Ever since photos showed State Sen. Doug Mastriano at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that devolved into the deadly Capitol riot, the Franklin County Republican has said he did not cross police lines and left when the scene started to turn violent.
But video recently uncovered by amateur online sleuths appears to show that Mastriano — widely seen as a leading Republican contender for Pennsylvania governor in 2022 — stuck around longer and advanced closer to the Capitol building than he has previously acknowledged.
The footage appears to depict Mastriano — wearing a ball cap and a green scarf — and his wife among a crowd passing through breached barricades set up by Capitol Police to keep rioters at bay. A man in the frame is seen dragging the barriers aside and tossing them out of the way.
Other images from moments before that scene show the couple moving from the west side of the building — after police lines there had been breached — across the Capitol lawn toward the northeast corner with a mob that would eventually break down the barriers there, too.
The photos and video had been shared previously on social media, but it wasn’t until the past weekend that the online community that has worked to identify riot participants first flagged Mastriano in the footage. The left-leaning watchdog group Pennsylvania Spotlight reported those findings on Monday.
Mastriano on Tuesday dismissed those who sought to aim a spotlight on him as “angry partisans” so “blinded by their hatred for all things Donald Trump” that they are twisting the truth in order to incriminate him.
“They are foot soldiers of the ruling elite and should be dismissed,” he said in a statement, adding: “Even disingenuous internet sleuths know that the police lines did shift throughout the course of the day.”
Several identifications first made by those same online detectives have prompted FBI investigations that have led to the arrests of some of the more than 400 defendants facing charges in connection with the riot.
In February, the sleuthing community picked Philadelphia Proud Boys president Zach Rehl out of a photo of a crowd that had broken into the Capitol office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.). The FBI has since charged Rehl and three other Proud Boys leaders with conspiracy, obstruction of Congress, and destruction of government property.
No footage has surfaced that shows Mastriano inside the Capitol building or directly sparring with police, unlike most of those who have been charged.
He has made no secret of his presence in Washington on Jan. 6 — or his sympathy toward the stolen election lies that motivated many rioters.
A retired military colonel elected to the state Senate in 2019, Mastriano was a little-known figure in Pennsylvania politics until last year, when his frequent criticism of Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions and his full embrace of Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud significantly advanced his profile.
He hosted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani at a raucous November state Senate hearing in Gettysburg and urged U.S. lawmakers to reject Pennsylvania’s election results — moves that scored him an invitation to the White House to meet with Trump. (Their introduction was interrupted after staffers there informed Mastriano he had tested positive for the coronavirus.)
In the run-up to Jan. 6, Mastriano used more than $3,000 in campaign cash to charter buses to ferry Trump supporters to Washington. And once there, he posed for a photo with Rick Saccone, a former state lawmaker from Allegheny County who in another, now-deleted, Facebook post wrote: “We are storming the Capitol.”
“Our vanguard has broken thru the barricades,” it read. “We will save this nation. Are u with me?”
For his part, Mastriano issued a statement shortly after the Jan. 6 attack saying that he did not condone the violence and that those who violated the law should be prosecuted.
In a Jan. 12 radio interview with a Franklin County conservative talk-radio station, he offered a more detailed account of his movements among the mob.
Mastriano said that when he arrived at the “mall part” of Capitol Hill, he asked Capitol Police officers for directions.
“Not one of them says, ‘Hey, you know what? We think something bad’s gonna happen today. Maybe you should go,’” Mastriano said. The officers directed Mastriano to the other side of the building, he said.
“As we’re making our way around the back side of the building … we start noticing agitators, kind of getting in the face of the police and jiggling the bicycle rack barricade they use,” Mastriano recalled. “We’re kind of like, ‘This is not our crowd.’”
When Mastriano got to the east side of the Capitol, he said, he was standing about 200 feet from the Capitol steps when he saw more “agitators” start pushing police up the steps. “I don’t think there was any breach on that side,” he said. “We didn’t stay to find out.”
In his statement Tuesday, Mastriano said he followed directions given by Capitol Police and respected the police lines as they “shifted” throughout the day. Though he did not explain what he meant by “shifted,” the newly uncovered footage shows Mastriano in a crowd as police retreat and some rioters drag barricades out of the way.
It remains to be seen whether that apparent contradiction will have any impact on Mastriano’s political future.
Calls from Democrats in Harrisburg for Mastriano to resign over his presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 have seemingly had little effect. And in the months since, he has courted support from those who continue to propagate lies about a stolen election, including Giuliani, who this month headlined a fund-raiser Mastriano hosted in Chambersburg. The senator is also slated to appear at a conference organized by QAnon adherents next month.
In an interview with a local TV station last week Mastriano said Trump has asked him to run for Pennsylvania governor in 2022. A Trump spokesperson has since responded, saying that the former president “has not made any endorsement or commitments yet” in the race.