Defeating a January 6 Insurrectionist and His Disinformation Machine


Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro began his campaign to defeat extremist State Representative
Doug Mastriano in his run for Governor with a challenging fight ahead. Born and bred from the Right’s
powerful online ecosystem, Mastriano had established himself as a figurehead of the rightwing
movement in Pennsylvania, with a wellknown social media presence, key Trump allies with digital
experience on his side, and ties to fringe social media platforms that have resulted in offline violence like
the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. The Shapiro campaign needed to unify the state against an
unprecedented threat, while facing an onslaught of disinformation intended to divide.


GQR’s digital team helped the Shapiro campaign maintain an intensely disciplined campaign and message
strategy while navigating an online landscape built to elevate their opponent. Executing our full suite of
digital offerings, the team stayed alert of the latest online trends while leveraging grassroots support to
take the campaign’s core messages directly to voters through trusted messengers. This meant:

  • Understanding the online landscape and trends as they evolved. As in survey research, GQR first
    produced an initial baseline analysis of the online landscape, with an initial strategic roadmap.
    The campaign also brought GQR in early on to ensure the full campaignfrom management
    down to entrylevel staffwas aligned on the best practices for navigating this landscape. From
    there, we met biweekly (weekly August November) with the core team to review shifting
    dynamics, emerging narratives, and any necessary strategic shifts.
  • Placing trust in the power of the supporter movement. The campaign invested early in building up
    a network of enthusiastic supporters online, including an active Facebook group with nearly
    20,000 members. This network of allies served as trusted validators who could decentralize the
    campaign’s core messaging to build upon its paid and earned media strategies. But with such a
    uniquely dangerous opponent, this also meant ensuring allies knew how to properly talk about
    the threat of Mastriano and his web of disinformation and extremism with their friends and
    familywithout reinforcing harmful narratives. GQR helped advise on digital organizing strategy,
    messaging, and trained supporters on mis/disinformation best practices.
  • Staying relentlessly on message. Even as rightwing attacks ramped up, occasionally generating
    press inquiries, we stuck to our core messaging and contrasts in our recommendations, assuring
    the campaign did not get distracted by baseless claims that were isolated in echo chambers.
    Instead, we worked with the campaign to devise strategies for ensuring every action recentered
    the conversation on the things voters needed to see and hear.

Blending this program with an alreadyimpressive campaign and network of supporters led the Attorney
General to an astounding near15point victory. This historic win for Pennsylvania, democracy, and the
fight against disinformation is best encapsulated by the inaugural ceremony occurring in Lancaster
Countya county Shapiro lost by less than 2 points, despite Trump winning it by 16 in 2020.