Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, is facing intense criticism for his ties to a far-right social media site, Gab, that traffics in white nationalist rhetoric and whose founder has made overtly antisemitic comments in recent days.
Mastriano, who will face a Jewish Democrat on the ballot in November, paid the site $5,000 for “campaign consulting” in April ahead of the state’s May 17 primary. Since Media Matters for America, a liberal group, first surfaced the expenditure in April, Mastriano has evaded growing concerns about his association to the site.
On Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post reported that Gab CEO Andrew Torba responded to the criticism during a live stream in which he said that neither he nor Mastriano do interviews with non-Christian media.
“My policy is not to conduct interviews with reporters who aren’t Christian or with outlets who aren’t Christian and Doug has a very similar media strategy where he does not do interviews with these people. He does not talk to these people. He does not give press access to these people,” Torba said. “These people are dishonest. They’re liars. They’re a den of vipers and they want to destroy you. My typical conversation with them when they email me is ‘repent and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.’ I take it as an opportunity to try and convert them.”
Gab, founded in 2016 by Torba, is where a gunman who killed 11 people during a 2018 Shabbat service at a Pittsburgh synagogue posted his antisemitic screeds. It’s also where some rioters supporting Donald Trump made their plans to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
Mastriano organized buses to Washington for the Stop the Steal rally on that day and was outside the Capitol when the pro-Trump mob laid siege to the building, but he has said he did not join others who violently stormed their way inside.
Mastriano, a state senator, continues to spread the lie that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump. As a candidate, he has mostly shut out the mainstream press and has avoided calls in recent weeks to explain his relationship to Gab and Torba.
In a May interview, Mastriano told Torba: “Thank God for what you’ve done.”
On Thursday, Torba shared a screenshot on Gab of an article about his relationship with Mastriano, sharing his campaign website and asking followers to “chip in a few bucks to thank him for standing his ground.”
One Gab user with the name PUREBLOODRedPatriot replied: “This is all about him running against a Jew.”
In response to Torba’s antisemitic comments, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro on Tuesday tweeted photos of an event outside the Holocaust Memorial in Philadelphia where faith leaders joined to denounce Mastriano.
“Doug Mastriano’s use of the alt-right social media platform Gab to recruit white supremacists and antisemites to his campaign is unacceptable,” said Shapiro, the state’s attorney general. “Leaders of all faiths stood at Holocaust Memorial Plaza in Philadelphia today to say: This man is dangerous, and it’s on us to stop him.”
In the live stream cited by the Jerusalem Post, Torba openly acknowledged his Christian nationalist mission, calling Mastriano’s campaign “an explicitly Christian movement” and claiming non-Christians are not real conservatives.
“This is the most important election of the 2022 midterms because Doug is an outspoken Christian,” Torba said in the video, according to the Jerusalem Post. “We are going to build a coalition of Christian nationalists, of Christians, of Christian candidates, at the state, local and federal levels and we’re going to take this country back for the glory of God.”
Several groups and individuals, both Republican and Democrat, have called on Mastriano to remove himself from the Gab site, and many have denounced his candidacy.
“If someone is making a decision to promote themselves on a platform like Gab they know exactly the audience they are targeting,” said Oren Segal, vice president of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “It is not unreasonable for people to ask, ‘what in the world would make someone want to appeal to extremists and antisemites?’”
While many Republicans have distanced themselves from Mastriano, many others are refusing to say whether he has their support. The Republican Governors Association was initially lukewarm to Mastriano, but has since bashed Shapiro and hosted an event last week in Aspen, Colo., where Mastriano addressed donors.
Trump endorsed Mastriano shortly before the primary in May, when polls showed he was likely to win the GOP nomination.
Democrats have expressed alarm over the dramatic policy changes that could occur in Pennsylvania, which currently has a Republican legislature, if Mastriano is elected governor. Mastriano believes in a complete abortion ban without exceptions. As head of the state, he would also get to choose the person to oversee elections ahead of the 2024 presidential contest.
Mastriano pressed to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, a state Trump won in 2016, but lost in 2020. He held a hearing on the election results and invited Rudolph Giuliani to testify on his allegations of voter fraud.
In a conservative radio interview in March, Mastriano boasted how being governor would give him power over elections. “I get to appoint the secretary of state, who is delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs and everything,” he said. “I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen.”