GOP Pa. governor nominee under fire for ties to white-nationalist site

Error! Filename not specified. Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, speaks at an event at the state Capitol in Harrisburg (Marc Levy/AP)

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 with 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.”

Then, after Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Mastriano on MSNBC for using Gab, Media Matters reported that Torba posted a separate video on Tuesday attacking Jews.

“This is a Christian nation. Christians outnumber you by a lot — a lot,” Torba said in the video posted on Gab. “We’re not going to listen to 2 percent. You represent 2 percent of the country, okay? We’re not bending the knee to the 2 percent anymore.”

He added that “Christian nationalists” are “done being controlled and being told what we’re allowed to do in our own country by a 2 percent minority or by people who hate our biblical worldview, hate our Christ, hate our Lord and savior.”

But on Thursday, after days of uproar, Mastriano issued a statement disavowing Torba. He also appeared to delete his Gab account.

“Andrew Torba doesn’t speak for me or my campaign,” Mastriano wrote. “Recent smears by the Democrats and the media are blatant attempts to distract Pennsylvanians from suffering inflicted by Democrat policies.”

Torba also released a statement on Gab that sought to put distance between him and Mastriano.

“I want to make very clear that I do not work for the Mastriano campaign. I am not their consultant. The campaign paid Gab as a business for advertising during the primary,” Torba wrote. “My words are my own. My ideas are my own. They are not representative of Doug or Doug’s campaign. I stand by everything I have said about Christian Nationalism as a movement being … explicitly Christian.”

Some Republicans, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, are beginning to openly embrace Christian nationalism. Earlier in the week she advocated for all of the GOP to declare itself the party of Christian nationalists. Greene paid Gab $36,741 for “digital marketing” in 2021, according to campaign finance data.

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 then-President 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.”

Earlier 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.”

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Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, is running against Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, who has come under fire for his ties to a right-wing antisemitic website. (Lindsey Shuey/AP)

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,” Oren Segal, vice president of ADL’s Center on Extremism, said in an interview. “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, others are refusing to say whether he has their support. The Republican Governors Association (RGA) was initially lukewarm to Mastriano but has continued to bash Shapiro and hosted an event last week in Aspen, Colo., where Mastriano addressed donors.

An RGA spokesman did not respond to request for comment. On Thursday, Mastriano posted on Twitter a selfie outside the Capitol Hill Club, a private Republican hangout in Washington and wrote that he was meeting with the Pennsylvania delegation.

Trump endorsed Mastriano shortly before the primary in May, when polls showed he was likely to win the GOP nomination.

Mastriano has won over Republicans in the state, said Charlie Gerow, a longtime GOP operative based in Harrisburg who ran in the GOP gubernatorial primary and is now acting as a surrogate for Mastriano’s campaign.

Gerow said he has some concerns about the candidate’s association with the Gab site, but that he doesn’t believe Mastriano “endorses antisemitism in any form.”

“The fact that this Gab guy says stuff like that doesn’t mean it’s true. I’ve never heard anything remotely close to that,” Gerow said. “I know he doesn’t like to speak to the mainstream media, but it’s for reasons other than religion.”

Asked if he’s spoken directly with Mastriano about past comments that echo white nationalism, Gerow said, “We’ve had short but productive conversations, the way I always talk is about what can be done rather than what has been done.”

Democrats have expressed alarm over the dramatic policy changes that could occur in Pennsylvania, which 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 Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to testify on his baseless allegations of voter fraud.

In an interview with a conservative radio station in March, Mastriano boasted about 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.”

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