s dark journey from Obama backer to QAnon extremist accused in Pelosi attack
To co-workers who knew David DePape a few years ago, he was a gentle, quiet carpenter who liked to watch the “Game of Thrones” and “Stranger Things” series and brought sunflower seeds to his work site to feed birds and squirrels.
“Everybody liked him,” said Frank Ciccarelli, 76, a carpenter who employed DePape in the Bay Area.
But when DePape began talking about politics, his outlook grew darker, they said.
“It was right-wing, all the way down the line,” Ciccarelli said. “He thought climate change was a hoax and Hillary Clinton is running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor. It was so ridiculous that it was hard to take seriously.”
Ciccarelli and others in DePape’s life were stunned when he was arrested on suspicion of attacking Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in what authorities said was a plot to kidnap and torture the lawmaker.
Since his arrest two weeks ago, much attention has been made of his extremist, antisemitic rantings and apparent belief in far-right conspiracy theories.
But interviews with those who knew him for years presents a more complicated view.
They paint a portrait of a man who began to “deteriorate” over the last year and a half, as he spent a great deal of time alone, absorbing extremist views online and shifting his political views from supporting former President Obama years ago to believing in the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. His quiet, gentle exterior hid an obsession with conspiracies, said friends, who believed DePape also had a history of mental illness, drug abuse and, possibly, childhood trauma.
David DePape pleaded not guilty to a host of charges in connection with an attack on Paul Pelosi in San Francisco and was ordered held without bail.
His boss and a neighbor both say they realized DePape, 42, was spiraling into isolation and wish they had done more to help.
“I didn’t take it seriously and I was wrong about that, obviously, although I didn’t know any better,” Ciccarelli said. “I’ve tried to help him the best as I could, but there’s something going on here that’s not obvious to most of us.”
Ciccarelli said DePape seemed normal and “cool” the last time they talked — three days before DePape allegedly broke into the Pelosis’ home in San Francisco’s exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood in the middle of the night and attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer.
The assault left the 82-year-old man with a fractured skull and serious injuries to his right arm and hands. The Oct. 28 attack was deemed “politically motivated” by San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins. DePape’s intended target was allegedly Speaker Pelosi, whom he considered the “leader of the pack” of lies told by the Democratic Party; he had hoped to hold her hostage and break her kneecaps, authorities said in a federal indictment two weeks ago.
DePape has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment of an elder and threats to a public official and their family.
DePape lived in a garage of a house on Shasta Street in Richmond for the last two years, authorities said in the federal indictment. During their search of the residence, police found a sword, two hammers, a pair of rubber and cloth gloves, as well as Internal Revenue Service letters, PayPal credit cards and DMV paperwork belonging to him.
Experts on political extremism say someone who struggles to find meaning in their life may jump from one movement to another to help them make sense of the world.
In a personal blog on which DePape began posting in August, he included essays titled “Manipulation of History,” “Holohoax” and “It’s OK to be white.” He mentioned 4chan, a favorite message board of the far-right. He posted videos about conspiracies involving COVID-19 vaccines and the war in Ukraine being a ploy for Jewish people to buy land. The blog has since been taken down.
DePape’s screeds included posts about QAnon, an unfounded theory that former President Trump is at war with a cabal of Satan-worshiping Democratic elites who run a child sex ring and control the world. In an Aug. 23 entry titled “Q,” DePape wrote: “Either Q is Trump himself or Q is the deep state moles within Trumps inner circle.”
Another post referenced Pizzagate, a bogus conspiracy theory that posited that children were trapped in a sexual abuse ring in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria run by Hillary Clinton and a chief aide.
“Pizza gate is connected to Epstien hahahahha,” a DePape post from Aug. 23 read, referring to the late Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier and convicted sex offender. “My friends would be like pizza gate was debunked their is NO such thing as elite pedophile sex rings and I’m like HELLO Epstein what planet are you on?”
DePape’s daughter, Inti Gonzalez, confirmed to The Times that DePape was the author of the blog.
ICE says David DePape entered the U.S. as a temporary visitor in 2008. The status he used generally allows Canadians to stay in the U.S. for six months.
Jin Molnar, one of DePape’s neighbors in Richmond and a landscaper who occasionally worked with DePape, described him as “quiet” with “good manners” but said he was mostly socially isolated in his garage studio.
“It speaks to one of my largest takeaways of the whole thing is that people can live next to someone in the same house, or next door, and let them go down,” he said. “To go down ... in decline mentally, or even physically, and not do anything about it.”
DePape had told Molnar that he had a difficult upbringing but didn’t go into detail.
“He described some of the people around him getting into fights when he was growing up,” Molnar said. “And then he had dislocated his shoulders in some kind of a fight or he was throwing something down or something like that ... but it was obviously physically violent.”
Several of DePape’s relatives — including his father — said they haven’t been in contact with DePape for years.
Molnar said the two had spoken a few times about conservative politics and shared a skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines. They would discuss conservative figures such as political commentator Ben Shapiro and media personality Jordan Peterson.
“I think his early life and his middle life had left him pretty bereft of good contacts,” Molnar said. “And so I think when he started to hear about that stuff ... it was like a little bit of an anchor.”
Oxane “Gypsy” Taub, 53, DePape’s former partner with whom he helped raise their two sons and Taub’s daughter from a previous relationship, said DePape grappled with mental illness and believed “he was Jesus for a year,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. DePape served as the best man in Taub’s 2013 wedding to another man.
Taub, who is incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona after being convicted in 2021 of stalking and attempted child abduction of a 14-year-old boy, among other charges, met DePape in Hawaii in 2000.
She told the Chronicle that although DePape “didn’t know anything about politics” when they met, he backed Obama, opposed the war in Iraq and supported her various causes. Taub is a well-known nudist activist in Berkeley who fought against San Francisco’s nudity ban.
“In our 15 years together, we never once had a disagreement about politics because we were aligned in our views,” she said.
But DePape also struggled with drug use and at one point began living on the streets, she said. The couple broke up in 2015.
Taub didn’t respond to multiple requests for interview by The Times. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department said DePape is not accepting media interviews at this time.
Since DePape’s arrest, Ciccarelli and other friends have offered theories on how the once “shy and sweet” man they knew became one of the nation’s most talked-about accused felons.
“The simple explanation is that he was vulnerable and he was traumatized as a child,” Ciccarelli said. “He had a scar on his shoulder where he told me his grandmother poured boiling water on him. ... I think he was looking for a way to heal that wound.”
(Joanne Robinson, DePape’s sister, disputed the boiling water and abuse claims in an interview with Fox News, calling the incident with DePape’s grandmother an “accident” and saying he “had loving parents.” Robinson didn’t respond to requests by The Times for an interview.)
When Ciccarelli met DePape six years ago, DePape was unhoused and living under a tree in a Berkeley park. Ciccarelli met him outside of a lumber yard in the East Bay and asked if he needed some work. He employed DePape and started spending several hours a day with him, driving to and from jobs. Eventually, Ciccarelli helped DePape find housing in a converted garage studio in Richmond belonging to one of Ciccarelli’s friends.
In his free time, DePape played video games at a local library, Ciccarelli said. When DePape started living in the Richmond studio garage, he “had a lot more time to devote to the internet and that’s when he started to deteriorate, in the last year and a half or so.”
Ciccarelli said DePape lived an isolated life and grappled with mental illness. Ciccarelli believed he “wasn’t getting any medical help and wasn’t getting any medication.”
Although Shapiro and Peterson do not directly promulgate the type of conspiratorial thinking found in DePape’s writings, research suggests that algorithms on social media can lead users from mainstream conservative channels to more extreme accounts, such as those DePape followed.
Experts say DePape’s online activity could point to radicalization via the internet. At a time when antisemitic rhetoric was dominant on right-wing fringe sites, such as 4chan, DePape began to post screeds focused on Jewish people.
It isn’t common but people can shift ideologies abruptly, said Mark Pitcavage, a historian and analyst of right-wing groups with the Anti-Defamation League. The shift is difficult, he said, similar to someone who changes religion.
“Someone who is sort of looking for some sort of cause or meaning, they may go from movement to movement trying to find something that fills that gap,” Pitcavage said.
Political actions are also often misidentified and oversimplified, Pitcavage said.
For DePape, for example, many people online have pointed to his links to nudist movements to suggest that he adhered to liberal politics. But Pitcavage explained that nudist activism doesn’t suggest left- or right-leaning ideologies.
When there are changes in ideology, however, there are often similar links or threads that help shift the person from one ideology to another, according to Pitcavage. For DePape, that link may have been paranoia and political ideas that for years seemed centered more on conspiracies than ideology.
Molnar said DePape once sent him a link of an article regarding the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, which Molnar opened and read, but he “didn’t want to start trading links” with DePape.
Looking back, Molnar said he regrets not trying harder to help DePape.
“Perhaps, I would have come to know him a little better ... and maybe dissuaded him from something ... but there were other people in that position too, which is an excuse,” he said.
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