Update: Since this article was first published, GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano deleted his account on the social media platform Gab in the face of widespread criticism. Gab heavily features anti-Semitic and white nationalist content.
Mastriano also attempted to distance himself from anti-Semitism generally.
Thursday evening, Mastriano released a written statement in which he said he “reject[s] anti-Semitism in any form.” He also minimized his relationship with Gab CEO Andrew Torba, who frequently voices his support for a “Christian nation” and spreads conspiracy theories about Jewish people controlling the media. “Andrew Torba doesn’t speak for me or my campaign,” Mastriano wrote.
Mastriano and Torba had previously seemed to have a friendly relationship, with Mastriano sitting for an interview with Torba late in his primary campaign and telling him, “Thank God for what you’ve done.”
Torba tried to distance himself from Mastriano around the same time, posting on Gab that he does “not work for the Mastriano campaign” and is “not their consultant.” Mastriano’s campaign reported paying Gab $5,000 for “consulting” during the primary, which Torba now says was for “advertising.”
At the time, he was running in a crowded primary with almost no support from mainstream Republicans. But since then, things have changed.
Now running in a general election against Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro — who is Jewish — Mastriano is getting advertising help from one of Pennsylvania’s biggest-spending PACs. He got an audience last week with the Republican Governors Association in Aspen, Colorado. He spoke at the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s summer meeting, and top party officials are holding a fundraiser for him this week in the deep-pocketed Philly suburbs — home to some of the commonwealth’s most moderate Republicans.
As Republicans gradually coalesce around Mastriano’s candidacy, Democrats — particularly Jewish Democrats — are trying to keep voters aware of his more radical ideas and relationships.
In a press conference Wednesday, the second Democrats and Jewish groups have held since learning of Mastriano’s financial ties to Gab, state House Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) had this message for his GOP colleagues in Harrisburg, and for other Republicans considering supporting Mastriano: “There is no coming back from this.”
“You cannot do business with these people and claim to represent all Pennsylvanians,” he said. “If you embrace antisemites and racists and homophobes and xenophobes, then you are one of them.”
Frankel says this feels particularly personal for him. In 2018, his House district was the site of the country’s deadliest-ever antisemitic attack. Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 Jewish worshippers in the Tree of Life Synagogue, used Gab frequently to post and engage with antisemitic conspiracy theories.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), a former candidate for U.S. Senate who attended the press conference, added that in some cases, GOP colleagues — he declined to say who — have denounced Mastriano privately, but won’t do so publicly.
“I don’t know how anybody in their right mind could be for somebody who was this dangerous, who is this unhinged,” Kenyatta said. “He is poisonous to the Republican Party.”
He noted that the GOP had kicked Mastriano out of Senate GOP caucus meetings for months after he’d shared information that was supposed to be confidential against party leaders’ wishes.
After Mastriano won the primary, the GOP welcomed him back in, with a spokesman for Pro Tempore Jake Corman telling the Associated Press the move was a “leadership decision” made at caucus members’ request.
A few Republicans have openly urged members of their party to vote for Shapiro, including a coalition of mostly former leaders — among them, onetime congressman Charlie Dent and former House Speaker Denny O’Brien — as well as a newly-formed PAC of moderate Republicans.
The Republican Jewish Coalition also called on Mastriano to stop using Gab, though stopped short of saying it wouldn’t support him.
Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, which coordinated Wednesday’s press conference along with Shapiro’s campaign, has repeatedly urged the other organization to take a stronger stance. “How can they, with any moral conscience, keep the word Jewish in their name?” asked DJOP Founder Jill Zipin.
The Republican Jewish Coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mastriano has brushed off the opposition from moderates, saying during his speech to the Pa. GOP that they “mean nothing.” He also hasn’t distanced himself from Gab since criticism of his financial relationship with the platform began, or responded to Jewish Republicans’ calls for him to leave the platform. He still posts regularly on Gab, where he has more than 38,000 followers.
In May, just before the primary, he sat for an interview with Gab CEO Andrew Torba in which Torba called Mastriano “a fighter” who “has a backbone” and Mastriano told Torba, “thank God for what you’ve done.”
Torba has a history of sharing antisemitic conspiracy theories on Gab. In the last 24 hours alone, he has used the platform to re-post a comment saying Jewish people have “total control over government and media institutions,” say he refuses to be controlled by a Jewish minority, repeatedly call for a movement to create a “Christian nationalist” country, and share another post claiming to oppose people who support “state sponsored ritualistic child murder.”
While Mastriano hasn’t commented publicly on his Gab payment, and didn’t for this story, Torba — who says he is a Pennsylvania voter — has.
“Christians need to be supporting Doug Mastriano,” he wrote in a recent post, to “restore Pennsylvania to its Christian roots and set the example for the rest of the country to do the same.”