A week before Jan. 6, on a Zoom call organized by far-right Christian Nationalists seeking to reinstall Donald Trump in the White House, a man with a booming baritone voice bowed his bald head and began to pray. “We remember the promises of old,” he said, before invoking the book of Revelations and its account of the End Times: “We know we overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and not loving our lives unto death.”
Seated before a Revolutionary War flag with the motto “An Appeal to Heaven,” the man spoke of the nation’s founding in biblical terms: “We remember 1776, our Declaration of Independence, speaking God’s Truth and Word over what would become the United States of America.” He tied Pennsylvania to God’s divine plan, from the Battle of Gettysbug to the fate of Flight 93, which crashed after a “strong Christian man” confronted Islamist hijackers on 9/11, with the cry, “Let’s roll!”
“God I ask you that you help us roll in these dark times, that we fear not the darkness, that we will seize our Esther and Gideon moments,” the man said, invoking a pair of Old Testament heroes who made themselves instruments of God’s vengeance. “We’re surrounded by wickedness and fear, and dithering, and inaction,” he added, “But that’s not our problem. Our problem is following Your lead.” Looking ahead to Jan 6, the man said: “I pray that… we’ll seize the power that we had given to us by the Constitution, and as well by You, providentially. I pray for the leaders also in the federal government, God, on the Sixth of January that they will rise up with boldness.”
The man was state senator Doug Mastriano, now the Republican nominee to be the next governor of Pennsylvania. As he spoke, Mastriano held up letters to Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy that he said Trump personally asked him to write to the Republican leaders “outlining the fraud in Pennsylvania.” He implored that Congress “disregard” the certified election results for the state, “in Jesus’ name, amen.”
The prayer meeting — one of a series of nearly two dozen “Global Prayer for Election Integrity” calls organized between election day and Jan. 6 — was organized by Jim Garlow, a prominent figure in the far-right New Apostolic Restoration movement. Garlow believes that U.S. government should operate according to biblical principles, because, “He knows best how government is to function.” Mastriano’s participation on the call was first reported by Right Wing Watch last year, but the video of Mastriano’s remarks is published here for first time:
The content of and context of Mastriano’s participation on the call gives lie to his protestations that he’s neither affiliated with NAR nor a Christian Nationalist. The video also sheds a harsh light on Mastriano’s mutinous mindset in the buildup to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Mastriano was on ground in Washington D.C. on that day and allegedly crossed police lines at the Capitol. (Mastriano has insisted he “respected all police lines as I came upon them.”) Mastriano’s role is of keen interest to the Jan. 6 Committee which has sought to compel his testimony. On Sept. 1, Mastriano filed a lawsuit against the Committee, challenging its authority to depose him. Mastriano did not respond to an interview request.
Christian Nationalism is the radical notion that the United States should not simply protect the religious freedoms of Christians, but that the nation should be governed according to their biblical beliefs, and that Christianity’s moral codes should be imposed on all citizens. Christian Nationalism is a rising force within the Trumpist, authoritarian GOP, with sitting members of Congress now openly rejecting the separation of church and state.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene identifies as a “proud Christian Nationalist” and Rep. Lauren Boehbert spoke succinctly of its aims in a June appearance at the Cornerstone Christian Center: “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk,” she said. “The church is supposed to direct the government; the government is not supposed to direct the church.”
Christian Nationalism is a central tenet of a religious movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation. NAR emerges from charismatic Christianity (think: Pentecostalism) and is anchored in the belief that we are living in an age of new apostles and prophets, who receive direct revelations from the Holy Spirit. NAR adherents hold that the End Times are fast approaching and that it is their calling is to hasten the second coming of Christ by re-fashioning the modern world in a biblical manner.
Prominent NAR leaders, including as the “apostle” Dutch Sheets, believe that the U.S. is a divine instrument for spreading Christianity across the globe. Sheets projects his fundamentalist religious values on the nation’s founding, seeing America’s religious destiny as rooted in the Revolutionary War, symbolized by a flag flown by the Colonial navy that features a pine tree (which Sheets claims symbolizes Abraham’s covenant with God) and the slogan “An Appeal to Heaven.”
NAR adherents view current events through a lens of “spiritual warfare” — seeing a constant battle between Christ believers and their enemies, whom they hold are literally afflicted by demons. Israel also holds outsized importance to NAR followers. They believe that Jews securing Israel as a homeland is a precondition for Christ’s return. (In their belief system Jews are prophesied convert, en masse, and accept Jesus as the messiah.)
The “Global Prayer for Election Integrity” call series was convened by Garlow, an apostolic leader prominent in the NAR movement who also had significant ties to the Trump White House; Garlow even prayed with Trump in the Oval Office. Based in southern California, Garlow blasts the separation of church and state. His ministry, Well Versed World, seeks to actualize “biblical principles of governance,” claiming that government should be Godly because “God originally established government.”
In late 2020, Garlow saw the effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election to the presidency as divinely inspired. “This is good versus evil,” he said on a Dec 20 call featuring special guest Steve Bannon. “This is righteous people versus unrighteous people. This is a biblical theological situation we’re facing,” Garlow insisted. He argued that those seeking to return Trump to the White House were “following truth, righteousness, holiness, [and] biblical justice.”
Garlow was joined organizing the call series by the “apostle” Mario Bramnick, who heads up the Latino Coalition for Israel. Bramnick was also tied to the Trump administration, serving as a faith envoy for the White House. On the Dec. 30 video, it’s Bramnick who introduces Mastriano. “We’re honored to have with us Senator Mastriano, who… is leading the charge in Pennsylvania.” Mastriano was reportedly Trump’s “point person” for organizing a fake slate of electors for Pennsylvania to submit to the Electoral College.
Mastriano’s appearance is brief, but he delivers a rapid-fire prayer, dense with violent imagery. Mastriano repeatedly refers to dark stories from the Old Testament. “God, you’re calling forth modern day Esthers and Gideons,” he says. Both biblical figures represent human actors being called to divine purposes.
In the story of Esther, a Persian king decreed that Jews should be slaughtered, but Esther’s last minute appeal to the ruler not only convinces him to save her people, but to empower them to attack their own enemies. The story of Gideon, meanwhile, is that of a holy warrior, directed by an angel, who, though impossibly outnumbered, lays siege to the encampment of an usurping power in Israel, driving out the enemy. Gideon’s army ultimately delivers to him the heads of the enemy king’s sons as prizes.
The full video of the call was provided to Rolling Stone by Bruce Wilson, an independent researcher who has chronicled the rising influence of NAR in American politics for more than a decade. Wilson’s writings have been cited in academic literature on NAR. Wilson downloaded a copy of the video before it was deleted in the aftermath of the insurrection at the Capitol.
The video undermines claims by Mastriano seeking to distance himself from religious extremism. In a May 2021 profile in the New Yorker, Mastriano denied working directly with the New Apostolic Reformation and rejected the very notion of Christian Nationalism: “Is this a term you fabricated?” he asked the reporter. “What does it mean, and where have I indicated that I am a Christian Nationalist?”
Wilson finds Mastriano’s denials risible. “If Mastriano wasn’t a NAR true believer, why was he there praying before them, and taking on the heroic mantle of Gideon?” he asks. “He didn’t just wander in off the street, he was invited.” Noting the pine-tree flag adopted by Christian Nationalists in the background, Wilson adds that Mastriano’s prayer was pitched perfectly to a NAR audience: “He speaks their vernacular so well, it’s hard to imagine he’s not all in.”
The full video of the 2021 NAR call runs nearly two hours. Garlow introduces the call by asking any reporters on the line to “kindly step off the call” because it is “not for you.” He adds: “I see this like a church service — a private prayer meeting.” But the call is not at all like a church service. Although there is ample prayer, the call features one guest who exhaustively details conspiracy theories and misinformation about election fraud.
Religious leaders on the call make plain that they view Trump’s return to office as divinely ordained. Abby Abildness is a prominent NAR pastor in Pennsylvania who is close with Mastriano, even interviewing him in his Harrisburg office. “We look for the victory that you have proclaimed Lord,” Abildness says, “that there would be another term for Pence and for Trump to continue the righteous values that they have opened the door for in this nation.”
James Goll, a NAR “prophet” on the call, can be heard leading the assembly in a cacophonous prayer over their senators asking that they join Missouri’s Josh Hawley in the plan to object to the counting of the votes of the Electoral College. “We say that the Spirit of God is at move,” Goll intones. “And we release the word over senators.” Noting that he is in Tennessee, Goll attempts to whip the vote of his own senator through prayer: “I declare over Marsha Blackburn, I say, rise up, be a spokeswoman, join the Senator from Missouri…. You are you are an Esther, and you’re called to rise up and be a righteous voice that will also say, ‘I will not allow this on my watch.’”
An overtly political component of the call featured an appearance by Steve Cortes, who was at the time a senior member of the Trump campaign. Cortes used his time to encourage the assembled crowd to turn up the heat on their elected officials. “It is still important for us to pressure them to make them feel the weight of the America First movement, of the deplorables,” he says, adding darkly: “to make them feel our wrath, quite frankly.”
These days, as he runs for statewide office, Mastriano continues his special relationship with Trump. The former president held a rally on behalf of Pennsylvania’s GOP candidates, including Mastriano, on Sept 3 in Wilkes-Barre. Trump regaled the audience with war stories from his last days in office, recalling how Mastriano had visited with him in the White House as he clawed to hold on to the presidency. Trump praised Mastriano for joining him in the fight against “a lot of really sick, bad people.”
When it was his turn at the podium, Mastriano launched into a fit of projection. He called his Democratic opponent “too dangerous too extreme and too radical for Pennsylvania.” The Republican then again invoked the words of Todd Beamer, the 9/11 resister — turning them into a dark political slogan: “Pennsylvania,” Mastriano said, “‘Let’s roll!’”