Moms for Liberty emerges as power player in Republican politics

The “parental rights” group hosted Trump and DeSantis at its second-ever national convention in Philadelphia on Friday.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the group Moms for Liberty.
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A new conservative political group, which first gained notoriety for turning school board meetings into raucous shouting matches, drew the top Republican presidential contenders to its national conference over the weekend.

Moms for Liberty hosted former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at its second-ever national convention in Philadelphia on Friday, underlining its quick rise to the top of GOP politics since being formed just two years ago.

The group states that it now has more than 100,000 members and hundreds of chapters across the country. While it bills itself as nonpartisan, it has deep ties to the Republican Party and its agenda.

Who the group is

Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich present the Liberty Sword to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, and Tina Descovich, center, present the Liberty Sword to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in July 2022. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Founded in January 2021 by three Florida moms to fight COVID restrictions at their children’s schools, the group soon moved into overhauling curricula, pulling books from library shelves and competing in school board races across the nation.

Today it's made up of mainly white suburban mothers, but also some men and other community members with aligned values, channeling the anger many parents felt over pandemic school closures and molding it with the GOP’s overall push against public education to grow rapidly in size and power.

“The question isn't whether politics should or shouldn't be in the schools; it is whose politics dominates,” Leigh Ann Wheeler, a history professor at Binghamton University in upstate New York, told Yahoo News in May. “Ideally, our schools would encourage students to develop a value system that helps them think critically and choose wisely from a wide variety of age-appropriate possibilities.”

The organization is part of the Republican Party’s broader appeal as the home of “parental rights” epitomized in DeSantis’s Florida — an agenda that has generally focused on removing books discussing race, sexuality or gender that are often written by nonwhite or LGBTQ authors. Some supporters of the agenda, including DeSantis’s press secretary, call its opponents “groomers,” a term describing tactics used by sexual abusers. During their speeches to Moms for Liberty, both Trump and DeSantis attacked gender-affirming care for transgender youth, a popular plank for the GOP.

Last month, Moms for Liberty was labeled an “anti-government extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights watchdog organization, while Vice reported on the ties between the organization and the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group. Trump disagreed with the assessment when he spoke at the conference, decrying the “radical left” for slandering Moms for Liberty as a so-called hate group and calling its members instead “joyful warriors” and “fierce patriots.”

Philip Nel, a children’s literature expert and English professor at Kansas State University, told Yahoo News in May that he believes Moms for Liberty is a “fascist group,” a term he says most accurately represents organizations that “scapegoat minority groups, spread misinformation and threaten violence against those who oppose them.”

“Censorship in the name of freedom is not freedom,” Nel added. “A society that bans books is not a free society.”

'Never apologize. Ever.'

Christian Ziegler at a Republican Party rally in 2018.
Christian Ziegler at a Hillsborough County Republican Party rally in Tampa in 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Last month, one of the group’s chapters in Indiana apologized after it quoted Adolf Hitler in its newsletter. The Hamilton County chapter initially provided further context for its use of the quote attributed to the Nazi leader, “He alone, who OWNS the youth, GAINS the future,” before removing the quote entirely.

“We condemn Adolf Hitler’s actions and his dark place in human history,” read a statement from chapter chair Paige Miller. "We should not have quoted him in our newsletter and express our deepest apology.”

However, at a media training session attended by NBC News during the national conference on June 30, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party said it had been a mistake for the chapter to apologize.

“Never apologize. Ever,” said Christian Ziegler, who is the husband of a Moms for Liberty co-founder, Bridget Ziegler. “This is my view. Other people have different views on this. I think apologizing makes you weak.”

Christian Ziegler told those assembled to focus on local versus national media and suggested ways to target opponents, such as sending a mailer to 50 of their friends and family members so an opponent might believe it had gone out to an entire community.

Bridget Ziegler left her role with the organization after DeSantis promoted her to his board overseeing Disney as part of his ongoing feud with the entertainment giant.

A spike in book bans

At a protest outside the Moms for Liberty conference in Philadelphia, a man holds a sign saying: Stop Moms for Liberty, Defend Trans Youth.
A protest outside the Moms for Liberty conference in Philadelphia on June 29. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Yahoo News in January 2022 that in her two decades with the organization, she had never seen as many book challenges.

That continued throughout the year, with the ALA citing an 38% increase from the massive spike that had already occurred in 2021, with the vast majority of titles having been written by or about members of the LGBTQ community or people of color.

“You have these — they call themselves parents’ rights organizations — pursuing this censorship agenda and arguing that censorship is the proper solution. But once you start using book banning as a tool, where does it end?” Caldwell-Stone said.

Tiffany Justice, another Moms for Liberty co-founder, disputed the idea of the group as banning books in a May interview with Yahoo News and said it was being targeted for upsetting the status quo in education.

“Nothing that we're doing should create this much hate and vitriol towards us until I have to ask myself why,” Justice told Yahoo News. “Because it has to be about power and control and money. And it's the education industrial complex, the public education system serves as a funding mechanism for so many different activist organizations and the unions. … We're calling out a system that is failing, and they don't like it. They wanna silence us.”