Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano believes the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, “distant” and “detached from reality.” Appearing on conservative talk radio station News Talk 103.7 FM on August 10, Mastriano also denounced the House Select Committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection and discussed his brief virtual appearance before the committee, explaining why he decided to cut the interview short.
The state senator told co-hosts Michele Jansen and Pat Ryan that he refused to be interviewed by the committee unless he was allowed to record it for “transparency.” When it became clear that only the committee would be recording the interview, which the committee had already confirmed, he ended it after a mere 15 minutes and refused to cooperate any further. Now, Mastriano is suing the Jan. 6 committee for its “improper makeup,” asking for a judge to rule that the committee can’t compel him to sit for a deposition. He is also requesting that the panel pay his attorney’s fees.
Mastriano, who has been identified by the Jan. 6 committee as a key figure in the insurrection, was being interviewed about his own role in the planning and execution of the attack. Mastriano was spotted marching outside of the Capitol on the day of the insurrection and even breached police barricade lines, according to video footage obtained by the committee. In addition to supporting and repeating former President Donald Trump’s election lies, Mastriano spent thousands of dollars on transportation to help shuttle Trump supporters from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., on the day in question and was in regular communication with the former president at the time.
Since then, he has continued to repeat Trump’s baseless conspiracies about widespread voter fraud and announced his intention to decertify every voting machine in the state if elected governor. Mastriano also admitted that he would force every registered voter in Pennsylvania to re-register, which is not only burdensome but could also violate federal law. As a result, the House committee subpoenaed him back in February, which he promptly denied. Instead of a deposition, Mastriano agreed to a voluntary interview and produced a few documents relating to the investigation, one of which revealed that he used campaign funds to pay for the buses he used to bring people to the Capitol. Mastriano ultimately failed to complete the interview, however, which had already been put off for months.
During his guest appearance on News Talk, Mastriano went on to criticize the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, which resulted in the recovery of hundreds of classified documents, saying that both the FBI and Department of Justice have “gone too far” and are now both essentially “a tool of the Democratic Party to go after their political enemies.” When asked if he’s encountered any pushback for his extremist views or if he’s been confronted by people at his rallies who have a problem with his election denialism or ties to the insurrection, Mastriano said, “That is just so — it’s so distant. It’s detached from reality.”
Seeming to agree with him, Ryan interjected, claiming that the Capitol attack is “distant in our reality, but it’s a TV show with former [Senator] Liz Cheney. She’ll be done with a gig in a couple of days now.”
“It’s not part of the reality of the campaign trail,” Mastriano responded, boldly claiming that he’s had more Democrats show up to his rallies in support of him than not. He also condemned criticism from Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro that he’s “too extreme” for Pennsylvania, claiming that it is actually Shapiro who is “the extremist.” Shapiro is currently ahead in the race for governor, according to polling obtained by FiveThirtyEight.
Spouting off a list of perceived grievances about his opponent, Mastriano chastised Shapiro’s support for trans kids, falsely asserted that he wants to defund the police, and repeated a misleading claim that he sued a group of nuns. “This guy’s the extremist,” Mastriano said. “The reality is we’re just on the side of freedom and on the right side of history here.”
Following this theme, Mastriano also made a fuss about the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s recent inclusion of educational resources about gender identity after being asked by Jansen for his opinion on the matter. Leaving no room for interpretation, he voiced his support for parents’ rights, arguing that parents “should be in power and driving this,” not “radical” teachers who want to push “gender confusion” and have students “pick their pronouns” in class. Mastriano also took the opportunity to go after Shapiro once again, falsely claiming that both he and Gov. Tom Wolf want children to be “sexualized” in the classroom. “If you want our schools to turn into a decaying system of indoctrinating your kids, then Josh Shapiro is your man,” he said.
Mastriano has a long history of espousing hateful and extremist rhetoric, having recently denounced bans on anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy, defending the harmful practice and referring to queer and trans children as “confused.” In addition, a photo of Mastriano wearing a Confederate military uniform recently resurfaced, sparking public outrage. The photo, which was obtained by Reuters, shows him posing in the uniform with his fellow faculty members at the Army War College during the 2013-2014 semester. The faculty were reportedly given the option to dress as historical figures, but Mastriano is the only one wearing a Confederate uniform.
Mastriano has also been immersed in a number of other controversies this summer, repeating anti-semtiic conspiracies about George Soros and eliciting outcry over his ties to white Christian Nationalism and the far-right social media site Gab. While his extremism may work well among his base, however, not everyone in his party is on board. In fact, some of his latest scandals have even cost him endorsements. As a result, his campaign has taken steps to try to soften his image by having him avoid talking about abortion. Up until recently, abortion has been a key issue of his campaign, but his strict stance on the issue is not in line with public opinion.
In fact, a recent poll from Franklin & Marshall College revealed that support for abortion in Pennslylvania has reached an all-time high, with the majority of registered voters agreeing that it should be legal under most circumstances. Mastriano, on the other hand, has made it clear that he thinks abortion should be completely illegal, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or medical emergencies, and supports criminal penalties for abortion providers.
That being said, Mastriano is by no means shying away from his radical roots. If anything, he’s attempting to soften his image not by changing his positions, but by rejecting his label as an “extremist” candidate and projecting it on to his rivals.
Much like he did during his News Talk interview, Mastriano is working to escape this branding by pointing the finger at Josh Shapiro and the Democratic Party, calling them extreme for supporting abortion rights, trans rights, and COVID-19 health and safety measures, and for not entertaining Trump’s baseless election conspiraces. “I’m going to show you who the real extremist is in this race, and it’s not me and it’s not us,” Mastriano said during a recent campaign stop in Rochester.