POLITICS

Videos Contradict State Lawmaker's Claim He Left Capitol While It Was 'Still Peaceful'

A community of online sleuths placed Pennsylvania GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano near the Capitol steps well after clashes with police began.

A Republican state senator who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 appears in videos and images that contradict his claims that he never breached police lines and left the area before violence broke out.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, whose campaign spent thousands on buses to ferry supporters to D.C. for the rally that led to the attack, said after the riot that he did not enter the Capitol, walk on its steps or go beyond police lines; and that he left the area with his wife “when it was apparent that this was no longer a peaceful protest.” He released a statement at the time condemning the violence and calling for those who broke the law to be prosecuted.

But in videos analyzed by members of the online “Sedition Hunters” community and posted on social media over the weekend, Mastriano and his wife appeared to be in a crowd as it breached a police line. Mastriano was wearing one of his campaign hats and a dark-green scarf on the day.

The video shows people moving forward as a man picks up and throws away the police barricades. Another image shows the couple on the northwest lawn.

In another clip, time-stamped at 1:59 p.m. in ProPublica’s database of Jan. 6 Parler videos, Mastriano and his wife appear to be walking just feet from the Capitol’s main steps.

According to a New York Times timeline, the mob reached the doors on the west side of the building at 2:10 p.m., though violent clashes with police had been taking place for more than an hour at that time. At 2:11, the mob broke into the building.

In an emailed statement that was also published to his website, Mastriano did not deny it was him in the footage, but insisted that he followed the directions of Capitol Police and respected police lines as he came upon them.

“Even disingenuous internet sleuths know that police lines did shift throughout the course of the day. I followed those lines as they existed,” Mastriano said.

Police lines typically moved, as seen in the video in question, when the crowd pushed them back, tore them down or simply walked straight past them.

Mastriano said the citizen investigators who targeted him were “angry partisans who are so blinded by hatred for all things Donald Trump that they are distorting facts to manipulate public opinion.”

Identifications made by these online communities have led to a number of FBI investigations and arrests.

Earlier this month, investigative journalists at PA Spotlight published audio from a Jan. 13 interview with Mastriano on a right-wing radio show. While downplaying his involvement, Mastriano gave a play-by-play of his movements around the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 and openly admitted to seeing multiple efforts by agitators to rattle police. He said he saw “agitators run over to the steps and start pushing police up the steps” before leaving.

He was later pictured in a Facebook image posted by former Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone, who wrote in another post that was later deleted: “We are storming the capitol. Our vanguard has broken thru the barricades. We will save this nation. Are u with me?”

Mastriano distanced himself from Saccone in the interview, claiming he saw him on his way out. “I don’t know him real well,” he said.

This month, Mastriano posed for a photo with another extremist, as first reported by HuffPost. He was pictured at a political event with Samuel Lazar, a militant Trump supporter whose photo is included on the FBI’s Capitol riot wanted list. He did not respond to a request for comment at the time of HuffPost’s first report.

Asked Tuesday why he’d associated with Lazar, who was filmed spraying mace toward police at the Capitol and later bragging about it, Mastriano told HuffPost he couldn’t vet every person he takes a photo with at an event.

“Why would you assume that every politician who takes a picture with someone at an event automatically knows who they are or agrees with what they believe?” he asked.

Though Lazar seems to have assumed a different name on Facebook, a mutual friend appears to have tagged him with Mastriano in a different image in November.

The senator condemned his follower’s actions when asked if he would. “Anyone who committed violence against law enforcement that day should be charged and held accountable,” he said.

Samuel Lazar, left, whose photo is included on the FBI's Capitol riot wanted list, poses with Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Ma
Samuel Lazar, left, whose photo is included on the FBI's Capitol riot wanted list, poses with Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) at a May 15 event.

In the months leading up to the attack, Mastriano repeatedly stoked the false stolen-election narrative and spread disinformation about the 2020 election. He boasted of numerous conversations with Trump about efforts to overturn the results, and visited the White House for one such discussion in November ― though he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to leave.

The senator also led a series of protests opposing COVID-19 mitigation strategies in his state last year.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the news organization PA Spotlight as Spotlight PA, which is a different outlet.