GOP candidate for Alloway's state Senate seat accused of spreading Islamophobia
The Republican nominee hoping to replace former state Sen. Richard Alloway has joined the ranks of state and federal politicians called out for untrue and Islamophobic rhetoric.
Doug Mastriano, a retired U.S. Army colonel and military historian, is running in the special election for the 33rd Senate District. His campaign Facebook page with 27,000 followers also features a plethora of content now facing criticism.
"Islam wants to kill gay rights, Judaism, Christianity and pacifism," reads one of several posts on his page targeting Muslims.
Such xenophobic sentiments skyrocketed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and have been normalized under President Donald Trump's administration, said Jacob Bender, executive director of the Philadelphia Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"There's clearly been an unleashing of hidden thoughts of racism," Bender said. "A lot of people in this country who harbored racial feelings have almost been given permission because the president has voiced similar expressions."
In another Facebook post, Mastriano attacked U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Muslim who has been made a political target by many Republicans because of her criticisms of Israel and its U.S. lobbying arm.
He's also shared a photo that appears to show two dark-skinned men grinning during the Notre Dame cathedral fire last month with the caption, "Something wicked this way comes."
Mastriano didn't respond to multiple inquiries for comment.
Many of the posts are no longer on his page, but social media users took screenshots, including his opponent Sarah Hammond, a Democrat who last year failed to oust state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover.
“You're saying that you believe your God and your religion stand for the persecution of people who don’t believe in the same things you do,” Hammond said. “My God takes care of everyone.”
Mastriano's story is becoming more common in politics. Last year, the civil rights group Muslim Advocates released a report including names of 80 candidates for federal, state and local office who have expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, Politico reported.
Tense Christian-Muslim relations also are still fresh in the state General Assembly.
In March, on the day the House swore in its first female Muslim lawmaker, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, delivered a prayer praising Trump for his stance on Israel and called upon lawmakers to kneel and "confess, Jesus, that you are Lord."
Rep. Movita Johnson Harrell, D-Philadelphia, called the prayer offensive, and many Democrats voiced similar concerns. A video of the prayer also garnered national headlines and went viral.
G. Terry Madonna, director for the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, attributed the increase in these incidents not only to Trump's rhetoric, but also to social media's ability to amplify bigoted opinions.
"There isn't any doubt this is becoming more common as we become more polarized and these issues become more intense," Madonna said. "I think Trump has emboldened people to expand their rhetoric. But I think that's the nature of social media, too. It was heading in that direction anyway."
As for whether Mastriano's rhetoric will help him on the campaign trial — "maybe," but that will depend who his audience is, Madonna added.
In 2012, Alloway, a Republican, defeated his Democratic opponent with 71% of the vote. The district hasn't had a Democratic representative since 1940.
Like Hammond, both the state and county Democrats made sure to amplify their own message to voters.
Chad Baker, chairman of the York County Democratic Party, condemned Mastriano's posts, adding the Republican party should vocally oppose the candidate like they did with York County Commissioner candidate Steve Chronister last week.
"In a day and age of vitriol and hatred, the posts made by Mr. Mastriano are thoroughly inappropriate and ignorant," Baker said. "As a candidate for office, a person should be held to a higher standard, and thorough vetting of candidates should be something a campaign does not take lightly."
Brandon Cwalina, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, echoed Baker's remarks, adding, "There is absolutely no place for bigots in Pennsylvania, let alone in our Legislature."
Neither the county nor state Republican Party responded to multiple inquiries for comment about the candidate's social media posts.
In a March news release, state GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio called Mastriano "the kind of conservative candidate that reflects the values of south-central Pennsylvania and will be a key asset in helping advance the Republican agenda in Harrisburg."
Mastriano also has been criticized for misleading Facebook posts, including pushing the debunked claim live babies are being executed and alluding to the "birther" conspiracy that questioned former President Barack Obama's natural U.S. citizenship.
Mastriano — who last year unsuccessfully ran for the state's 13th U.S. House District — was nominated by the Republican party in March to replace Alloway, who retired mid-term in February to pursue other opportunities.
The 33rd Senate District includes Hanover and West Manheim and Penn townships. It also includes all of Adams County and parts of Franklin County.
As a special election, all registered voters — including independents — can participate on May 21. The election will serve as a general election for the race and will dictate who will be Alloway's successor.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.