Doug Mastriano, the far-right Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, has come under fire in recent days for a deal his campaign struck with Andrew Torba, the anti-Semitic founder of the social media platform Gab — though it’s not clear Mastriano cares.
Here are the basics of Mastriano’s relationship with Torba, and some background on the men:
Doug Mastriano paid Gab $5,000 for “campaign consulting.”
Mastriano has worn his far-right identity on his sleeve throughout his political rise. One early claim to fame was his role in attempting to steal Donald Trump a second term: Mastriano held a hearing to air Trump’s election lies and supported the effort to submit a fraudulent slate of Electoral College votes to Congress. He even organized a bus trip to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 and marched near the Capitol. A couple days before the attack, he said Republicans were “in this death match with the Democrat Party.” Now, as he runs for governor, he’s hired Jenna Ellis, of Donald Trump’s campaign legal team, to his own campaign. (This all is acutely concerning because, as Pennsylvania governor, he would appoint the state’s secretary of state, its top elections official.)
But news of his campaign’s $5,000 payment to Gab, reported by Media Matters from campaign finance filings as “campaign consulting,” took his far-right credentials to a new level, and became a big story earlier this month. Gab has become a haven for extreme right-wingers, including the man who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Shortly after that attack, as the shooter’s posts on the website began to be discovered, Gab’s Twitter account bragged, “We have been getting 1 million hits an hour all day.”
In this case, “campaign consulting” seems to mean buying followers.
As HuffPost reported earlier this month, the $5,000 from Mastriano’s campaign to Gab appears to have paid for more than “consulting.” All new accounts on the site now appear to automatically follow Mastriano’s campaign page (along with six other accounts including Torba’s own).
In April, prior to the “consulting” payment, an archived version of Mastriano’s Gab page showed 2,300 followers, HuffPost reported. Now, he’s at more than 38,000.
Gab’s founder is an open anti-Semite, and has embraced the Christian nationalist movement.
Andrew Torba makes no mystery of his politics. From Gab’s Twitter account last year, he wrote, “We’re building a parallel Christian society because we are fed up and done with the Judeo-Bolshevik one.” It was part of a long thread of anti-Semitic messages.
After a racist gunman shot and killed 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York this year — after penning a manifesto referring to racist memes about a “replacement” of white people in the United States — Torba wrote on Gab, “The best way to stop White genocide and White replacement, both of which are demonstrably and undeniably happening, is to get married to a White woman and have a lot of White babies.”
As Media Matters and the Anti-Defamation League have documented, Torba frequently posts anti-Semitic material on his Gab account to his millions of followers.
A few weeks ago, two months after Torba endorsed Mastriano, the Gab founder filmed a video again making his anti-Semitic politics clear.
“This isn’t a big tent,” Torba said. “This is a Christian movement, full stop. The only way that we’re going to gain any ground in the culture, in the government, in taking our towns, our cities, our states, our counties in our country back is by putting Jesus Christ first. It’s just that simple. There’s no other way. There’s no other path.”
Separately, Torba said he considered certain Jewish conservatives — Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro — unwelcome in the movement unless “they repent and accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.”
“We don’t want people who are atheists,” he said. “We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever.”
Mastriano has defended the Gab partnership and still posts on the website.
Mastriano is still a Gab user, posting on the site as recently as Monday.
But the relationship to the website and its founder goes much deeper than that: In May, shortly after his website received a $5,000 check from Mastriano’s campaign, Torba interviewed Mastriano in a conversation that included plenty of praise from both men for each other. “Thank God for what you’ve done,” Mastriano told Torba. He also said that he liked his memes.
“He has a reach of like 4 million people, which is fantastic, and apparently about a million of them are in Pennsylvania, so we’ll have some good reach,” Mastriano said of Torba after the interview.
After HuffPost’s reporting, Mastriano retweeted someone who called the Gab partnership “legit & creative campaigning.”
Mastriano has also leaned into themes of Christian warfare in his campaign.
Mastriano’s campaign kick-off rally included a shofar blast, an increasingly common move for far-right Christians. Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security advisor and pardon recipient, commented of the performance: “Prayer is the most powerful weapon system known to man.”
Mastriano rejected the label “Christian nationalist” in a statement to the The New Yorker. But he is unabashed in his mixture of right-wing politics and his assertion that America ought to be an explicitly Christian nation. The magazine’s profile noted Mastriano has supported legislation to mandate teaching the Bible in public schools, and to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
He has repeatedly compared abortion rights to the Holocaust. At a pre-Jan. 6 “Jericho March,” The New Yorker reported, Mastriano asked his followers to “do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.”
“God is really working in our state,” he said at the conspiracy-theory oriented Patriots Arise for God, Family, and County event in April. “In November, we’re going to take our state back. My God will make it so.”
He later denounced “this myth of separation of church and state” and referred to Benjamin Franklin as “a radical rightwing evangelical Christian by today’s standards,” the newsletter A Public Witness reported.