Kudos to Jacob Kornbluh from Forward for highlighting this:
Douglas Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, has in the past invoked Nazi-era analogies in the debate over gun control, an issue in the spotlight following last week’s mass shooting shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As Congress remains deadlocked on legislation, many states have already begun advancing measures to tighten access to firearms.
Running for Congress in 2018, Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, called it “appalling” that Democrats were proposing gun restrictions to end mass shootings and likened it to the Nazis confiscating privately held firearms by political opponents and Jews before World War II and Vladimir Lenin’s actions in the Soviet Union.
“We saw Lenin do the same thing in Russia. We saw Hitler do the same thing in Germany in the 30s,” Mastriano said in a debate streamed on the local PCN cable network with his Republican primary competitors for the southeast Pennsylvania district, according to an archived video viewed by the Forward. “Where does it stop?”
Thomas Lecaque at The Bulwark has a frightening piece out about State Senator, Insurrectionist and gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano’s (R. PA) ties to a gun-worshipping, fundamentalist church that promotes QAnon conspiracy theories and preparing for the apocalypse that is absolutely worth a read:
“The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church” is the church of the Reverend Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, the youngest son of Unification Church founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The senior Moon’s apocalyptic movement (often derisively called the “Moonies”) became widely known in the 1970s and ’80s for mass-wedding ceremonies in which participating couples often met for the first time just before saying their vows. The younger Moon’s schismatic offshoot of his father’s movement has a different signature emphasis and is better known by a shorter name: “Rod of Iron Ministries.”
Rod of Iron continues the Unification Church’s tradition of apocalypticism, but adds to this framework beliefs derived from a variety of sources that include, most importantly, the rhetoric, imagery, and ideology of both QAnon and Christian nationalism. The younger Moon wrote a constitution for the messianic kingdom he and his followers believe will replace the United States following its collapse. The church’s website calls for people to join in defending “freedom” by standing up for the Second Amendment, which “applies to all freedom loving individuals—across the planet.” (Just how a part of the U.S. Constitution is supposed to apply to the whole planet is left unstated.) And members of the church perform ceremonies wearing bullet crowns and carrying AR-15s—even, following the elder Moon’s tradition, the occasional mass wedding. (One ceremony took place only days after the Parkland shooting left 17 students, teachers, and staff dead in 2018, making the church the subject of intense criticism.)
From its Newfoundland, Pennsylvania base, Moon’s church has started to rapidly expand. In 2021, they bought a 40-acre compound they call “Liberty Rock” in central Texas and another property in Grainger County, Tennessee, where they plan on building a training center. At a blessing ceremony for the latter property, the administrator for the new property, Gregg Nall, said that “We believe that the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of armed citizens, so we believe that everyone in the kingdom should be armed,” and that, “the gun really does represent strength. Peace through strength. If you have a gun in self-defense, the criminal or the predator will back off. If you don’t have a gun the predator comes in and ravishes you or us as a nation.” Nall’s remarks provide a good summary of the church’s theology, if one can call it that.
Rev. Sean Moon has been working to forge ties to leaders in the far right who align with his church’s vision of contemporary America’s destruction and rebirth as a theocracy, and Rod of Iron has expanded its reach through prominent events. Its annual “Freedom Festival”—billed as the “largest open carry rally in America”—features MAGA hangers-on like Steve Bannon and Seb Gorka and far-right figures like Pastor Dan Fisher and Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson. These speakers are only one attraction amid the weekend’s itinerary of militaristic cosplay, a “concealed-carry fashion show,” and gunfire.
Vice reported last year that Mastriano has been a speaker at Rod of Iron events. It’s no surprise, given how much he and Rev. Sean Moon have in common. They are fellow travelers not only in promoting far-right Christian nationalist politics, but also in being Jan. 6th insurrectionists: Moon reportedly stormed the Capitol with over 50 of his followers. But the most important connection between Mastriano and Moon is their shared belief in an apocalyptic religion that imagines the present moment as a battleground between good and evil at the advent of the End Times.
The national press has been waking up to how Mastriano has become the dangerous lead candidate for Christian Nationalism:
Mastriano — who has ignored repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press, including through his campaign last week — has rejected the “Christian nationalist” label in the past. In fact, few if any prominent candidates use the label. Some say it’s a pejorative and insist everyone has a right to draw on their faith and values to try to influence public policy.
But scholars generally define Christian nationalism as going beyond policy debates and championing a fusion of American and Christian values, symbols and identity.
Christian nationalism, they say, is often accompanied by a belief that God has destined America, like the biblical Israel, for a special role in history, and that it will receive divine blessing or judgment depending on its obedience.
That often overlaps with the conservative Christian political agenda, including opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and transgender rights. Researchers say Christian nationalism is often also associated with mistrust of immigrants and Muslims. Many Christian nationalists see former President Donald Trump as a champion despite his crude sexual boasts and lack of public piety.
Candidates seen as Christian nationalists have had mixed success in this year’s Republican primaries, which typically pitted staunch conservatives against opponents even further to the right.
There were losses by some high-profile candidates, such as U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn and an Idaho gubernatorial hopeful, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. The former spoke of a “spiritual battle” on Capitol Hill and a need for “strong, God-fearing patriots.” The latter was photographed holding a gun and a Bible and said, “God calls us to pick up the sword and fight, and Christ will reign in the state of Idaho.”
Some of Idaho’s Republican primaries for the Legislature were won by candidates touting Christian values or sharing priorities with Christian nationalists, such as sports bans for transgender athletes. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who uses biblical phrasing to “be a watchman on the wall” against those seeking to “destroy our faith,” easily won her primary.
Watchers of Christian nationalism consider Mastriaono’s win — in a rout, with 44% in a crowded field despite opposition from the state party establishment — by far the highest-profile victory for the movement.
Mastriano has called the separation of church and state a “myth.”
After his victory, the comments section of his campaign Facebook page had the feel of a revival tent:
“Praise Jesus!” “God is smiling on us and sending His blessings.” “Thank you Father God!!”
Mastriano “is a unique case where he really does in his speeches highlight this apocalyptic idea” where his supporters and causes are on God’s side, said Andrew Whitehead, sociology professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and co-author of “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.”
“It literally is good and evil,” he continued. “There’s no room for compromise, so that is the threat to democracy.”
Liza Griswold at The New Yorker reported earlier this month how Mastriano has used Christian Nationalism to justify his role in the Insurrection:
As the effort to delegitimize the election heated up, Mastriano told his supporters on Facebook, “You know, when things go wrong, oftentimes Christians will say, ‘Oh, it’s God’s will,’ and kind of throw their hands. That’s nonsense. What a cop-out. Please don’t do that. This isn’t His will.” He appeared on Steve Bannon’s radio show, “War Room,” as well as on a right-wing Christian show called “The Eric Metaxas Radio Show,” during which Trump called in and said, “Doug is a hero!” In Pennsylvania, Mastriano supported a barrage of lawsuits and a bid to appoint special electors. On November 25th, he hosted a theatrical hearing in Gettysburg, featuring Rudy Giuliani as a faux prosecutor. That afternoon, Mastriano and his son drove from Gettysburg to the White House at the President’s invitation. (Mastriano tested positive for covid-19 and was reportedly ushered out of the meeting with Trump.)
On December 12th, Mastriano returned to Washington, D.C., to participate in a series of “Jericho Marches” organized by leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation in which conservative Christians, among a hodgepodge of QAnon followers and white nationalists, gathered to pray that God would keep Trump in office. Alex Jones, of Infowars, attended, as did members of the Oath Keepers militia. Participants dressed in Colonial knickers, to evoke the American Revolution, or in animal skins, to evoke the Israelites. Jack Jenkins, a reporter for Religion News Service, told me, “They blew on shofars”—ram’s horns that Israelite priests blew, according to the Bible, to bring down the sinful city of Jericho—“believing they could literally overturn the election results.” Mastriano exhorted his followers to “do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.” The phrase “appeal to heaven” comes from John Locke’s argument in support of the right to violent revolution in the face of tyranny. “An Appeal to Heaven” appeared on a flag that a squadron of George Washington’s warships reportedly flew, and has grown popular among N.A.R. members. Mastriano has hung a sign reading “An Appeal to Heaven” on his office door, and the flag sometimes appears behind him during his fireside chats. He told his followers that laws and governments made by man needn’t always be respected, reminding them that Hitler, too, was an elected official.
Many who hold Christian-nationalist beliefs think that God’s will should determine America’s course. “Christian nationalists take the view that because America is a ‘Christian nation,’ any party or leader who isn’t Christian in the ‘right’ way, or who fails to conform to their agenda, is illegitimate,” Katherine Stewart, the author of “The Power Worshippers,” told me. “Legitimacy derives not from elections or any democratic process but from representing an alleged fidelity to their version of the American past and what they believe is the will of God.” As a result, overthrowing an election, if it seems to have subverted God’s will, would be justified. “That kind of anti-democratic ideology made it very easy for these radicals to imagine they were being patriotic, even while they were attacking the most basic institutions of democracy: the U.S. Congress and the election process.”
Two days before the Capitol riots, Mastriano said that he was heading to Washington, D.C., and “calling out to God for divine revelation.” He used campaign funds to charter six buses to shuttle followers to Washington, D.C., and told them that he would speak on the Capitol steps. Around 1 p.m., rioters broke into the Capitol, some wielding Bibles, “Jesus 2020” signs, “An Appeal to Heaven” flags, and shofars. On the Senate floor, one insurrectionist called out from the dais, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” Another thanked God for “filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ” and for “allowing the United States of America to be reborn.” One later told an interviewer that he and the others were guided by the “An Appeal to Heaven” flag to storm the building, saying, “We appeal to heaven, because we, as individuals, are powerless.”
Later that evening, Mastriano appeared on Facebook Live for his fireside chat, looking spooked. He told viewers that he had left the Capitol after he saw things “get weird,” saying, “When it was apparent that this was no longer a peaceful protest, my wife and I left the area.” Mastriano later told a radio interviewer that he stayed long enough to witness both the first and second breaches of the building. “There were several speaking events planned," he told me, by e-mail. "It was to be a peaceful gathering as it had been previously. When it no longer looked that way, the buses departed.” James Sinclair, a man from Bensalem, Pennsylvania, who rode one of the buses to the Capitol, was arrested for a curfew violation and possession of a weapon. Sandy Weyer, a bus rider who was photographed at the door of the Capitol with her fist raised, tweeted, “Truth be known about storming the capitol . . . we were sick and tired of DITHERING!!!” Rick Groves, another bus rider, told a local radio host, of the insurrection, “All I saw was unity and love, and it was a beautiful thing, like Woodstock almost, with Trump flags.”
Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D. PA) has been out on the campaign trail and warning people how dangerous Mastriano is:
Shapiro launched his attack on Doug Mastriano in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. He called Mastriano, a far-right state senator, “dangerous and divisive” and warned that were he to become Pennsylvania’s governor he could wield power to choose his own slate of presidential electors as a means of overturning the results of the 2024 presidential election.
“Senator Mastriano has made it clear that he will appoint electors based on his belief system,” Shapiro said. “He is essentially saying, ‘Sure you can go vote, but I will pick the winner’. That is incredibly dangerous.”
Fears about the anti-democratic leanings of Mastriano have rippled across Pennsylvania and through the country since he won the Republican primary last week. Were he to go on to defeat Shapiro, the state’s current attorney general, in November he would have considerable powers at his disposal to support what would in effect be an insurrection.
As governor, he would theoretically be able to refuse to certify the results of an election even though it had been conducted freely and fairly. He would also have the power to appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state – the position that controls all elections in the state.
And our Democracy hinges on Shapiro becoming the next Governor:
“It is up to Josh Shapiro to save America,” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said last week.
The Republican nominee for governor is Doug Mastriano, a state legislator from South Central Pa. who rose to prominence as one of the leading voices alleging massive election fraud in 2020.
Mastriano has said he wants to eliminate no-excuse mail voting and ballot drop boxes, as well as clear the state’s voter rolls so all residents would have to re-register. As governor, he would be responsible for appointing Pa.’s secretary of state, who oversees elections.
The chorus of journalists and analysts summarizing the stakes of the race have noted that Trump tried to influence Georgia’s secretary of state to alter vote counts in 2020, and they worry a similar attempt would be successful in 2024 if Mastriano is governor.
“This is not politics as usual,” Dan Hopkins, a political science professor at University of Pennsylvania, told Billy Penn.
The ominous framing and intense attention puts a great deal of pressure on Shapiro, said Marge Baker of People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy organization. “Our democracy is truly hanging in the balance,” Baker said.
And Shapiro is out campaigning all over the state:
During his Johnstown visit, Shapiro discussed eliminating reliance on standardized school testing, improving internet access and hiring more police to canvass Pennsylvania communities. He pledged to ensure that people don't "get screwed" by corporate America and predatory student loan practices.
In listing his priorities, Shapiro on several occasions characterized himself as a pro-union candidate who can make things happen in Harrisburg — a nod perhaps to Cambria County's blue-collar background in steel making and coal mining.
"I know I'm going to compete real hard here, and this is an important community. It's why I chose to launch our general election campaign here," Shapiro said.
"I've got a lot of confidence that we're going to do really well here in Cambria County, but I've got to put in the work. Our campaign has to put in the work, and it starts here tonight."
It's too early to tell whether he'll be successful in this regard. Rolling back the MAGA wave in the communities between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia isn't likely to happen overnight, if at all.
But — in a commonwealth where Trump won by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and Biden flipped four years later by less than 2 percentage points — even marginal progress in places like Cambria County could be the difference between Shapiro breezing to victory and losing sleep between now and November.
By the way, here’s the latest on the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race:
The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily paused the counting of some counties’ undated mail ballots, which could potentially change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race between celebrity cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick.
Tuesday evening’s Supreme Court action could dash the hopes of Mr. McCormick, whose campaign is trying to litigate its way to closing a 922-vote gap between him and Mr. Oz. It’s one of the first times the nation’s high court has waded into Pennsylvania’s election law since it created no-excuse mail-in voting as part of a 2019 law.
An two-sentence order from Justice Samuel Alito temporarily blocked a federal court ruling in a lawsuit over a disputed 2021 local court election that would have allowed the counting of mail-in ballots without a handwritten date. Justice Alito oversees matters for the court arising from Pennsylvania.
The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case surrounding 2021 votes in Lehigh County that requiring a handwritten date on a mail ballot’s outer envelope was “immaterial.” Mail ballots are required to have a hand-written date on the outer envelope, per the Pennsylvania elections code.
Health and Democracy are on the ballot this year and we need to get ready to keep Pennsylvania Blue. Click below to donate and get involved with Fetterman, Shapiro and these Pennsylvania Democrats campaigns:
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