Florida-based Moms for Liberty labeled extremist group. 8 things to know about organization

Cheryl McCloud

Presidential candidates Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump at the same event already promised to be ... eventful.

Now throw into the mix that the Florida-based Moms for Liberty holding the event has been labeled an extremist group by an organization that tracks them.

The announcement from the Southern Poverty Law Center came in its annual report released Tuesday. The organization said the Moms for Liberty, along with 11 other right-wing “parents' rights” groups, have been designated as an extremist group.

Here's what we know about Moms for Liberty and its designation as an extremist group.

Where did Moms for Liberty start?

Moms for Liberty is based in Melbourne, located in Brevard County on Florida's East Coast. The group was incorporated Jan. 1, 2021. It has grown rapidly over the last two years and currently claims more than 115,000 members and 280 chapters in almost every state, including 32 of Florida's 67 counties.

GOP and the Moms for Liberty

Moms for Liberty has the ear of the Republican establishment. DeSantis has championed their efforts to restrict teaching about critical race theory in schools and universities. Critics in Florida slam the group for turning schools into a political battlefield

At the 2022 summit held by Moms for Liberty in Tampa, DeSantis spoke to a crowd that cheered his policies attempting to rid Florida of any critical race theory in lessons.

“You need some courage,” he said. “You just gotta be willing to stand by your convictions … Now’s not the time to let them grind you down. You gotta stand up, and you gotta fight,” DeSantis said

Moms for Liberty endorsement of conservative candidates

DeSantis and Moms for Liberty often partnered in endorsing conservative school board candidates during the 2022 election.

The group endorsed more than 270 candidates nationwide in 2022 whose messages were similar: school closures during COVID were overwrought and destructive; critical race theory is itself racist; boys and girls are different and should not share the same locker rooms and restrooms; and there's too much focus on a pro-LGBTQ agenda, according to Newsweek.

Some Moms for Liberty opponents have called members' positions bigoted, homophobic, racist fear-mongering and extremist.

About 61 percent of the group's 67 endorsed candidates in Florida, were victorious on in November 2022.

In the next election cycle, Moms for Liberty intends to spend money in every state, co-founder Tiffany Justice told Newsweek.

Who are the founders of Moms for Liberty? 

A trio of Florida school board members founded Moms for Liberty. They are: former Brevard County School Board member Tina Descovich, former Indian River County School Board member Tiffany Justice and Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler.  Ziegler left the group by late 2021 to focus on other commitments.

What is the mission of Moms for Liberty?

The group describes its mission on its website as people "dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government."

The organization said members use "their first-hand knowledge and experience to unite parents who are ready to fight those that stand in the way of liberty." 

Why did SPLC label Moms for Liberty as an extremist group?

After Trump's election loss, activists made a concerted effort to organize in local arenas, SPLC said, Moms for Liberty was at the forefront of this mobilization.

"They can be spotted at school board meetings across the country wearing shirts and carrying signs that declare, 'We do NOT CO-PARENT with the GOVERNMENT.' The group hijacks meetings, preventing officials and parents from conducting their normal proceedings.

"Moms for Liberty activities make it clear that the group’s primary goals are to fuel right-wing hysteria and to make the world a less comfortable or safe place for certain students — primarily those who are Black, LGBTQ or who come from LGBTQ families," the Southern Poverty Law Center said. 

Far-right activists also circulate lists of books they find objectionable on social media, spurring others to petition local school boards and libraries to ban books, SPLC added. 

What is the Southern Poverty Law Center?

The SPLC is a research organization that tracks hate and extremism in the United States.

"Over the years, the center has brought new focus to self-described militias, anti-immigrant groups and outright hate groups. The SPLC has also sued hate groups and individual extremists in the civil courts, often with great success," according to its website

But the SPLC has also been criticized for designating as extremist some groups that argue they simply take a political position, and has defended itself in lawsuits, including from immigration policy groups it has designated as anti-immigrant hate groups.

Moms for Liberty holding National Summit 2023

Florida Governor Ron Desantis, center, is presented "The Sword of Liberty" by Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, Tina Descovich, second from right and executive director of program outreach Marie Rogerson, far right, during the first Moms for Liberty National Summit on Thursday, July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The convention continues through Sunday, July 17th with conservative speakers and strategy sessions for members.

The organization has scheduled its Joyful Warriors National Summit for June 29 through July 2 in Philadelphia.

Scheduled speakers include not only Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis but presidential candidate and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy; Florida Congressman Byron Donalds; North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson; president of the Heritage Foundation Kevin Roberts; and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

Moms for Liberty speak out at Florida school board meetings

Moms for Liberty claims to have “flipped” 17 school boards nationwide to parental-rights supportive majorities, the SPLC report said.

“Almost immediately following elections, many of these boards began making sweeping changes at school board meetings, such as firing superintendents and making curriculum changes.

“They have just been really successful in leveraging their relationships with school officials, and extremist groups, to put them kind of in a place where they can make sweeping changes for the majority of people, when they're actually in the minority,” said Maya Henson Carey, a research analyst at SPLC.  

More videos available at the Moms for Liberty's YouTube channel.

Want to read more about the Moms for Liberty?

Extremist group:'Parents' rights' groups labeled extremist: SPLC lists a key Florida group as anti-government

National summit:Trump, DeSantis both slated to speak at Moms for Liberty summit at end of month

How Moms for Liberty started:What is Moms for Liberty? Here's a look at its roots, its philosophy and its mission

Challenging books:Florida mom who challenged Amanda Gorman poem and other books says she only read parts of the material

Contributors: Zac Anderson; Will Carless; and Finch Walker.