In this screengrab posted by an online account that's been identifying people present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams), highlighted in a yellow box, appears to walk with a group of demonstrators parallel to the east steps of the Capitol building.
Sam Dunklau is the Capitol Bureau Chief for WITF. He previously covered Illinois state government for NPR member station WUIS in Springfield, IL.
Since 2015, Sam has been floating around the radio airwaves as a reporter, disc jockey, and station manager. He grew up in the small midwestern town of Paw Paw, Illinois and is a proud graduate of Augustana College.
(Harrisburg) –– Experts say Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams) is unlikely to face consequences for his actions at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump invaded the building to try to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election as president.
His involvement is receiving scrutiny as newly released video appears to show him walking through police lines with a crowd of people and near the Capitol steps on the east side of the building. Several social media accounts that are reviewing videos to try to identify people at the Capitol that day said they identified Mastriano in both videos based on the hat, scarf and bag he was wearing.
Here are both videos:
Mastriano released a statement on his Senate website earlier this week reaffirming his attendance at the Rally for Trump and subsequent march, but insists he followed the law in doing so. The state senator criticized the people identifying him in the videos, but did not dispute their findings. Mastriano has not responded to a WITF request for additional comment.
“I followed the directions of the Capitol Police and respected all police lines as I came upon them,” he said. “Even disingenuous internet sleuths know that police lines did shift throughout the course of the day. I followed those lines as they existed.”
That appeared to contradict an earlier statement in which Mastriano, referring to himself and his wife, said “at no point did we enter the Capitol building, walk on the Capitol steps or go beyond police lines.” The GOP lawmaker condemned the day’s violence in that statement.
A video shared by Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly shows demonstrators pulling metal barricade fencing away from Capitol Police officers and tossing it away moments before a man Reilly identifies as Mastriano walks through the previous police line with a crowd.
It’s not clear whether Mastriano might have broken any laws. The First Amendment generally protects protests, but there’s some grey area if a person crosses police lines or tries to harm anyone. District of Columbia law allows police to set up barricades “for the safety of the demonstrators,” but prohibits their use to strictly prevent a protest.
However, Temple University legal professor Laura Little said that doesn’t apply to Mastriano’s rally and demonstration activities.
“Nothing about the facts that have been presented to me show that he acted as a legislator,” Little said. “It appears he was acting as a private citizen.”
Politically, Mastriano has so far faced no public consequence. State Senate Republicans and the Pennsylvania Republican Party haven’t commented on the newly released footage — despite multiple requests for comments over the last several days. Adams County Republican Committee Communication Coordinator Walt Tuchalski said he had not seen the videos as of Friday afternoon, but added Mastriano told him and others that he left once he “learned what was happening” in and around the Capitol area.
Tuchalski said the state senator had contracted charter buses to carry Save America Rally participants to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, and used those buses to leave the area with that group.
“I can’t verify where he was [at the U.S. Capitol], but I never thought to ask,” Tuchalski said.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has renewed its calls for the state Senate to remove Mastriano from office. But earlier this year, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) said the Senate wouldn’t take action because Mastriano had assured him he did not take part in any “unlawful activities.”
“Absent facts to the contrary, the Senate has no cause to act,” Corman said in a statement.
Plus, being there on Jan. 6th may actually help Mastriano with some voters if he runs for governor. Penn State Harrisburg public policy and administration professor Dan Mallinson said that’s because some Republicans believe, without evidence, that left-wing agitators caused the violence.
“As long as he wasn’t in the building, but he was there for the protest because that was the right thing to do [in their eyes], then that fits that narrative,” Mallinson said.
The FBI has arrested members of right wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys for allegedly taking part in the insurrection. As of mid-April, police had arrested 45 people from Pennsylvania on charges stemming from the attack. It’s the second highest total of any state in the country, behind only Texas.
Official arrest summaries state several had ties to conservative individuals and groups or made statements saying they support former President Trump. The FBI has cited the work of amateur online groups in charging documents for dozens of suspects.
Mastriano has also courted Trump voters. In the run-up to the Capitol attack, the GOP state senator embraced Trump’s election fraud lies in public statements and during a Senate Majority Policy meeting last November.
“He has drawn himself very close to former President Trump, so I don’t think being at the insurrection and being fairly close affects him with those core supporters,” Mallinson said.
Duquesne University political science chair Dr. Clifford Bob said he thinks the what the internet sleuths are doing could “chill free speech. For Mastriano, he said the incident could help him prove his conservative bona fides in both a state Senate re-election campaign as well as any potential gubernatorial primary race.
“It’s possible that he could use his presence there to prove that he’s a greater defender of Donald Trump than someone else who wasn’t there,” Bob said.
Pa. Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Capitol attack As part of WITF’s commitment to standing with facts, and because the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to overthrow representative democracy in America, we are marking elected officials’ connections to the insurrection. Read more about this commitment.
Sen. Mastriano (R-Adams) is one of several dozen state lawmakers who signed a letter asking Congress to delay certifying Pennsylvania’s 2020 election result, despite no evidence that would call that result into question.
This supported the election-fraud lie, which led to the attack on the Capitol.