The New Yorker’s Eliza Grizwold published Sunday a profile that portrays Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who “appears to be preparing a run for governor in 2022,” as an exemplar of the aggressive right-wing Christian nationalism that increasingly dominates the Republican Party. “He has come to embody a set of beliefs characterized as Christian nationalism, which center on the idea that God intended America to be a Christian nation, and which, when mingled with conspiracy theory and white nationalism, helped to fuel the insurrection,” Grizwold writes.
That analysis is in keeping with Right Wing Watch’s findings. Right Wing Watch has also been monitoring Mastriano’s rise in the right-wing media sphere as he thrust himself to the forefront of opposition to pandemic-related public health restrictions and aggressively promoted former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him through fraud.
Mastriano, who served in the military for 30 years, says that he had no desire to get involved in politics but that he ran for office believing it was “an Esther moment”—a reference to the Biblical story of Esther, who saved her people by intervening with the king after an adviser told her that she had been put in place “for such a time as this.” He frequently encourages his fellow conservative Christians to answer their own call to be Esthers and Gideons, a reference to another biblical figure called by God to wage war on the Israelite’s enemies.
Griswold notes that Mastriano “denies any affiliation with QAnon, though he has made several appearances on QAnon-connected media outlets.” Indeed, as RightWing Watch has reported, Mastriano has appeared more than once on “Up Front in the Prophetic,” a YouTube show hosted by the QAnon-promoting “apostolic/prophetic dynamic duo husband and wife team” of Allen and Francine Fosdick. In an appearance last July, Mastriano told the Fosdicks and their listeners that a run for governor would depend on “God’s calling” as well as popular support and financial resources.
Following Joe Biden’s presidential win, Mastriano was among the state legislators who went all out to keep Trump in the White House.
Shortly after the November election, Mastriano told the Fosdicks that he hoped God would intervene in efforts to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania, claiming that the state’s elections were less secure than those in Afghanistan. He mocked Republican officials who said there was no evidence that the election was tainted by voter fraud as well as those who raised concerns about right-wing militias’ response to a Trump defeat. “You are going to be the governor,” Francine told him on that call. “I just know it in my spirit.”
On Nov. 25, Mastriano hosted a day-long “hearing” in Gettysburg at which Trump called in on one of his lawyer’s cell phones to spout his baseless claims and call for the election to be “turned around.” Mastriano ended the hearing with a call to arms: “The time for dithering and deliberation is over. It’s time for decisive action.”
In late November, a couple weeks before Mastriano spoke at a pro-Trump rally on the National Mall emceed by religious-right author and radio host Eric Metaxas, he appeared on Metaxas’ radio show. Metaxas was giddy with excitement over the fact that Trump called Mastriano during the show and praised his efforts to keep Trump in power. Mastriano had just called for an emergency session of the state legislature to “vote on taking back our power to select our electors for the presidential election.” Outraged that the state’s Republican senators were not rallying around Mastriano’s effort, Metaxas told Mastriano that if he lived in the state, “I would be going to their houses with torches and pitchforks.”
At the Dec. 12 Jericho March rally emceed by Metaxas—at which Oath Keepers’ Stewart Rhodes threatened a bloody civil war if Trump did not remain in power—Mastriano told rallygoers not to be discouraged in spite of the “gut shot” of the night before, presumably a reference to the Supreme Court rejecting a case brought by the state of Texas contesting election results in battleground states won by Biden. Mastriano told the crowd that things had looked pretty bad in America in 1776, but God had intervened and handed George Washington victory. “This is our day,” he told rallygoers. “This is our hour. Let’s stand together. We don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately.”
Between the election and the inauguration of Biden, Mastriano took part in prayer calls organized by religious-right activists Jim Garlow and Mario Murillo. On one of those calls, Mastriano led a prayer in which he denounced “weak and feckless” elected officials in Pennsylvania. “I pray that we’ll take responsibility, we’ll seize the power that we had given to us by the Constitution and as well by you providentially. I pray for the leaders also in the federal government, God, on the sixth of January that they will rise up with boldness.”
Mastriano also asked God to bless letters that he said Trump had asked him to send then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy “outlining the fraud in Pennsylvania” and that his letters would “embolden them to stand firm and disregard what has happened in Pennsylvania until we have an investigation.”
On another prayer call, one that also featured Sidney Powell, a lawyer being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for spreading conspiracy theories about its role in the 2020 election, Mastriano prayed for victory against “the lies and deceit, the cowardice, the dithering.”
Mastriano was back on “The Eric Metaxas Show” on Jan. 4, two days before the insurrection that sought to disrupt congressional affirmation of the Electoral College votes. Mastriano said:
But at this point here, we’re gonna see what’s going to happen on the sixth of January in Washington, D.C., with our, you know, our U.S. senators and congressmen and congresswomen, you know, disputing at least six states as they rightly should, but where are we? Where do we stand as a nation? We’re calling out to God for divine intervention. I feel like my back is up against the Red Sea right now. We’re waiting for something to happen, some revelation to come forth that will part the waters and let truth to come forth.
As Grizwold reported, following his announcement that he was heading to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, Mastriano “used campaign funds to charter six buses to shuttle followers to Washington, D.C., and told them that he would speak o the Capitol steps.” Mastriano has claimed that he and his buses left when things got violent, but at least one of his riders was arrested for possession of a weapon and another appeared to respond to Mastriano’s call to stop “dithering” and take “decisive action,” tweeting, “Truth be known about storming the capitol . . . we were sick and tired of DITHERING!!!”
More recently, Mastriano appeared on the One America News Network’s “The Real Story” on March 29. “Everybody wants to talk to Sen. Doug Mastriano,” gushed host Natalie Harp, calling him a “hero” for his efforts to overturn the election results. Mastriano told Harp that among other things he is working to repeal no-excuse mail-in voting in Pennsylvania. He also talked about his efforts to pass a so-called “heartbeat” ban on abortion, calling it “the most important issue of our lifetimes.”
Mastriano’s embrace of right-wing conspiracy theories is not restricted to the election. In both of his appearances on “Up Front in the Prophetic,” Mastriano addressed what he called “this fake COVID crisis.” In July, he said, “If you want to wear your mask, that’s your business, but don’t be imposing your will and your lack of faith on others.” He portrayed defiance of mask restrictions as a Christian duty:
It’s very clear. John 8:36 says, “If Christ has set you free, you’re free indeed,” so why don’t we walk as free people? Why are we walking like a bunch of cowards here, going into the store, you know, going into the grocery store all crumbled over in fear about maybe getting yelled at eventually, you know, waiting for the shoe to drop. Walk in victory! And if somebody says,”Put on your mask,” you say, “I’m exempt,” and you are exempt.
“At what point do we reach the Boston Tea Party moment?” he asked viewers.
In November, regarding Pennsylvania’s restrictions on the size of Thanksgiving gatherings, he said, “I will not comply. I will not obey.” He urged Christians not to allow the governor or secretary of health to run their lives, telling them, “live as free people.”
Mastriano warned in July that Christians are “losing our country” by buying into the separation of church and state: “Like, anyone who says that, show me in the Constitution where it says it. It’s not in there.” Mastriano said, “The way it’s written by the federal Constitution, of course, is that the federal government cannot have any rules or restrictions upon churches, not the other way around.” He added, “We have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, so walk victoriously.”
Grizwold’s article, which is worth reading in its entirety, includes comments from religious-right leaders like Franklin Graham denying that Christian nationalism even exists in this country. Meanwhile, researchers and religious scholars continue to document the impact Christian nationalism has had on public attitudes and debate on everything from race to COVID-19 to U.S. foreign policy—and to the big lie promoted by Trump and his supporters that Trump had the 2020 presidential election stolen from him.
In her reporting for the New Yorker, Grizwold spoke with some of Mastriano’s constituents who “found Mastriano’s mix of Biblical references and warlike talk troubling,” and reported that some have become concerned about speaking out publicly as Mastriano’s fan base “came to include an increasing number of white nationalists and militia members.” One woman told Grizwold, “The farm behind me got their Biden sign wrapped around a dead cat.”