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Doug Mastriano warned of left-wing ‘Hitlerian Putsch’ in 2001 paper

The Pennsylvania GOP governor nominee’s thesis argued morally debauched political leaders weren’t fit to oversee the U.S. military

State Sen. Doug Mastriano the Republican candidate for governor, gestures to the cheering crowd during his primary night election party in Chambersburg, Pa., on May 17. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
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Two decades before he was Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano warned in a master’s thesis that the United States was vulnerable to a left-wing “Hitlerian Putsch” that would begin with the dismantling of the U.S. military and end with the destruction of the country’s democracy.

The thesis, written in 2001 when Mastriano was a major at the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College, is highly unusual for its doomsaying and often fearful point of view, and its prediction that only the U.S. military could save the country from the depredations of the country’s morally debauched civilian leaders. The paper is posted on an official Defense Department website and lists Mastriano as the author at a time when he said he received a master’s degree from the school.

In it, Mastriano adopts the point of view of a colonel who is living in 2018 — some 17 years in the future — and has taken refuge in an “isolated cavern” in the George Washington National Forest. The military’s collapse, in his telling, allowed a left-wing leader obsessed with “political correctness” and backed militarily by the United Nations and the European Union to rise to power in a struggle that led to the deaths of millions of Americans.

“Domestically, life was bleak with a rampant drug culture, hedonism and a plethora of ‘alternate’ religions dominating the American youth,” wrote Mastriano in the voice of his fictional colonel. “We were a people without vision or direction.”

Ultimately, Mastriano concluded that the U.S. military was the “only institution to prevent the destruction of the republic.”

The document displays a disgust for anyone who doesn’t hold his view that homosexuality is a form of “aberrant sexual conduct” and presages the worldview that has led Mastriano to blame rampant fraud for Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat and to join a crowd headed toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“This thesis proves that Mastriano’s embrace of activity that undermines the U.S. Constitution is no recent corruption,” said Peter Feaver, a former senior White House official in the George W. Bush administration who was written extensively about civil-military relations. “It stems from poisonous views and misunderstandings that he has held for a very long time.”

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Mastriano did not respond to a voice mail or an email sent to a campaign account for the media. In a recent interview with Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Trump who hosts a podcast, Mastriano claimed that his 30 years of military service and security clearances proved that he did not hold extreme views.

“If there was a hint of radicalism in me or far rightness in me, I’d never have had that kind of access to the nation’s most sensitive and destructive secrets,” he told Bannon. “And so I’m just going to call them out. I’m not going to stand aside and let them create a narrative about me.”

As a state senator and candidate for governor, Mastriano, 58, has vowed to decertify voting machines in counties where he suspects the results are rigged and has asserted Pennsylvania’s majority-Republican legislature should have the right to choose which presidential electors to send to Washington. Mastriano traveled to D.C. on Jan. 6 and videos show him walking with a crowd toward the Capitol as one man removes a bike rack blocking the sidewalk; Mastriano has denied entering the Capitol.

His ardent support for the former president’s false claims that the election was stolen earned him Trump’s last-minute endorsement in Pennsylvania’s GOP primary, which he won on Tuesday.

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Mastriano’s 2001 thesis is especially striking in its doubts that an apolitical U.S. military should fall under the control of elected, civilian leaders, a bedrock principle of American democracy that is drilled into U.S. military officers from the moment they take an oath to “support and defend” the U.S. Constitution.

“It would erode everything that it purports to respect,” said Tami Davis Biddle, a civilian professor at the U.S. Army War College who retired in 2021 as the Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies. “It’s Putinist before Putin.” Mastriano also taught officers at the war college from 2012-2017.

His paper was written in response to a 1992 essay by then-Lt. Col. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., who took the point of view of a retired military officer 20 years in the future who had been jailed for joining the resistance to a successful military coup. Dunlap’s award-winning essay highlighted the military’s worrisome drift into civilian affairs and the tendency of the country to view the armed forces as “America’s most — and perhaps only — trusted arm of government.” Dunlap, who would retire as a major general, was selected as the winner of the National Defense University’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategy Essay Competition and honored by Colin Powell at the awards ceremony.

Mastriano’s essay, by contrast, is a broadside aimed at civilians whom he deems unfit to lead a morally superior U.S. military officer corps. He describes a future in which the military’s “macho-warrior spirit” and “conservative culture” are replaced by “a neo-pagan worldview.”

“Like Rome, domestic moral decay and slothfulness proved to be a more formidable adversary than foreign armies,” he wrote.

Mastriano’s essay also foreshadows his embrace of baseless claims of rigged elections. In the paper, he posited that Democrats’ rage over military absentee ballots that tipped Florida to Bush in the 2000 election would lead them to restrict military voting. (Military voting was never, in fact, restricted after the election.)

Their goal, he wrote, was to “deprive the military [its] vote to protect the republic from their conservative ideas.”

Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.