(JTA) – Pennsylvania’s Republican nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, said he rejected antisemitism as his campaign’s use of the far-right social network Gab continued to draw scrutiny from across the political spectrum.
Mastriano’s statement, posted to social media on Thursday, came days after Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba unleashed antisemitic tirades in a livestream as he appeared to speak on behalf of the Mastriano campaign. The candidate said Torba was not a campaign spokesperson.
“Andrew Torba doesn’t speak for me or my campaign,” Mastriano wrote in his statement. “I reject anti-Semitism in any form.” His Gab account, which he did not mention in the statement, appeared to no longer be visible as of Thursday.
Mastriano, a state Senator who pushed to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania in 2020 and participated in events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, went on to accuse Democrats and the media of “recent smears” that he said were “blatant attempts to distract Pennsylvanians from suffering inflicted by Democrat policies.”
Mastriano also said his Democratic opponent, Jewish state attorney general Josh Shapiro, “wants to impose extreme policies on Pennsylvania.” Shapiro has been harshly critical of Mastriano’s presence on Gab.
Mastriano previously had around 38,000 followers on Gab, a haven for white nationalist, antisemitic and other extremist content online, and his campaign had reportedly paid the platform $36,741 in “digital marketing” fees, which included having new users automatically follow him.
His activities and associations with the site prompted the Republican Jewish Coalition last week to call for the candidate to distance himself from the platform. Attention to the issue grew after Torba hosted a livestream Tuesday, during which he appeared to comment on behalf of Mastriano as he spread antisemitic and Christian nationalist rhetoric.
“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,” Torba said.
He continued, “These people are dishonest. They’re liars. They’re a den of vipers and they want to destroy you. My typical conversation with them when they email me is ‘repent and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.’ I take it as an opportunity to try and convert them.”
“We don’t want people who are Jewish,” Torba said at another point. “This is an explicitly Christian country.”
The shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat in 2018 was a regular user of Gab. The site itself is headquartered in Pennsylvania, too.
A week before Mastriano’s statement, he used his campaign’s Facebook page to wish his followers “Shabbat Shalom” by linking to a YouTube video of a Messianic Israeli artist singing in Hebrew, calling it “One of the best worship songs in Israel.”
On Twitter Friday, Shapiro called Mastriano “an extremist, and too dangerous to be Governor of Pennsylvania.”