Members call it a grassroots army of “joyful warriors” who “don’t co-parent with the government.”
Anti-hate researchers call it a well-connected extremist organisation that challenges school inclusivity.
It might be a crucial ally for Republican presidential candidates in 2024.
GOP operatives, lawmakers, and fundraisers have helped Moms for Liberty, a Florida-based charity that promotes “parental rights” in education, become a key contender for 2024.
The conservative group that has led the conservative battle against books that reference race and gender identity and elected right-wing candidates to local school boards nationally is organizing one of the next big Republican presidential primary events. Four will speak at the Moms for Liberty annual event in Philadelphia later this month.
The June meeting will feature Trump, DeSantis, Haley, and “anti-woke” biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
The group is in discussions to send Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and fringe Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, to the conference.
The event’s popularity shows how Republican voters prioritize gender and race concerns. It also highlights Republicans’ readiness to embrace an organization criticized for propagating anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and removing diverse content from libraries and classrooms.
Tiffany Justice, Tina Descovich, and Bridget Ziegler, Florida school board members who opposed pandemic mask and quarantine regulations, created the organization in 2021.
It has expanded its activism in local school districts to target inappropriate or “anti-American” books, ban sexual orientation and gender identity instruction, require teachers to disclose students’ pronouns to parents, and remove diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
The organization also campaigns for like-minded school board candidates. Justice claimed slightly over half of the 500 school board candidates it sponsored nationwide won in 2022.
“Joyful warrior” moms founded Moms for Liberty, a nonpartisan grassroots movement. The group’s tight links to Republican groups, fundraisers, and officials raise issues about partisanship and grassrootsness.
Justice said the organisation had 285 branches in 44 states in two years. 120,000 members.
The Florida Republican Party chairman is married to co-founder Ziegler, who left the board in late 2021 but supports the group. She is a conservative Leadership Institute director and Sarasota County school board member.
Marie Rogerson, a Republican political consultant, replaced Ziegler on the Moms for Liberty board.
DeSantis is another close comrade. He signed Florida’s “Parents Bill of Rights” in 2021 to protect parents’ education and health care rights and combat municipal student mask regulations. He signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2022, which has subsequently been expanded to 12th grade. Moms for Liberty vocally supported both bills.
Ziegler was behind DeSantis in bill signing photos. Last year, the organization presented DeSantis with a “liberty sword” during its Tampa conference.
The group is a 501(c)4 charity that doesn’t have to identify its funders, but there are other signs of strong Republicans’ support.
The Leadership Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Patriot Mobile, a far-right Christian cellphone company whose PAC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take over Texas school boards, paid tens of thousands of dollars for summit slots.
Maurice Cunningham, a former political science professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston who has watched Moms for Liberty’s development and ties, said its ability to lure so many prominent Republican candidates to its second annual summit is a tribute to its establishment backing.
Cunningham said there are active moms in their communities. “This is a top-down, centrally controlled operation with big-money people at the top and political professionals working for them.”
Justice said the group’s cooperation with conservative organizations like DeSantis demonstrates they care about its cause but doesn’t make it grassroots.
The founders and chapter chairmen are accused of abusing community members and exaggerating gender issues.
Even though Moms for Liberty has joined with establishment Republicans, experts believe their advocacy is part of a burgeoning far-right anti-student inclusion movement nationwide.
In its annual report released last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Moms for Liberty and 11 other groups “anti-government extremists” for using parents’ rights to attack public education and make schools less welcoming for minority and LGBTQ+ students.
Justice said labeling Moms for Liberty radical is “alarming” and that the group’s funding and endorsement of school board elections proves it is not anti-government.
She claimed the organisation eliminates chapter chairs who violate its code of conduct and that one member of its national leadership team is LGBT.
A growing alliance of local organizations that support inclusion in education is pressing Marriott to cancel Moms for Liberty. Defense of Democracy, an anti-Moms for Liberty New York group, will demonstrate in Philadelphia.