A month after losing his gubernatorial election, Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano was tweeting pictures of what he implied were suspicious clouds.
“Over Franklin County today,” Mastriano tweeted on Sunday, above four pictures of airplane trails across the Pennsylvania sky. He followed up with a link to an article about proposed future plans to study the effect of artificial clouds on climate change. The tweet appeared to be a nod to the “chemtrails” conspiracy theory, which right-wing candidates have previously disavowed under electoral pressure.
With the 2022 midterm elections behind them, some failed candidates have leaned into less electorally friendly messaging, from chemtrails to antisemitic conspiracy theories to (in the case of one candidate who didn’t make the November ballot) a call for “bullets” against political foes. It’s a questionable choice in tone, particularly after an election that saw Americans broadly reject the right’s most extreme candidates.
Mastriano ran a paranoia-laden campaign to become Pennsylvania’s governor. He was an outspoken proponent of false claims about the 2020 election, even participating in efforts to overturn the election in Donald Trump’s favor and chartering buses to a Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol attack. Those conspiracy theories coincided with a wider trend of election denialism among Republican midterm candidates, and polling that found the Big Lie popular among Republicans.
But Mastriano’s chemtrails tweets, published weeks after his concession to Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro, don’t help him politically. Instead they appear to be for the love of the game.
Airplanes and their exhaust trails are normal over Franklin County, which has its own airfield and is located under flight paths from multiple large airports in New York and D.C.
Nevertheless, Mastriano implied the airplane trails were related to a government plot. The article he linked described a forthcoming plan by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to study potential interventions against climate change. One of those proposed interventions includes spraying an aerosol mist at high altitude to reflect sunlight. That futuristic (and highly controversial) experiment wasn’t pictured in Mastriano’s tweets because it is not underway. The proposed technique also involves flying planes several miles higher than passenger jets and spraying a fine mist that lasts for months, rather than the thick trails that evaporate shortly after a plane passes.
Instead, Mastriano fans were quick to connect his pictures to the “chemtrails” conspiracy theory, which claims a government plot to spray mind-controlling drugs from the backs of planes. Mastriano did not return The Daily Beast’s request for clarification on his views about airplane trails.
He’s not the only candidate using the post-election period to go all-in on weird claims. Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state, went on a days-long screed about George Soros, the Jewish philanthropist who’s become a favorite figure in antisemitic conspiracy theories.
“Soros controls Fontes. Soros controls the press. Soros controls Hobbs. Soros controls the affiliates. Soros controls the Sheriff. Soros controls the recorder. Soros controls the county supervisors. It is time we stand up to Soros and take back Arizona,” Finchem tweeted last week, amid other tweets separately accusing reporters, news outlets, and political foes of being controlled by Soros.
The remarks were far from Finchem’s first foray into Soros conspiracy theories. As of mid-September, Finchem had invoked Soros 24 times on the messaging platform Telegram, the Arizona Mirror reported. But Finchem’s post-election pivot saw him turn from trying to win votes, to a more aggressive path to power.
“When we hold treason trials never forget who the traitors are,” he tweeted last week, the day after entreating his followers to “stand up to Soros and take back Arizona.”
Another failed candidate took the post-election pessimism even further. Shukri Abdirahman, who ran a failed Republican primary campaign in Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s district, took to Twitter last week in response to a story about Hunter Biden.
"We can no longer get rid of tyranny with ballots,” she tweeted. “It's only by bullets now.”