The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has listed the Republican-connected “parents’ rights” group Moms for Liberty as an “anti-government extremist” organization in its latest Year in Hate & Extremism report.
In a statement accompanying the report’s release, a spokesperson for the extremism watchdog group wrote that Moms for Liberty was the most prominent of 12 extremist “anti-student inclusion groups” mobilizing to “attack public education, ban books, and remove any curriculum that contains discussions of race, discrimination, and LGBTQ+ identities”.
The listing puts the group – whose members and endorsees now sit on school boards around the country – in the same category as anti-government organizations like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the John Birch Society.
In an emailed response to the Guardian’s request for comment, the Moms for Liberty founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice wrote: “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?”
The pair 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.”
Moms for Liberty was co-founded in January 2021 by Descovich and Justice – who had exited central Florida school boards after opposing Covid-19 restrictions at public schools – along with Bridget Ziegler, then in her second term on the Sarasota county school board.
The group soon expanded its campaigning remit to oppose teaching about racism and racist history and LGBTQ+-inclusive policies in public schools, and has since sought to land members and supporters on school board seats.
According to the SPLC report, the group has made its way by “intimidating and harassing teachers and school officials”, battling teachers’ unions, attacking corporations like Disney that are supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, and supporting and making use of laws like Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” statute, which limits classroom discussion of gender and sexual identity.
Moms for Liberty has expanded into a nationwide network of more than 200 branches, and the SPLC now lists each of these branches as an extremist group.
While the group has claimed to be non-partisan, from the beginning it has had close ties to the Republican party, especially in Florida, where it has won the backing of the rightwing governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.
Ziegler’s husband Christian was serving as vice-chairman of the Florida Republican party when she co-founded Moms for Liberty, and in 2021 he reportedly credited the group with getting “20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican party”.
In Florida’s 2022 elections, DeSantis made an unprecedented endorsement of a slate of school board candidates, many of whom were members of Moms for Liberty or other radical parents’ groups. In turn, Ziegler and other prominent members of the group offered vocal support for his rhetorical, legal and legislative attacks on diversity and inclusion measures in the state’s public institutions – or what the governor has called “the woke mind virus”.
Elsewhere in the report, the count of active extremist groups is at 1,225, which is not significantly greater than the 2021 count of 1,221. The SPLC attributed the slowed growth to a significant collapse in the militia movement, which accounted for only 61 groups in 2022, down from 92 in 2021, a fact the SPLC said was due to “members and leaders being held accountable for their role in the deadly Jan. 6 attack”.
However, in the statement accompanying the report, the SPLC warned that “hate groups are increasingly engaging in public demonstrations using flyering, marches and banner displays to gain media attention”, with schools in particular emerging as a target not just for radical parents’ groups, but for established hate groups like the Proud Boys.
In a statement, the SPLC president and CEO, Margaret Huang, called such attacks “a concerted effort by hate groups and extremist actors to terrorize communities and gain control of public institutions by any means necessary”.