New Yorker profile positions Pa.’s Mastriano as icon of Christian nationalism | Tuesday Morning Coffee

May 11, 2021 7:21 am

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams.

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If you follow Pennsylvania politics, then you already know all about state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the central Pennsylvania Republican who’s an icon to both the reopening movement and those who subscribe to the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

This week, Mastriano, R-Franklin, who’s been widely mentioned as a 2022 candidate for governor, got his introduction to a national audience via a newly published New Yorker profile that positions him (not incorrectly) as a beacon for Christian nationalism, a belief system that “[centers] 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,” the piece’s author, Eliza Griswold, writes.

It’s already been widely reported, including by us, that Mastriano was in attendance at the January 6 rally where former President Donald Trump incited his followers to sack the U.S. Capitol, leading to the worst incident of domestic terrorism since the Civil War (prompting fruitless calls for his resignation). The Capital-Star (and other Pennsylvania news outlets) also has catalogued the array of hard-right causes Mastriano has embraced since winning election to the state Senate.

The piece explains — as only the New Yorker can — how Mastriano’s conservative Christian upbringing informed his military service (he’s a former Army colonel who served during the waning days of the Cold War and the first Gulf War), his later career in military intelligence, and his post-retirement move into elected politics.

“Our freedoms are being encroached,” Mastriano wrote to Griswold in an email, explaining his decision to run for office in 2019, “and the precious lives of babies are eliminated without concern, while free speech is under attack by Orwellian-like ideologies that are taking over our public institutions.”

Writing to GriswoldMastriano rejected the Christian nationalist label, telling her, “Is this a term you fabricated? What does it mean and where have I indicated that I am a Christian Nationalist?”

One anecdote, however, in the piece seems to particularly undergird Griswold’s conclusion:

“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.”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and Saccone at the U.S. Capitol (Facebook photo)

One section of Griswold’s profile – while familiar to Keystone State political observers — captures Mastriano in his element, and seems purpose-built to leave an indelible impression with a national readership:

“As lockdowns took hold, Mastriano railed against what he saw as the curtailment of God-given freedoms. “It says in John 8:36 that if Jesus set you free, you are free indeed,” he wrote to me. “This is why my motto is ‘Walk as Free People.’ ” On nightly Facebook fireside chats, he suggested that his viewers find new congregations if their pastors weren’t leading in-person worship services. He gained increasingly extreme followers; last June, at a gun-rights protest on the steps of the state capitol, he posed for pictures with white men in fatigues carrying AR-15s and several others in Hawaiian shirts, a hallmark of the Boogaloo Bois, a white-nationalist militia. In July, Mastriano attended a rally on the Gettysburg battlefield, where militia members gathered in response to a hoax circulated on social media that Antifa was going to topple Confederate statues. “A lot of people here just keeping an eye on stuff,” he said. “Americans doing American things. Isn’t that beautiful?”

While Mastriano’s tactics are undoubtedly popular with a certain segment of the GOP base, and have netted him a huge following on social media, it’s not immediately clear that they’re helping whatever political ambitions he now harbors. But nor are they necessarily harming him.

A March 17 poll by GOP-friendly Susquehanna Polling & Research in Harrisburg showed former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, of Hazleton (a Trumpian stalwart), taking 20 percent support among GOP primary voters, compared to Mastriano’s 11 percent. One important — and enormous — caveat — six in 10 respondents to the poll said they were undecided, effectively rendering the race for the nomination wide open.

Barletta is inching closer and closer toward a run for the top spot, forming a political action committee to help him distinguish himself in what is becoming an increasingly crowded field of GOP hopefuls looking to succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who will be term-limited out of office next year.

Trump campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani testifies before a Pa. Senate panel on Wednesday, 11/25/20 (screen capture)

Which brings us back to Mastriano and his own ambitions. He’ll be the beneficiary of a fund-raiser hosted by … wait for it … embattled former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, this Saturday in Chambersburg, according to WHTM-TV in Harrisburg. Admission for the event runs $50 to $500, the station reported.

According to the station, Mastriano’s campaign advertised the event on its Facebook page, and during a recent local radio interview, Mastriano officially confirmed it. More astute readers will recall that Giuliani, who was recently raided by the FBI, was the marquee guest at a sham Senate hearing last November, where he spread all manner of conspiratorial nonsense about the election.

“We’re blessed, and we’re excited,” Mastriano said during the radio broadcast, WHTM-TV reported. “He’s a good man. He’s ‘America’s mayor.’” He added, “He [Giuliani]’s gonna talk about me, and a potential run for statewide office.”

The same changes rocking the Republican Party nationally are playing out at the micro level here in Pennsylvania. Party leaders in the Keystone State face the same choices about the future of the state party as their colleagues on Capitol Hill.

The 2022 primaries for governor and U.S. Senate will speak volumes about which path the Pennsylvania GOP chooses to take.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
As vaccination rates creep upwards and businesses reopen, Republican lawmakers have begun to offer changes to the state’s system for paying out unemployment benefits, Stephen Caruso reports.

The deadline to file your state and federal personal income taxes is just a week away. And if you’re still procrastinating, a new online tool offered by the state can help you out. New Capital-Star Staff Reporter Marley Parish has the details.

Will Philly NAACP President Rodney Muhammad, who made national headlines for sharing an anti-Semitic meme, run for another term at the top during upcoming leadership elections? He’s not saying, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

Electric vehicle expansion could help the state meet its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report, citing a new study.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a Westminster College political scientist says the increasingly fraught U.S. Supreme Court might have something to learn from the way states select their judges (Not so fast, Pennsylvania.). And an investment in homecare is an investment in healthy families & communities, a union worker and single mom from Harrisburg writes.

The Inquirer
 explains why Philly DA Larry Krasner has progressives in the unusual position of defending a controversial incumbent.
The White House has launched its fund to distrubute hundreds of millions of dollars to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, the Post-Gazette reports.
Area restaurants are reducing their hours to deal with a hiring crisisPennLive reports.
Pennsylvanians are gambling in record numbersWHTM-TV in Harrisburg reports.
Gov. Tom Wolf continues to face legislative pressure to reopen the state before the Memorial Day weekend, the Morning Call reports.
Today is the deadline to request a mail-in ballot, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Dozens of York County voters received the wrong mail-in ballot for the May 18 primary, the York Daily Record reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Speaking to WHYY-FM, Philly’s growing Latino communities consider the country’s future.
WITF-FM profiles the couple pushing to get Latino candidates elected across the state this campaign season.
GoErie catalogues the financial travails of the candidates for Erie County executive.
The Observer-Reporter explains the May 18 ballot questions to its readers.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., will talk infrastructure with President Joe Biden during a White House meeting on Thursday, PoliticsPA reports. takes a look at states’ efforts to require retailers to take cash as a way to level the economic playing field.  
People are returning to the U.S. Capitol — not all of them are wearing masks, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 1 p.m. today. Here’s a look at the day’s committee and event schedule.
9 a.m., Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh: House Democratic Policy Committee
9:30 am., Capitol Plaza (Between Main Capitol & Ryan Building): This year’s Capitol Hunger Garden gets dedicated
9:30 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Finance Committee
10 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Environmental Resources & Energy, Local Government committees
10:30 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Communications & Technology Committee
11 a.m, Friedman Jewish Community Center, Kingston: House Finance Committee Subcommittee on Tax Modernization and Reform
12:30 p.m., Senate Chamber: Senate State Government Committee
Off the Floor, Senate Chamber: Senate Rules Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Doug Mastriano
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Steve Santarsiero
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. John Gordner
Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out a preposterous $7,500.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today.

In Case You Were Wondering …
There were nine mass shootings in the United States over the weekend, including a Mothers Day shooting in Colorado, Refinery29 reports. Congress still has done exactly nothing.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Lord Huron that’s caught my ear of late. It’s ‘Not Dead Yet.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Nashville’s Pekka Rinne made 30 saves as the Predators blanked the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0 on Monday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.