Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, is under increased scrutiny for his links to the far-right social media platform Gap and its founder, who has repeatedly made anti-Semitic comments in defense of their relationships.
Early this month, news emerged that Mr Mastriano’s campaign had paid Gab, a haven for white nationalists and banned users from other platforms, $5,000 for “consulting,” according to an official filing first disclosed by Media Matters for America, a Liberal control group.
Since then, Mastriano, the far-right senator who has falsely argued that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that he rarely speaks to traditional media, has shrugged off criticism of his association with Gap.
But the platform’s founder and CEO, Andrew Torba, hit back — most recently, using an anti-Jewish trope.
“We don’t bend the knee to 2 percent anymore,” Mr. Torba said in a video this week, an apparent reference to the approximate proportion of Jews in the country.
Mr. Torba was responding to an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, in which he criticized Mr Mastriano for using Gap to spread messages and gain political supporters.
Mr. Torba and his Christian nationalist program support the view that America was founded to promote Christians and biblical values.
“We are taking back our country,” he added. “We’re getting our government back, so deal with it.”
“Andrew Torba is one of the most toxic people in public life right now,” Greenblatt told MSNBC. “Elected officials who engage in this kind of rhetoric not only flirt with fascism, they put it at the forefront of their political argument.”
Shortly after the push 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.”
Ahead of the Pennsylvania primary on May 17, Gap endorsed Mr. Mastriano, who has been at the forefront of Republican efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 results.
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 he is running an unexpectedly close race against the Democratic candidate, Josh Shapiro.
According to a HuffPost report, Mr. Mastriano may push Gab to increase his followers on the site: it appears that new users are automatically assigned as followers of the Republican candidate.
In a series of live videos in recent days, Pennsylvania-based Mr. Torba has repeatedly responded to criticism of him and Mr. Mastriano by promoting his Christian nationalist and anti-Semitic views.
On Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post quoted Mr. Torba as saying in one of the videos that neither he nor Mr Mastriano would be interviewing non-Christian journalists.
Mr. Torba reportedly said: “My policy is not to interview non-Christian reporters or non-Christian media, and Doug has a very similar media strategy where he does not interview these people.” “He doesn’t talk to these people. He doesn’t let the press get access to these people. These people are dishonest. They are liars. They are the nest of snakes and they want to destroy you.”
Mr. Mastriano did not respond to a request for comment sent to his campaign.
Asking details of his consulting arrangements with Mr. Mastriano, Mr. Torba replied in an email: “I only speak to Christian news outlets.”
Republican and Democratic Jewish leaders alike have called on Mr. Mastriano to leave Gap. “We strongly urge Doug Mastriano to end his relationship with Gap, a social network rightly seen by American Jews as a hotbed of bigotry and anti-Semitism,” Matt Brooks, 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 Gap, which was used to spread anti-Semitic attacks by a man accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
Mr. Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, launched an investigation into Gap after the killings, though he eventually dropped them.
On Monday, Mr. Shapiro, who is Jewish, appealed to donors in a tweet to “stop” Mr Mastriano, who said he was “paying Gab – the same platform that enabled the Tree of Life killer – thousands of dollars to recruit anti-Semites and white supremacists into his campaign”.