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The red-pilled masses aren't done coming for our elected officials

Nancy Pelosi isn’t the first member of Congress to be targeted, and it’s unlikely she’ll be the last.
Image: Capitol Police Officers stand on the East Plaza of the Capitol Campus as the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is illuminated by the rising sun on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Capitol Police officers stand on the East Plaza of the Capitol campus on Jan. 6, a year after an insurrectionist mob stormed the Capitol.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

The early Friday house invasion and attack on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in their California home is a reminder of something we learned in the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol: that the U.S. Capitol Police Department is grossly understaffed and disgracefully underfunded. The department, which is the first line of defense as members of the House and the Senate go about their business in Washington and in their home districts, is still understaffed, its chief said in August. Speaker Pelosi was reportedly the person Friday morning’s attacker was seeking. But she wasn’t home, and her security personnel had traveled with her. That the home of the speaker, who’s second in the line of presidential succession, had no fixed police presence is confounding.

That the home of the speaker, who’s second in the line of presidential succession, had no fixed police presence is confounding.

On Monday afternoon, the Justice Department filed charges against 42-year-old David DePape on allegations of attempted kidnapping and assault with intent to retaliate against a federal official by threatening or injuring a family member. In California state court, he’s expected to face charges that include attempted homicide, first-degree burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with serious bodily injury, elder abuse and threatening a public official or family member.

Pelosi isn’t the first member of Congress to be targeted, and it’s unlikely she’ll be the last. Five years ago, then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was seriously wounded when he was shot at a practice for a congressional baseball game, and last week, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint bulletin to law enforcement warning of an increased threat environment heading into the midterm elections. That warning included a concern that elected lawmakers could be targeted for violence by domestic violent extremists as they raise their public profile and exposure during this campaign season. The concerns are justified. Statistics from the Capitol Police Department reveal that threats against members of Congress have increased by a staggering 967% since 2016.

The security of our lawmakers shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We want and need our members of Congress to be visible and accessible, not sheltered in some bunker. Here are three things we should be doing now to safeguard all the people we elected to represent us in Washington.

First, emergency funding should be authorized to hire recently retired Secret Service and State Department diplomatic security agents as contractors to protect lawmakers when they travel. The emergency hiring of retired agents, who are already trained and experienced in executive protection, would serve as a quick fix while the recruitment and training process at the Capitol Police Department progresses.

Second, expedited federal funding can be provided — perhaps through the Justice Department — to local and state police agencies for overtime and extra duty pay so those officers can establish a high-visibility presence at the homes of Congress members. Federal law makes it illegal to assault members of Congress or their families in connection with the official status of the members. Yet federal funding is insufficient to protect those members and their families. If we’re serious enough about such attacks to enact a law against them, then we should be equally serious about funding measures to prevent them.

Third, security and safety measures in place at social media platforms must get fixed. The daughter of the man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi described her father this way: “He has been very consumed by darkness.” But there’s very little darkness shrouding what he was consuming. In fact, his embrace and promotion of dangerous conspiracy theories were visible in broad daylight on Facebook and other platforms. It’s in such places that the next attackers are signaling a propensity for violence.

Within minutes of DePape’s being identified as the suspect, anyone with an internet connection could find his postings on accounts, blogs and websites. The alleged attacker espoused false theories involving vaccines, voter fraud, communism and aliens. He posted what The Washington Post describes as “deeply antisemitic writings” and raged about “pedos,” consistent with QAnon beliefs that Satanist, baby-eating cannibals rule the country. On one site with DePape’s name, there was “an illustration of a zombified Hillary Clinton dining on human flesh,” The Associated Press reports. These debunked conspiracy theories have been shown to have driven their adherents to violence.

We know that online radicalization to violence is real and that those most likely to commit violence are telling us who they are. What law enforcement and social media platforms seem not to know is what to do about it.

Online radicalization to violence is real, and those most likely to commit violence are telling us who they are.

Facebook took down DePape’s account almost immediately after Paul Pelosi was attacked. A few hours later, the web hosting service WordPress took down one of DePape’s sites on that platform for violating its terms of service. What if those platforms had taken down those accounts before Friday’s attempted murder?

Facebook touts its robust safety and security measures and its partnership with law enforcement. But last year a whistleblower told Congress that its boasting is unmerited. Similarly, the FBI says it “routinely” shares threat information with Facebook and other sites as part of an effective partnership. But those efforts have haven’t been effective enough.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, spent nearly $27 million last year just on security to keep CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his family safe. If it can do that, then it can increase its spending to keep our lawmakers safe through artificial intelligence, enhanced algorithms, additional staffing and, importantly, more sophisticated sharing of real-time intelligence and threats. It’s already possible to do this without violating essential civil liberty and privacy protections. We just need more of it.

It's no small irony that Paul Pelosi and his alleged attacker were taken to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, which was renamed in 2015 after Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital, the city’s only public hospital. Five years later, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the government body that initially approved the name change, voted to condemn the renaming of the hospital to express its disapproval of Facebook’s business practices and content moderation failures, which the board said helped incite violence.

In response to Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s congressional testimony in October 2021, Zuckerberg said: "At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being. That's just not true." He also said, "The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical." He also said, "I don't know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed."

Despite Zuckerberg's denials, maybe the Board of Supervisors was prescient when it condemned the name change celebrating him. No amount of charitable giving can atone for the role Facebook and other platforms continue to play in transmitting the virus that is violence.

We need to implement all of the above approaches — hiring more officers, protecting lawmakers’ homes and increasing monitoring of social media platforms — to address this threat to our government. Members of Congress, the ones you voted for and the ones you didn’t, are the living embodiment of our democratic process. If our democracy is to remain alive and well, then we must take steps to keep our lawmakers alive and well, too.