Doug Mastriano under fire for his relationship with an anti-Semitic site and its founder

The criticism is the latest in what has become a complicated campaign for Republicans after Mastriano, one of the most vocal purveyors of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald Trump, won the Commonwealth primary. in May. At the time, many Republicans worried that Mastriano was too extreme a candidate to win the suburban voters needed to win statewide, and his ties to Gab and Torba drew further criticism from within the party. Mastriano will face Democratic state attorney general Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, in November.

“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,” said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We urge Doug Mastriano to end his association with Gab, a social network rightly viewed by American Jews as a cesspool of bigotry and anti-Semitism.”

Mastriano has had an official relationship with Torba and Gab since at least April, when Mastriano’s campaign paid Gab $5,000 for “consulting” services, according to state records first published by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning watchdog organization that documented the relationship. between Mastriano and Torba.
Gab, founded in 2016, bills itself as the “free speech social network” and has gained popularity with conservatives, alt-right figures and some extremists to counter more traditional social media spaces such as Twitter and Facebook. The site’s lax approach to content management has made it a haven for QAnon conspiracy theories, misinformation and anti-Semitic commentary.
The site has a particularly gruesome history in Pennsylvania. Shortly before alleged gunman Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, he posted on Gab: “I can’t sit around and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, j ‘Between.” The shooting left 11 people dead and, although the site deleted the suspect’s profile, his digital footprint was littered with anti-Semitism.

After his campaign payment to Gab, Mastriano – who rarely speaks with mainstream media reporters – sat down for an interview with Torba and praised the site’s founder, saying: “Thank God for what you’ve done. “.

Torba also praised Mastriano and, indicating he was aware their relationship is controversial, said, “You might even be called a name for doing this interview with me, so be prepared with that.”

Mastriano responded to the criticism Thursday night and distanced himself from Torba, saying the Gab founder “doesn’t speak for me or my campaign.”

“I reject anti-Semitism in any form,” Mastriano said, before attacking his opponent, Josh Shapiro, and the Democrats.

Torba, according to Media Matters, responded to the criticism in comments broadcast live this week in which he continued to push anti-Semitic tropes.

“We don’t bend the knee to the 2% anymore,” Torba said, a reference to the general estimate of the Jewish population in the United States. “We’re not taking it anymore, mate. We’re taking back our culture. We’re taking back our country. We’re taking back our government. So get on with it.”

Asked about criticism of his relationship with Mastriano on Thursday, Torba told CNN, “I only speak to Christian media. Repent and call on the name of Jesus Christ.”

This position is not new to Torba. According to the Jerusalem Post, he recently said his policy was “not to conduct interviews with journalists who are not Christians or with media outlets that are not Christians.”
Torba followed his Thursday statement to CNN with a link to an article by Gab in which he wrote, “I want to make it very clear that I do not work for the Mastriano campaign. I am not their consultant.”

“The campaign paid Gab as a company for advertising during the primary. The campaign publishes on Gab, as do more than 50 other campaigns across the country. That’s the extent of the relationship,” he said. -he declares. “My words are my own. My thoughts are my own. They are not representative of Doug or Doug’s campaign.”

Representatives for Mastriano did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. And the Republican Governors Association responded with a general statement on the race that did not address Mastriano’s relationship with Gab.

At least one Republican member of the Pennsylvania State House has spoken out against Torba’s recent comments.

“I condemn Andrew Torba’s comments and call on my colleagues to reject Andrew Torba, his comments and his company, especially the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Senator Doug Mastriano,” the representative wrote on Facebook. of the state Todd Stephens, who represents suburban Philadelphia. “We must all stand united against hate and this type of offensive and dangerous rhetoric. Nothing less than outright rejection is warranted, and I hope Senator Mastriano and my colleagues will join me.”

Torba responded Thursday by calling Stephens a “RINO” — a Republican in name only — and urging his supporters to “severely crack down” on the state legislator.

“We are dragging the Republican Party to the right and anyone who gets in our way will be left behind,” he wrote on Gab.

Democrats also criticized Mastriano for his association with Torba.

Jill Zipin, co-founder of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, said that while she has long worked to defeat Republicans, “it looks very different.”

“Josh isn’t running against your typical Republican. He’s running against someone who allows hate,” Zipin said. “Speaking for me and my board members, it’s scary.”

And Shapiro said this week that Gab and Mastriano’s relationship was “not normal”.

“That’s who Doug Mastriano is”, Shapiro said on MSNBC. “He’s so dangerous. He’s so extreme. He’s so beyond pale.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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