Trump-Endorsed Candidate Appears to Be Paying for Followers on Extremist Platform

Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, appears to have paid the far-right platform Gab for followers. An investigation by Huffpost found that new accounts on the website automatically follow Doug Mastriano, exponentially increasing his follower count since he paid $5,000 in “consulting” fees to the platform in April. 

What sort of “consulting” Mastriano’s campaign received is unclear, but he is gaining an audience on the Nazi-loving platform. According to Huffpost, there are only seven accounts automatically followed by new users: Mastriano, Gab founder Andrew Torba, and a selection of right-wing media outlets. Since the payment was made in April, Mastriano’s follower base has grown from less than 3,000 to upwards of 37,000. 

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From its inception, Gab has attracted the leachate of the online far right. It’s founder Andrew Torba is a virulent anti-Semite who marketed the platform as a virtually rule-free alternative to Twitter and actively recruited extremists as his user base. The site has become one of the most prolific traffickers of online anti-Semitism, white nationalism, neo-Nazism, and racial hatred, and it’s influence has led to real-world violence. In 2018, an active Gab user murdered 11 worshippers at Pittsburugh’s Tree of Life synagogue. This May, another murdered 10 people at a grocery story in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo, citing the white nationalist “great replacement” theory as his motivation. The day after the shooting, Torba posted that the “best way to stop White genocide and White replacement, both of which are demonstrably and undeniably happening, is to get married to a White woman and have a lot of White babies.”

Torba has given a ringing endorsement of Mastriano, lauding him as the builder of “a coalition of Christian nationalists at the local and state levels to help pioneer a grass-roots movement of Christians in PA to help take it back for the glory of God.” Mastriano has reciprocated. “Thank God for what you’ve done,” he told Torba in a May interview. 

Mastriano’s relationship with Gab is no naive partnership. The former Pennsylvania state senator has his own history of counting the far right. He is a prominent Christian nationalist, and has called the separation of the church and state a “myth.” Mastriano is also an ardent promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, and even dabbled in 9/11 trutherism.

After the 2020 election, Mastriano championed efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania. He called for the resignation of Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar and demanded an audit of Pennsylvania’s election. He was even pictured outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Mastriano has been subpoenaed by the Jan.6 committee regarding his efforts to transport protesters to Washington, D.C.

Mastriano’s fealty to Trump and his election lies earned him a ringing endorsement from the former president. “There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity” than Mastriano, said Trump. “He has revealed the Deceit, Corruption, and outright Theft of the 2020 Presidential Election, and will do something about it,” he has “been with me right from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him.”

Mastriano is slated to face off against Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro for the Pennsylvania governorship in November. 

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