Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, is under increasing scrutiny over his connections to the far-right social media platform Gab and its founder, who has repeatedly made antisemitic remarks defending their ties.
Early this month, news emerged that Mr. Mastriano’s campaign had paid Gab, a haven for white nationalists and users banned from other platforms, $5,000 for “consulting,” according to a state filing that was first uncovered by Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group.
Since then, Mr. Mastriano, a far-right state senator who has falsely argued that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and who rarely speaks to traditional news outlets, has ignored criticism of his association with Gab.
But the platform’s founder and chief executive, Andrew Torba, has hit back — most recently, using an anti-Jewish trope.
“We’re not bending the knee to the 2 percent anymore,” Mr. Torba said in a video this week, an apparent reference to the rough percentage of the country that is Jewish.
Mr. Torba was responding to an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday by Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, in which he criticized Mr. Mastriano for using Gab to post messages and gain political supporters.
Mr. Torba and his platform support Christian nationalism, the view that America was founded to advance Christians and biblical values.
“We’re taking back our country,” he added. “We’re taking back our government, so deal with it.”
“Andrew Torba is one of the most toxic people in public life right now,” Mr. Greenblatt told MSNBC. “Elected officials who engage in this kind of rhetoric aren’t just flirting with fascism, they are bringing it to the forefront of their political argument.”
Shortly after the payment from the Mastriano campaign, in April, Mr. Torba interviewed Mr. Mastriano on his site, when the candidate told him, “Thank God for what you’ve done.”
Before Pennsylvania’s May 17 primary, Gab endorsed Mr. Mastriano, who was at the forefront of Republican efforts to overturn the 2020 results in the state.
Mr. Mastriano won the nomination in a divided field, despite warnings by some Republican officials that he was too extreme to win in November. Recent polls have shown him running an unexpectedly close race against the Democratic nominee, Josh Shapiro.
According to reporting by HuffPost, Mr. Mastriano may be paying Gab to increase his following on the site: New users appeared to be automatically assigned as followers of the Republican nominee.
In a series of live-streamed videos in recent days, Mr. Torba, who is based in Pennsylvania, responded repeatedly to criticism of him and Mr. Mastriano by reinforcing his own Christian nationalist and antisemitic views.
The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday quoted Mr. Torba as saying in one video that neither he nor Mr. Mastriano would give interviews to non-Christian journalists.
“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,” Mr. Torba reportedly said. “He does not talk to these people. He does not give press access to these people. These people are dishonest. They’re liars. They’re a den of vipers and they want to destroy you.”
Mr. Mastriano did not respond to a request for comment sent to his campaign.
Mr. Torba, asked for details of his consulting arrangement with Mr. Mastriano, responded in an email: “I only speak to Christian news outlets.”
Republican and Democratic Jewish leaders alike have called for Mr. Mastriano to leave Gab. “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,” Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week.
In Pittsburgh, Jewish and Black leaders condemned Mr. Mastriano for his association with Gab, which was used to post antisemitic attacks by the man accused of massacring 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
Mr. Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, began an investigation of Gab after the killings, though he eventually dropped it.
On Monday, Mr. Shapiro, who is Jewish, appealed to donors in a tweet to “stop” Mr. Mastriano, who he said “is paying Gab — the same platform that empowered the Tree of Life killer — thousands of dollars to recruit antisemites and white supremacists to his campaign.”