Prophets, 'Pizzagaters' and an Oath Keeper: A field guide to Doug Mastriano World
It’s now September — that time of year when political candidates start changing their colors weeks ahead of the autumn leaves. None more so than Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who in his right-wing media hits — the Christian nationalist continues to shun mainstream outlets, with the help of his goon squad — has tried to pooh-pooh the notion that he’s a dangerous extremist. This despite the fact that new evidence of his extremism — his fetish for the Confederacy, for example — keeps popping up.
Rather than relying on Mastriano’s words, maybe it’s time to judge the retired Army colonel by the company he keeps. Let’s take stock of the rogues’ gallery of self-styled prophets, election deniers and militia types that Mastriano chooses to associate with, and ask yourself if the founding state of American democracy has ever seen a campaign quite like this.
Here (in alphabetical order) is a brief field guide to a few of the key players in Mastriano World:
Abby Abildness: The state director of the Pennsylvania Congressional Prayer Caucus and director of the Global Apostolic Prayer Network, Abildness is a key state leader in the Christian nationalist movement that loosely affiliates under the banner of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) a group that seeks extremist Christian domination over government. She’s also a lobbyist in Harrisburg, where she’s forged ties with key 2020 election deniers like State Sen. Cris Dush and Mastriano. Mastriano also was filmed hugging Abildness at a July event built around a revisionist Christian history of William Penn and Pennsylvania’s founding.
Grant Clarkson: A past congressional intern and GOP legislative assistant in Harrisburg, Clarkson was identified by NBC News’ Ryan J. Reilly as part of the phalanx of campaign bodyguards that kept journalists away from Mastriano’s pre-primary rally in Bucks County in May. NBC also reported that Clarkson was photographed on the U.S. Capitol grounds at the height of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, when “he appeared to smile and laugh as rioters smashed media equipment on Capitol grounds.”
Jenna Ellis: The senior legal adviser to the Mastriano campaign and fierce defender of the candidate on Twitter, Ellis was a key attorney for Donald Trump as he sought to overturn President Biden’s 2020 election victory. A former traffic court lawyer and the author of a self-published book that claims that the U.S. Constitution can only be interpreted through the Bible, Ellis drafted two memos insisting that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn Biden’s election victory. Her 2020 efforts are under scrutiny in several ongoing investigations, including a Georgia probe of election tampering where she has been ordered to testify.
James Emery: Another cog in Mastriano’s team of bodyguards from the May Bucks County rally, Emery is a member of the Elizabethtown Area School Board in central Pennsylvania and a licensed minister affiliated with that community’s LifeGate church, a congregation that has advocated for Christians to play a greater role in government. Investigative journalist Carter Walker of Lancaster’s LNP news organization has identified the LifeGate congregation as the nexus for several members of Mastriano’s security team.
Sean Feucht: The musical entertainment at Mastriano’s primary victory party in Chambersburg in May, the pro-Trump, anti-vaccine Christian rock star has emerged as the musical voice of the Ultra-MAGA movement in 2022. A growing political force who prayed in D.C. with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert upon learning the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, Feucht has become a multimillionaire in the post-COVID era, according to Rolling Stone, which reported on his glitzy mansions in Southern California and Montana.
Michael Flynn: Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser — who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but was pardoned by the 45th president shortly before the Jan. 6 insurrection — hails from the same military intelligence world as Mastriano and has been a critical backer of his campaign. Flynn — who has been tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement — is slated to return to Pennsylvania next month for his controversial “ReAwaken America” tour. Like Mastriano himself, Flynn refused to answer investigators’ questions about his involvement in the run-up to Jan. 6.
Francine and Allen Fosdick: Self-described prophets and promoters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the Fosdicks were the organizers of the two-day far-right Christian event called “Patriots Arise for God and Country” in Gettysburg this April. Mastriano, whose state senatorial district includes the historic Civil War battlefield, was a speaker at the event, where the couple presented him with a “Sword of David.” That confab also featured 9/11 conspiracy theories and a video claiming the world is experiencing a “great awakening” that will expose “ritual child sacrifice” and a “global satanic blood cult.”
Julie Green: Another self-anointed prophet, Green — the head of Julie Green Ministries — has claimed she has “a special relationship” with Mastriano and has foreseen that a GOP victory in November will cleanse Pennsylvania of corruption. Mastriano has invited Green to give the opening prayer at a campaign event and shared her prophecies on social media. According to a report by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, Green has said “that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ‘loves to drink the little children’s blood’; the government is conducting ‘human sacrifices’ to stay in power; and President Joe Biden is secretly dead and an ‘actor’ is playing him.”
Vishal Jetnarayan: Mastriano’s campaign manager — utterly unknown to veterans of Pennsylvania Republican politics — describes himself as (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) a prophet, active in two Chambersburg churches. He claims that he speaks directly with God and, according to a new report by WHYY’s Katie Meyer that dropped Thursday, has self-published books advising others on how they can do the same. She reported that Jetnarayan often emcees Mastriano’s events and is a booster of Green, his fellow prophet.
Sam Lazar: A 37-year-old right-wing political agitator from Lancaster County, Lazar appeared at Mastriano rallies and was photographed with the candidate even as Justice Department investigators and online sleuths honed in on Lazar’s participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection. (He’d posted about his involvement on Facebook, writing: “There’s a time for war. Our constitution allows us to abolish our [government] and install a new one in [its] place” and bragging of clashing with police while wearing face paint.) He was arrested and jailed in 2021 on charges of assaulting officers.
Mike Lindell: The notorious “My Pillow” mogul who re-invented himself during the latter portion of the Trump era as an obsessive backer of the former president’s Big Lie about rigged voting machines and 2020 election fraud, Lindell has also been a major booster of the Mastriano campaign, offering an early endorsement of the Pennsylvanian.
Scott Nagle: Nagle has been identified by LNP’s Walker, through interviews and a photograph posted to Facebook, as a member of Mastriano’s team of bodyguards. He was also, according to Walker’s report, listed as the Lancaster County leader of the radical group the Oath Keepers until January of this year. The leaders of the Oath Keepers, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, are currently facing federal sedition charges for their role in Jan. 6. Nagle has reportedly been photographed with Mastriano on several occasions.
Jeremy Oliver: WHYY’s Meyer reports that the Mastriano campaign has paid $82,500 to Oliver’s California-based Onslaught Media Group, and that Oliver — a former producer with the far-right One America News Network — has been appearing at Mastriano campaign events as a videographer. Meyer writes that Oliver has boosted the QAnon conspiracy theory on the site Gab — under fire for its links to antisemitism — and also posts frequently on Trump’s Truth Social site about theories such as Chinese hacking of U.S. voting machines.
Ivan Raiklin: A veteran Army intelligence officer, former Green Beret, and lawyer from Virginia, Raiklin emerged in late 2020 as a leader of Trump’s election-denial effort — writing the “Operation Pence Card” memo urging the then-vice president to undo Biden’s victory — and continues to lobby for Biden’s electors to be retroactively decertified. He showed up at Mastriano’s Chambersburg victory party in May, where he filmed a congratulatory video with the candidate and blurted out “20 electoral votes,” an apparent reference to decertifying the 2020 Pennsylvania result.
Toni Shuppe: The co-founder and CEO of Audit The Vote PA — a group dedicated to overturning the 2020 election results based on Trump’s Big Lie — Shuppe has emerged as a key supporter of Mastriano, filming an early endorsement video and appearing with the candidate at rallies. There has been speculation that Mastriano is considering appointing Shuppe as secretary of state to oversee Pennsylvania’s elections. According to a report this week by Media Matters, Shuppe has claimed the Pizzagate hoax “is 100% real” and praised QAnon as “a very valuable resource.”
Andrew Torba: Mastriano’s connection with the founder of the right-wing social media platform Gab erupted in controversy this summer when it was revealed his campaign had paid $5,000 to the site to boost Mastriano’s profile there. The candidate also sat down for an interview with Torba and said, “Thank God for what you’ve done.” Torba’s history of anti-Jewish remarks on Gab were made public in 2018 after the gunman who murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue posted his manifesto there.
Steve Turley: A Delaware resident, Turley produced and screened the recent documentary called “Return of the American Patriot: The Rise of Pennsylvania” that cast a positive light on the Mastriano campaign as a revolution building on the Trumpist political movement. A Christian nationalist podcaster, Turley rails for the destruction of multiculturalism and insists the future of America is “evangelical, Mormon, and Amish.”
— Will Bunch is national columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.