So, these are the facts:
Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano paid $5,000 to Gab, a social media site, for “campaign consulting,” per a campaign finance disclosure. Gab is known as a haven for antisemites like the Tree of Life building alleged shooter, who posted there before he went into the Pittsburgh synagogue. Mastriano’s payment got him automatic follows from people who joined the site, growing his following from a little over 2,000 accounts to more than 38,000.
The state senator, who represents several counties in the central part of Pennsylvania, also has made 73 posts on Gab since joining in February. None of his posts were antisemitic, though several criticized his Jewish opponent in the gubernatorial race — Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County resident. And many of the comments on Mastriano’s posts about Shapiro were very much antisemitic; scroll down for a second on one of them, and you can find a swastika in the poster’s handle.
Does all of that make Mastriano an antisemite?
Pretty much, according to Shapiro, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Pittsburgh-based lawmakers and even the Republican Jewish Coalition, a political advocacy group that tries to connect the Jewish community to Republican politicians, per its website.
Every one of those people and groups condemned Mastriano for his association with the site in recent days after Media Matters reported the “consulting” payment from the candidate’s campaign finance disclosure.
Shapiro, whose campaign paid for a television ad labeling Mastriano as “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters,” implying that Republicans should vote for him, criticizes him on the trail as a danger to Pennsylvanians across the commonwealth. After this story broke, Shapiro took to Facebook to promote a press conference by Pittsburgh lawmakers condemning Mastriano.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidate did not attend the press conference, but in his post he wrote the following:
“A haven for white supremacists, extremists and antisemites — Gab empowered the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter to spread his hate online before murdering 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh.
As we speak, anyone that creates a Gab account will automatically follow Doug Mastriano — because he paid the site thousands of dollars to do it. Join Pittsburghers in calling out this hatred.”
Later, a Shapiro spokesman denounced Mastriano to the Jewish Exponent.
“This is who Doug Mastriano is — he paid thousands of dollars for antisemitic, racist, alt-right extremists to be part of his campaign for governor — and he believes those individuals make up the core of his campaign,” Will Simons said.
Marisa Nahem, a communications adviser for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, also chimed in on July 22 on behalf of the party.
“Mastriano’s association with Gab — a ‘haven’ for white supremacists, violent extremists and antisemites that was ‘key’ in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history — is the latest example of why Mastriano is the most dangerous gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania history,” she said.
The Pittsburgh press conference organized by the Shapiro campaign on July 21, which also aired on Facebook Live, featured several elected officials from the city, including state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, State Rep. Dan Frankel, who represents the district that includes Tree of Life, and Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess. All echoed similar themes.
Costa said Mastriano did this “purposefully,” to reach people with “hate in their heart.” Frankel called Gab “a festering cesspool of intolerance” that sees Black and brown people, LGBTQ+ people and Muslims as threats to the “white nationalist vision that unifies Gab users.”
Burgess concluded that Mastriano’s Gab account showed his allegiance to former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Mastriano, and to the “basket of deplorables” on the site. With that last line, Burgess was quoting the description of many Trump supporters offered by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
“He believes the hatred on those message boards will translate into an election victory for him on Nov. 8,” Frankel said of Mastriano. “But I believe he is wrong about Pennsylvania.”
Even the Republican Jewish Coalition seems to agree with this last statement. Matt Brooks, the organization’s executive director, said that Mastriano should be trying to win over Jewish Republicans by calling out antisemitism and focusing more on Shapiro’s “big government agenda.”
“Doug Mastriano’s campaign unfortunately seems intent on sending a message of exclusion,” Brooks said. “We strongly urge Doug Mastriano to end his association with Gab, a social network rightly seen by Jewish Americans as a cesspool of bigotry and antisemitism.”
Mastriano’s campaign did not make the candidate available for an interview or offer a response to questions. JE
firstname.lastname@example.org. David Rullo of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, an affiliated paper, contributed to this report.