After a week of criticism, Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano said he is not antisemitic.
The backlash began after a July 13 article by WESA revealed that the Mastriano campaign paid social media site Gab $5,000 for “consulting fees.” While there was some speculation about what the campaign received for its money, the Huffington Post reported that new accounts on the platform automatically followed Mastriano’s Gab account.
Gab is the website used by the man charged with killing 11 Jews at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018. It is widely recognized as an online home for extremists and conspiracy theorists.
On July 21, Pittsburgh community leaders spoke at a press conference calling out Mastriano for his presence on Gab and his unwillingness to delete or criticize those who commented on his posts with antisemitic remarks, many targeting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish.
“I reject anti-Semitism in any form,” Mastriano said in a statement on July 28.
The far-right candidate went on to say that extremist speech is an unfortunate but inevitable cost of living in a free society.
Mastriano did not directly address the antisemitic remarks left on his Gab page, but he did go on to attack Shapiro.
“The only candidate in this election who wants to impose extreme policies in Pennsylvania — inflation, crime, lockdowns and mandates — is Josh Shapiro,” Mastriano said.
Mastriano’s Gab page contained hundreds of antisemitic comments and memes including those by Arizona Victoria who wrote, “Shapiro. Jew name. They’ve done ENOUGH damage to the world already so I hope no one votes Jews in this election,” and Dindunuffins Shekelstien @GunTanTrapDaddy’s, who wrote, “Our ZOG is f——g disgusting. You gonna be just another Shabbos goy? Secretary of State (Foreign Minister)-jewish, Secretary of Treasurer (Finance Minister)-jewish, Secretary of Defense (War Minister)-jewish, Attorney General (Legal Affairs Minister)-jewish.”
Mastriano, who was captured on video at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, did not remove or respond to any of the antisemitic and racist comments on Gab, but he did appear to delete his Gab account on July 28, after first making it private.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, who represents the 23rd District, which includes Squirrel Hill, called Gab “a festering cesspool of intolerance.”
Mastriano appears to have had a friendly relationship with Gab founder, Andrew Torba.
Media Matters reported that in a May interview with Torba, Mastriano praised Torba for “giving us a platform for free speech” and told him “Thank God for what you’ve done.”
Mastriano’s apparent deletion of his Gab account came following criticism from all sides of the political world, including the Republican Jewish Coalition. It also appears to have occurred after Torba began making provocative comments to the press, including the claim that Mastriano will not speak to non-Christian media outlets.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Torba as saying, “My policy is not to conduct interviews with reporters who aren’t Christian or with outlets that aren’t Christian, and Doug [Mastriano] has a very similar media strategy where he does not do interviews with these people … These people are dishonest. They’re liars. They’re a den of vipers and they want to destroy you.”
On July 28, Mastriano said that Torba does not speak for him, but he did not renounce the Gab founder or the antisemitic remarks on his page. He also did not respond to a request for comment from the Chronicle.
The Shapiro campaign was quick to note the bond between the candidate and social media founder.
“Doug Mastriano’s deep support for Andrew Torba and Gab goes so far that he has literally thanked god for Torba’s efforts to bring racist, antisemitic extremism into our communities — the very extremism that motivated the Tree of Life murderer, who used Torba’s platform moments before killing 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh,” said Shapiro for Pennsylvania spokesperson Manuel Bonder in a statement to the Chronicle. “His refusal to denounce Gab and the virulent hatred his campaign is founded on is simply further proof that he is far too dangerous to be governor of Pennsylvania.”
The Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia and Pittsburgh chapter said in a written statement that Mastriano’s comments fell short and that he must repudiate Torba. It called on the candidate to unequivocally and immediately specifically repudiate the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist rhetoric made by Torba.
“Further,” the ZOA statement read, “Mastriano must reject Torba’s endorsement and support. Mastriano’s statement on the matter that he issued on July 28 does not go far enough and is minimizing of Jew-hatred by conflating it with economic issues and matters related to government policy in response to COVID are disturbing and insulting.”
Despite the controversy, eight Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania issued a joint statement on Aug. 1 endorsing Doug Mastriano. The endorsement letter was signed by Glenn “GT” Thompson, Mike Kelly, Lloyd Smucker, Dr. John Joyce, Fred Keller, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry and Guy Reschenthaler.
“… [W]e are proud to endorse Doug Mastriano for Governor of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s families are struggling to put gas in their cars and food on their tables. Progressive policies supported by Joe Biden and Josh Shapiro have led to fewer jobs, higher crime rates, rampant drug addiction, and less freedom for Pennsylvania’s hard-working families … Doug Mastriano’s passion for life, freedom, and liberty make him the clear choice for our next Governor.”
The statement did not mention the Mastriano campaign paying Gab to serve as a campaign consultant, Torba’s statements or the antisemitic comments left on the candidate’s social media page.
In the latest Fox News poll, Shapiro is leading Mastriano by double digits, 50% to 40%. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.