Cancel Culture: The Voter Intimidation Tactic of Pennsylvania Governor’s Race

Cancel Culture: The Voter Intimidation Tactic of Pennsylvania Governor’s Race
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano gives a victory speech at his election-night party at The Orchards in Chambersburg, Pennsylvaniaon on May 17, 2022. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Beth Brelje
News Analysis

Boycotts, threats of rioting, and vile reputation-smearing rhetoric mark a campaign season in Pennsylvania where these intimidation tactics are being used by the left in the governor’s race, with the help of legacy media.

In the gubernatorial campaign between Republican state senator Doug Mastriano and attorney general and Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, media fans the flames of guerilla tactics with supporters as collateral damage.

For example, in June, local media outlet Billy Penn reported that members of the Martin family, which founded Martin’s Potato Rolls, donated to Mastriano’s campaign.

New York Times columnist Kenji López-Alt vowed on Instagram to stop eating the rolls and patronizing businesses using them because Mastriano attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington and opposes abortion.

Minnesota-based mathematician Joe Rosenthal called Mastriano a far-right, anti-Semite, opposed to mask mandates and critical race theory.

“Unless Martin’s takes sufficient action to remedy this situation, I will never support them or their products on any of my platforms ever again,” Rosenthal posted.

Media Bakes Up Bun Boycott

With two Instagram posts from people who don’t live in Pennsylvania, the national media had a boycott story. “Martin’s potato rolls face boycott over owner’s politics,” wrote the Washington Post. “Bay area chefs ditching burger buns over right-wing politics,” San Francisco Chronicle wrote. “Martin’s Famous Potato Rolls family wants Trump stooge as Pennsylvania governor,” MSNBC reported. Many more reports appeared around the nation in large and small news outlets, specialty, and trade outlets.

The company provided a statement.

“Like the rest of the country, Martin’s employees, business partners, and customers hold to a diverse range of personal opinions, beliefs, and values. Although the stockholders who own the company are members of the same family, they also hold a wide range of views. For these reasons, the company, as a matter of policy, does not support any particular candidate or party.”

 Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke in Pittsburgh about his office's continued commitment to protect abortion access for women. July 14, 2022. (Commonwealth Media Service)
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke in Pittsburgh about his office's continued commitment to protect abortion access for women. July 14, 2022. (Commonwealth Media Service)

Shapiro benefited from his opponent being attacked, but when asked about it, he provided a statement.

“I’m not for boycotting a Pennsylvania business that supports hundreds of Pennsylvania jobs,” Shapiro told the Morning Call in an emailed statement, adding that the Martin family runs a private company and has the right to support whoever they want.

Intimidation Tactics

“What we're seeing with the left is nothing more than a communist or even a fascist tactic of control,” Christian Gomez, research project manager at The John Birch Society told The Epoch Times. He called it Marxist mind control. “If you perpetuate a lie often enough, whether it's about a candidate for governor in Pennsylvania or Trump, it gets in people's psyche, and they start to believe it.” If you ask a voter how they know a candidate is an anti-Semite or racist, they wouldn't be able to identify a reason, Gomez said, but because they've heard it repeated in the news, they start to believe it.

“It is an intimidation tactic and that's what collectivists all do.”

Gomez described how businesses in Nazi Germany were required to fly a red flag with a swastika. “If you didn't have it up, people would question your loyalty to the state. Even if you're not anti-Nazi—you just forgot to put it up—someone could rat on you and say, this person doesn't believe in the government,” Gomez said. “That's kind of what we're seeing today. Anyone who doesn't conform to the woke culture immediately, at the beat of these collectivists, is a target.”

Flick Flack

Film producer Ralph Cochran and his team ran into controversy when they premiered the film "The Return of the American Patriot: The Rise of Pennsylvania" which features Mastriano and Steve Turley, author and host of Turley Talks on YouTube with nearly 900,000 subscribers.

Turley describes the film as a story of how ordinary Americans rose up to take on COVID mandates, woke school boards, and election integrity.

“It's a very inspirational story of ordinary people, mostly moms actually, actively pushing back against the political class,” Turley told The Epoch Times. “You would think that anyone who supported democracy would be interested in a film like this.”

The premiere was scheduled for July 16 at Penn Cinema IMAX theater in Lancaster. Within hours of opening advance ticket sales, they sold out all 400 tickets. Emails show that while arranging the contract, Cochran provided the theater with the trailer and verified the content would be acceptable. The theater assured Cochran the content was fine. But on July 7, the cinema sent Cochran an email canceling the event.

“I am getting dramatic push back from our audience about hosting you at our theater next week,” wrote Penn Ketchum of Penn Cinema. “I had thought this was basically an anti-Wolf story about the government shut down but now I am seeing a lot of information about a broader agenda/world view. For example, the ‘nationalist populist right’ that I see on the Turley website is a serious trigger for my market, even here in conservative Lancaster County.”

Facebook posts threatened that Antifa planned to bring busloads of members and possibly riot.

The theater received complaints from customers. “I am not willing to put these relationships at risk for your event,” Ketchum wrote.

They scrambled to find a new venue for the same date and got a contract with the Wyndham Lancaster Resort in Lancaster, with more seating.

But more threats came in and on July 10, Cochran got an email from the resort’s attorney canceling the event.

“Since scheduling the screening, the Wyndham Lancaster has received numerous threats that, if the screening is held, there will be rioting, property damage, and potentially physical violence. Indeed, as you noted in an email that you sent to my client this morning, there is a ‘woke mob’ that is ‘gathering to’ harass my Client and to ‘harass employees too,’” attorney Jason Confair wrote. “I am confident you can appreciate and respect the virtually incalculable liability that may Client could face if there is rioting or physical violence at the screening. Candidly, it could ruin my Client's business–and destroy hundreds of well-paying local jobs in the process. It is simply not a risk that my Client can afford to take, which is why I have insisted that the screening be cancelled.”

 After several moves, the film premiere of “The Return of the American Patriot: The Rise of Pennsylvania,” was held at Christ Community Church in Camp Hill, Penn. July 16, 2022. Doug Mastriano was in attendance. (Courtesy Proactive Strategies)
After several moves, the film premiere of “The Return of the American Patriot: The Rise of Pennsylvania,” was held at Christ Community Church in Camp Hill, Penn. July 16, 2022. Doug Mastriano was in attendance. (Courtesy Proactive Strategies)

With six days to the premiere, now 800 tickets sold, and threats shading the film's reputation, it would be harder to find a venue.

The third location was kept under wraps. It was even bigger; Christ Community Church in Camp Hill, that seats that seats 1,200, and quickly sold out. The location was revealed by local media. Six protesters showed up wearing COVID masks.

Repressive Tolerance

“What makes the left such a threat today is that they’re so idiotically simple-minded,” Turley said.
 Steve Turley, author, and host of Turley Talks on YouTube. (Courtesy Turley Talks)
Steve Turley, author, and host of Turley Talks on YouTube. (Courtesy Turley Talks)

They use “repressive tolerance,” he explains: “There are oppressors and the oppressed. Anything the oppressed advocate for or want, needs to be championed by those on the side of justice. Everything the oppressor stands for needs to be clamped down on and destroyed,” Turley said.

And they operate using “totalizing categories,” he says, that is, all-or-nothing thinking. “You are either for women or you're a misogynist. You're either for minorities or you're a racist. There is no grey area. And that makes things simple.

“Here's how it works. They’re not trying to cancel Mastriano because he's a white supremacist or associated with white supremacists. [He’s not] He is [called] a white supremacist because they want to cancel him,” Turley said. “The canceling comes first. That’s key. The need to cancel—the need to oppress the oppressor—comes first. Then you find an excuse afterward. And the excuse they come up with is generally in line with their totalizing categories. You know, he’s a sexist, he’s a racist.”

They can't cancel a virtuous grandmother, for example, he says. They must cancel the boogeyman or a horrible person. So they call sweet grandma a white supremacist.

“That's the only way they’re going to get support.”

“They called us white supremacists. Our director is black. My wife is Japanese. My kids consider themselves Asian, but I'm somehow a white supremacist,” Turley said. “These are the same people who thought Larry Elder was a white supremacist or Winsome Sears was a white supremacist, or they think Rachel Levine is actually a woman. This is what you get when people are redefining terms in relation to their political agenda. And the political agenda is: to silence, first and foremost.”

Alone, the tactic isn’t effective.

“What they need are cowards. That's when it becomes effective,” Turley said. “That's what this the cinema and the Wyndham hotel demonstrated. Cowardice. They caved to these cry bullies who are a minority. When all was said and done, with all the coverage this got—six protesters showed up.”

Religion as a Cancelation Tool

Shapiro recently distributed a press release promoting a segment where he appeared on MSNBC to discuss a Huffington Post piece about Mastriano paying $5,000 for advertising on Gab, a social media platform that describes itself as “Freedom of Speech Software.”

Robert Bowers, the accused shooter in the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, used Gab and posted antisemitic content. He is accused of killing 11 people. His case has not yet gone to trial.

Shapiro, who is Jewish, connects Gab users, and by extension, Mastriano and his supporters, to antisemitism and white supremacy.

“A haven for white supremacists, extremists, and anti-Semites—Gab empowered the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter to spread his hate online before murdering 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh. As we speak, anyone that creates a Gab account will automatically follow Doug Mastriano—because he paid thousands of dollars to do it. Join Pittsburghers in calling out this hatred,” Shapiro posted on his Facebook page above a video of a July 21 press conference in which Shapiro and other Democrats linked Gab, Mastriano, and his supporters to Bowers’ ideology.

The Epoch Times asked Shapiro's campaign for specific examples of Mastriano himself being antisemitic. It offered regular, unrelated social media campaign posts from Mastriano with antisemitic comments written by members of the public underneath. But some of Shapiro's own social media posts also have unsavory public comments underneath.

"Our opponent and his allies have fully embraced the tactics of the far left," a Mastriano campaign spokesperson told The Epoch Times. "From boycotts to censorship to partisan smears, there is nothing they won't do in pursuit of power. This cynical campaign proves that Pennsylvania needs a change in leadership, and Senator Doug Mastriano is exactly the leader that the Commonwealth needs to return the power to the people."

An Escalating Trend

Campaign tactics reveal what kind of governor a candidate will be, Gomez said.

“If someone's willing [to use such tactics] to obtain office, what are they willing to do when they're in office, or to stay in office? I would be afraid, if I was a resident of Pennsylvania, at the prospect of Josh Shapiro becoming the governor of the state. I would be concerned about victory of an individual who will use those tactics. If he wins, that will send a message that what was done during the campaign is perfectly acceptable. And if that's acceptable, where do we go, next? If these tactics keep getting employed, no individual will be free or safe, because anyone who doesn’t speak in favor of the woke, will become a target.”

Garrett Bess, vice president, at Heritage Action for America, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says intimidation tactics are on the rise.

“Unfortunately, it's an escalating trend everywhere. It's not just for elected officials. We've seen recently with the conservative Supreme Court justices, where their homes are picketed, and if they visit an establishment or go to the store, there’s a group here in D.C. that basically puts out a bounty for the whereabouts of Supreme Court justices with the sole intent of disrupting their lives,” Bess told The Epoch Times.

“The person who is the object of the intimidation tactics has to be resolute, but it also takes people that agree with him, being resolute and standing with them and being willing to also have their name added to whatever hit-list the left has,” Bess said. “I think the solution must be even broader than the people that agree with each other standing up. It must be people that perhaps disagree, that stand up and say, ‘This is not the way that we are going to govern ourselves.’ Because our system is reliant on self-government. To the degree that we decide that we're no longer going to conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of self-government, we're going to see continuous, escalating, disruptive behavior.

Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]