NEW YORK (AP) — For its members, it’s a grassroots army of “joyful warriors” who “don’t co-parent with the government.”

For anti-hate researchers, it is a well-connected extremist group attacking inclusion in schools.

And to Republicans vying for the presidencyit has emerged as a potential key partner in the fight for the 2024 nomination.

Moms for Liberty did not exist during the last presidential campaign, but the Florida-based nonprofit organization that it advocates for “ parental rights ” in education has quickly become a major player by 2024, fueled in part by GOP operatives, politicians, and donors.

The group that has been at the forefront of the conservative movement targeting books that reference race and gender identity and electing right-wing candidates for local school boards across the country is organizing one of the next big meetings to Republican candidates for the presidential primaries. At least four are listed as speakers at the annual Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia later this month.

Former president donald trumpgovernor of florida ron desantisformer UN ambassador nikki haley and biotech entrepreneur and “anti-awakening” activist Vivek Ramaswamy have announced that they will speak at the meeting at the end of June.

The group said it is in talks to bring others to the conference, including the Republican senator. Tim Scott from South Carolina and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.., a fringe Democrat known for pushing anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

The high interest in the event underscores how the fights surrounding gender and career have become central issues for Republican voters. It also highlights the eagerness of Republicans to embrace a group that has sparked backlash for spreading anti-LGBTQ+ ideas and stripping libraries and classrooms of various matter.

The group was founded in 2021 by Tiffany Justice, Tina Descovich and Bridget Ziegler, all current and former school board members in Florida who were unhappy with student quarantine and mask policies during the pandemic.

In two years, the organization has ballooned to 285 chapters in 44 states, Justice said. The group claims to have 120,000 active members.

It has expanded its activism in local school districts to target books he says are inappropriate either “un-American”, ban instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, require teachers to reveal student pronouns to parents, and remove diversity, equity, and inclusion programs from schools.

The group has also sought to elect like-minded candidates for school boards. In 2022, just over half of the 500 candidates he endorsed for school boards across the country won their races, Justice said.

Moms for Liberty bills itself as a nonpartisan, grassroots effort started by passionate parents who call themselves “joyful warriors.” However, the group’s close ties to Republican organizations, donors and politicians raise questions about partisanship and questions about how popular it really is.

Co-founder Ziegler, who resigned from the board at the end of 2021 but remains a supporter of the group, is married to the chairman of the Florida Republican Party. Still a member of the school board in Sarasota County, she is also director at the Leadership Institute, a conservative organization that regularly trains members of Moms for Liberty.

Marie Rogerson, who took Ziegler’s place on the Moms for Liberty board, is a seasoned political strategist who previously ran the 2018 campaign of Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican.

The group has also quickly gained a close ally in DeSantis. In 2021, he signed Florida’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which identified the rights of parents to direct their children’s education and health care and was used to fight local student mask mandates. In 2022, he signed a law banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade, a ban that opponents had dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and that has since it spread through grade 12. Moms for Liberty had vigorously defended both laws.

Ziegler appeared behind DeSantis in photos from the signing ceremony for this latest bill. When the group held its inaugural summit in Tampa last year, it featured speeches by DeSantis and his wife, Casey, presenting the governor with a “sword of freedom.”

And while the group is a 501(c)4 nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, there are other glimpses into how powerful Republicans have helped fuel its rise.

The sponsors of the summit, which paid tens of thousands of dollars for those spaces, include the Leadership Institute, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and Patriot Mobile, a far-right Christian cell phone company whose PAC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to take over Texas school boards.

Maurice Cunningham, a former professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Boston who has followed the growth and relationships of Moms for Liberty, said their ability to attract so many top Republican candidates to their second annual summit is a testament to their established support. .

“Yes, there are certainly moms that live in their communities, etc., that are active,” Cunningham said. “But this is a top-down, centrally controlled operation with deep-pocketed people at the top and political professionals working for them.”

Justice said the group’s work with conservative organizations and DeSantis shows they care about the group’s cause, but it doesn’t mean it’s not grassroots.

Although Moms for Liberty has aligned itself with established Republicans, researchers say their activism is part of a new wave of far-right efforts against student inclusion across the country.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and extremism across the country, designated Moms for Liberty an “anti-government extremist” group in its annual report launched last week, along with 11 other groups, said it uses parental rights as a vehicle to attack public education and make schools less welcoming to minority and LGBTQ+ students.

The label comes after some of the group’s leaders and chapter presidents have been accused of harass community members and amplifying false claims related to gender disputes.

Justice said calling Moms for Liberty’s activities extremist is “alarming” and that the group’s efforts to fund and endorse school board races show it is not anti-government.

She said the group removes chapter presidents who violate its code of conduct and that it has members and leaders who are gay, including a member of its national leadership team.

A growing coalition of local organizations that promote inclusion in education have begun to mobilize against Moms for Liberty and are marriott request to stop the next conference. Defense of Democracy, a New York organization founded in direct opposition to Moms for Liberty, plans to bring members to Philadelphia to protest in person.

“They are so loud and so aggressive that people get scared and shut up,” Defense for Democracy founder Karen Svoboda said of Moms for Freedom. “You know, if you see bigotry and homophobia, there is a civic responsibility to speak out.”

Moms for Liberty, in turn, said it will increase security for their gathering. Marriott has not responded to the petition, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “extremist” designation has not deterred any Republican candidates planning to speak out.

Haley responded by tweeting: “If @Moms4Liberty is a ‘hate group,’ add me to the list.” Ramaswamy took the stage for a Thursday town hall with Justice and tweeted that SPLC stands for “Selling Political Lies to Corporations.”

Those responses come as no surprise to Cunningham, who said that in the current climate, the label “extremist” is “almost a badge of honor” within the Republican Party.

Moms for Liberty, meanwhile, is raising funds. After the SPLC report was made public, Justice said the group quickly raised $45,000, an amount that a larger donor agreed to match.


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