HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano tweeted that the CEO of Gab “doesn’t speak for me or my campaign” and said he rejects “anti-Semitism in any form.”
But he stopped short of disavowing ties to Gab, a conservative social media site accused of harboring anti-Semitism, and its CEO, Andrew Torba.
Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, had demanded Wednesday that Mastriano cut ties to the site after Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, revealed Mastriano’s campaign had paid Gab $5,000 for “adverting consulting.”
abc27 News was able to verify the April 28 expenditure in campaign finance reports but couldn’t independently confirm what the campaign received in return.
Gab gained notoriety after reports that the suspect in 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, during which 11 worshippers died, had posted anti-Semitic threats on the platform.
The day after the massacre, Gab appeared to gloat about all the attention.
“We have been getting 1 million hits an hour all day,” read a post widely reported and attributed at the time to Torba, on Gab’s since-suspended Twitter account. abc27 News couldn’t independently confirm that Torba authored the tweet.
Torba later condemned the incident and said he was “horrified” to learn “this alleged terrorist was on our site,” but defended the platform.
“I do think that more speech is always going to be the answer to combat bad speech or hate speech,” he said.
abc27 News couldn’t reach Torba for comment Thursday.
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The Washington, D.C.-based Republican Jewish Coalition has called on Mastriano to disavow ties to Gab. The organization didn’t reply Thursday to messages from abc27 News asking whether it would support his candidacy if he doesn’t.
“They called on Mastriano to disavow the Gab website, but they didn’t disavow Mastriano himself,” said Jill Zipin, founder and chair of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. “How can you reasonably keep ‘Jewish’ in your name if you support this guy?”
Mastriano didn’t reply Thursday to messages from abc27 News. In his tweet Thursday, he wrote in part: “Recent smears by the Democrats and the media are blatant attempts to distract Pennsylvanians from suffering inflicted by Democrat policies.”
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The news about the Mastriano campaign’s payment to Gab comes amid recent evidence that mainstream Republicans are willing to support Mastriano’s candidacy.
“I think time will tell whether more traditional Republican groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, contribute to his campaign,” Zipin said. “It will be very interesting in, for example, Bucks County, where you have someone who’s considered moderate, [Republican Congressman] Brian Fitzpatrick,” Zipin said. “And [the district] has a very large Jewish population. Will he endorse Mastriano?”
Fitzpatrick’s press secretary didn’t immediately respond to an abc27 News message asking that question.