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Moms for Liberty named anti-government extremist group by civil rights watchdog

The ‘parents’ rights’ agenda taking aim at public education and LGBT+ rights is expanding its reach into state legislatures

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 07 June 2023 18:35 BST
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A right-wing “parents’ rights” group that made headway in school board races and state-level legislation targeting LGBT+ people was designated an “anti-government extremist” organisation by the Southern Poverty Law Center in its latest review of the state of hate groups in America.

The report finds that schools have increasingly become a medium for locally driven extremist activity, with Moms for Liberty joining a dozen groups leading efforts to gain power through local school boards to undermine public education and restrict access to books, classroom materials and honest discussions of race, racism, LGBT+ people and gender and sexuality.

“Hate and anti-government extremist groups are intent on staging public spectacles of hatred” to threaten LGBT+ people and other vulnerable communities and minority groups, according to Susan Corke, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

The SPLC’s report collects activities from 1,225 active extremist groups across the US.

A statement from Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich shared with The Independent said the group is “devoted to empowering parents to be a part of their child’s public school education.”

“Name-calling parents who want to be a part of their child’s education as ‘hate groups’ or ‘bigoted’ just further exposes what this battle is all about: Who fundamentally gets to decide what is taught to our kids in school – parents or government employees?” they added. “We believe that parental rights do not stop at the classroom door and no amount of hate from groups like this is going to stop that.”

Recent attacks on public schools and education more broadly followed conspiracy theory-fuelled outrage at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic as schools shifted to remote learning and implemented public health guidance like mask requirements.

Those attacks “morphed into confrontation about pedagogy and curriculum, as far-right anti-government parents under the guise of simply being concerned began to assert themselves into what can and cannot be taught in public schools,” according to the SPLC’s report.

Moms for Liberty, which has attracted support from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republican officials, emerged as an influential force in that movement. The group claims to have a membership of 100,000 people in more than 250 chapters in 42 states.

In last year’s elections, Mr DeSantis – running for the GOP nomination for president in 2024 – made unprecedented endorsements by stepping into local school board races, endorsing members of Moms for Liberty and other far-right candidates, while members of the group offered their support for a slate of legislative priorities and echoed the DeSantis administration’s agenda.

Christian Ziegler, vice chair of the Florida Republican Party and husband of Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, has reportedly described the group as “foot soldiers” for Mr DeSantis and has credited the group with “20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party”.

The group has called teachers unions’ “terrorist organizations,” offered so-called bounties for reporting teachers who allegedly discuss “divisive topics” in schools, attacked The Trevor Project for supporting young LGBT+ people at risk of suicide, launched a barrage of book challenges, and is expanding its reach to state legislatures across the country.

A separate report from right-wing media watchdog Media Matters charts Moms for Liberty’s influence in a slate of bills in several states as part of a broader effort against LGBT+ rights.

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