David DePape—the man accused of violently attacking former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in the couple’s California home last year—said at his trial this week that online searches for video game strategies ended up serving as his inadvertent introduction to a rabbit hole of far-right personalities and conspiratorial thought.
KQED reports that DePape said he’d look up strategies for defeating a video game boss, for instance, when he would stumble on a video that would “be a total different person, and these people would talk about how toxic Anita Sarkeesian is, over and over and over.” DePape said these videos inspired him to research more about Sarkeesian, the Feminist Frequency founder who was a long-time target for the amorphous, 4chan-inspired, anti-feminist online movement known as Gamergate. “I wanted to find out what was going on here. I wanted to get both sides of the story.”
This isn’t the first time DePape has been linked to Gamergate; The New York Times reported last December that DePape’s online writings explicitly referenced the group as inspiration for his politics. “How did I get into all this,” Mr. DePape wrote in a blog post. “Gamer Gate it was gamer gate.”
At trial, though, DePape went into more detail about how researching Sarkeesian online moved him away from self-described left-leaning views and “deeper and deeper and deeper” into the conspiratorial views of far-right podcasters and YouTubers including James Lindsay, Jimmy Dore, and Glenn Beck. DePape said he would listen to these voices for hours a day while playing muted video games, absorbing wide-ranging conspiracy theories involving figures from actor Tom Hanks to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and California governor Gavin Newsom.
“At that time, I was biased against Trump,” DePape said according to a BBC report, “but there’s, like, truth there. So if there’s truth out there that I don’t know, I want to know it.”
DePape’s defense team argues these online influences were responsible for his bizarre plan to invade the Pelosi home and confront Nancy Pelosi on Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election, all while wearing an inflatable unicorn costume and livestreaming the conversation. DePape said he only attacked Pelosi’s husband when it was clear that plan was falling apart, an argument which could mitigate against the legally important charge that the attack was retaliation “against the official for performance of their duties.”
Last year, a group of Democratic lawmakers sent letters to several major game publishers asking for more information regarding “player reports of harassment and extremism encounters in your online games.” The letter was motivated in large part by an anti-defamation league report, which said that 20 percent of adult gamers reported being “exposed to white-supremacist ideology and themes” via multiplayer games in 2022.