A group of Democratic and Jewish leaders on Thursday condemned Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, for his association with Gab, a social media platform for far-right extremists and an echo chamber for antisemitic tropes.
Mastriano, a Christian nationalist who is running against Jewish Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, paid Gab a $5,000 counseling fee in April, according to recent FEC filings. Platform founder Andrew Torba endorsed Mastriano days after the deal, writing on Gab that he hoped the nominee would “help start a grassroots movement of Christians in PA to help take him back for the glory of God.” .
At a press conference outside the City-County Building in Pittsburgh, State Rep. Dan Frankel said Mastriano “exploits this racist, anti-Semitic haven for votes because he thinks hate on those message boards will result in an election victory for him on Nov. 8. Frankel, who is Jewish, was joined by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, state Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa and Jeffrey Letwin, lawyer and former president of the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race is one of the most watched in the nation because its outcome could affect election security policies in a critical presidential state.
Mastriano, state representative and leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, attended the Capitol Riot of January 6 and won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in May after last minute approval by former President Donald Trump.
He has promoted several times QAnon is plotting and has compared the January 6 attack on the Capitol to the Reichstag fire of 1933 and democrat gun control proposals to Nazi policies. His campaign aide Jenna Ellis, a Trump lawyer, said assimilated Holocaust vaccine mandates.
A recent survey showed Shapiro 3 points ahead of Mastriano, a gap in the poll’s 4% margin of error – and the two are locked in a stalemate among voters 50 and older.
In an interview, Frankel said this gubernatorial election is “an existential moment” in election history because of Mastriano’s past comments and embrace of anti-Semites. Frankel, who has represented the Squirrel Hill Jewish community for 24 years and does his daily training at the local Jewish community center, said that by being “insensitive” to the matter, Mastriano made it clear that he considers his involvement with Gab as politically beneficial to him. “And if we sit down, don’t call it out and try to hold them accountable, shame on us,” he said.
Gab, launched in 2016 after Torba was banned from Twitter, has long been a hotbed of hate speech and outright anti-Semitism. Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, was previously a verified user of the site, where he posted neo-Nazi propaganda and called for violence against Jews, describing them as the “children of Satan.”
“We received 1 million visits per hour all day”, Torba wrote on Gab’s Twitter account after the Pittsburgh massacre, deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.
Media Matters, a nonprofit group that monitors social platforms, highlighted Torba’s recent posts including one promoting a conspiracy theory accusing Jews of “white genocide,” and another praising Gab for offering “differing opinions” on the Holocaust. He also reposted a white nationalist who bragged about a “very good and true tweet” attacking “subversive Jewish lawyers and propagandists”.
Huffington Post reported that, as part of the consultation arrangement, every new account on Gab now automatically follows Mastriano as well as Torba. The candidate currently has 38,000 subscribers.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, on Thursday evening called on Mastriano to end his association with Gab and leave the site. “Instead of welcoming all Pennsylvanians who care about Josh Shapiro’s grand government agenda, Doug Mastriano’s campaign seems sadly determined to send an exclusionary message,” Brooks said in a statement shared with the Forward. “Jewish voters expect candidates to condemn anti-Semitism, whether it comes from the far left or the far right, and to shun those who embrace it.”
On Wednesday, Jill Zipin, president of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, urged the regional president of the Republican Jewish Coalition to condemn him.
“It is deeply troubling that an organization that claims to reflect the interests of the Jewish community would find it acceptable to support a candidate who supports a website so full of bigoted rants,” Zipin said.
Some Pennsylvania Republicans have already encouraged the Republican Governors Association to reconsider investing in the race due to Mastriano’s extremism. Earlier this month, Shapiro announced that the approvals of 10 leading Republicans and a group of centrist GOP actors formed a PACRepublicans4Shapiro, demonstrating growing opposition within the party for its candidate.
Shapiro has meanwhile accused Mastriano to try to moderate its positions to broaden its appeal for the legislative elections. Mastriano recently controversial videos removed and posts from his personal websites and the State Senate Facebook page. The Mastriano’s campaign insisted these were automatically deleted after 30 days due to a “default Facebook setting”, but some older posts remain on the page.
In a fundraising email on Wednesday, Mastriano promised “to prohibit the use of private funds (like Zuckerbucks) intended to influence our elections.” The Anti-Defamation League has considered the term “Zuckerbucks” an anti-Semitic spin on an age-old trope that claims wealthy Jews control the levers of power.
This post has been updated.