“I reject anti-Semitism in any form. Recent smears by the Democrats and the media are blatant attempts to distract Pennsylvanians from suffering inflicted by Democrat policies.”
That statement from GOP candidate for governor Doug Mastriano comes in response to criticisms over his payment to Gab — the social media site described by the Anti-Defamation League as a “haven for extremists, conspiracy theorists and misinformation” – and his association with the site’s founder, Andrew Torba.
Torba has courted the state senator from Franklin County and has had Mastriano on videos on the site talking about his positions and his campaign. Mastriano paid $5,000 to Gab in April, a sum that Torba said was for an advertising campaign, WESA reported earlier this month.
“Andrew Torba does not speak for me or my campaign,” tweeted Mastriano on Thursday. He also deleted his Gab account.
— Doug Mastriano (@dougmastriano) July 28, 2022
The candidate’s association with Gab and Christian nationalists – as well as his beliefs that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump – has offended many Jewish and Democratic voters. It has also put GOP leaders, especially Jewish ones, on the defensive – should they support, condemn or distance themselves from the GOP gubernatorial nominee?
Mastriano had posted at least 60 times on Gab since joining in February, WESA reported — and of 157 comments from users responding to his posts, at least two dozen were antisemitic insults about his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish.
“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. “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.”
In an interview with Torba posted to Gab in May, Mastriano thanked him for providing a space for conservative voices like his own. Torba warned during the interview, “You may even get called a smear for doing this interview with me. So brace yourself for that,” the outlet reported.
In a recent livestreamed video, Torba also said, “My policy is not to conduct interviews with reporters who aren’t Christian or with outlets who aren’t Christian, and Doug has a very similar media strategy where he does not do interviews with these people,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
“As a Jew and as an American, I am alarmed that there’s a nominee for one of America’s major political parties that espouses hatred towards other people and other members of the Commonwealth,” Rabbi Seth Frisch of the New Shul of America in Rydal, Pennsylvania, said in an interview.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, has expressed concern that Mastriano’s campaign “unfortunately seems intent on sending a message of exclusion” to Jewish voters and had called on the candidate to end his association with Gab. Brooks didn’t immediately respond to a question from Forward as to whether Mastriano’s move on Thursday to distance himself from Gab was sufficient.
updated to include statement from Shapiro.