The ABC’s of Moms for Liberty Summit Speakers: Authoritarianism, Bigotry, Censorship (Disinformation, Extremism…)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promoting his 2023 book "The Courage to Be Free" on Fox News "Sunday Morning Futures" with Maria Bartiromo.

Moms for Liberty, a group that made its name opposing public health measures in schools and quickly moved on to censorship and school board takeovers, has embraced a hard-edged political role on the right wing of the Republican Party. Its national “Joyful Warriors” summit later this month features politicians, pundits, and political activists promoting authoritarian attacks on the freedom to read, vicious anti-LGBTQ smears, vaccine disinformation, election denialism and insurrection revisionism, and divisive Christian nationalism.

Here are some of the people Moms for Liberty is highlighting at its upcoming summit:

Donald Trump The former president, recently indicted on multiple felony charges, continues to spread lies about the 2020 election being stolen—the same lies that fueled the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters intent on stopping the peaceful transfer of power. Trump has vowed retribution on his political opponents and a purge of non-loyalists from the civil service. He and his followers act as if they believe the law does not apply to him, a hallmark of an authoritarian leader.

Ron DeSantis The Florida governor has aggressively used and abused the power of his office to restrict teaching about race and sexuality, empower book banners, punish political enemies, and purge public officials who don’t fall in line. He shows an authoritarian’s disdain for limits on his power, flouting campaign finance laws and telling Christian nationalists, “It is time to impose our will on Washington.” In the wake of Trump’s recent indictment, DeSantis vowed to “tear down the DOJ and FBI and rebuild them from the ground up” if he is elected president.

Nikki Haley The former South Carolina governor and Trump official now running for president, told right-wing activists this year that “wokeness” is “more dangerous than any pandemic.” Asked to define wokeness at a CNN town hall, she focused on trans athletes, who she suggested are responsible for teenage girls contemplating suicide. Haley has aligned herself with Christian nationalists and embraced anti-equality pastor John Hagee. When running for governor, Haley said she saw the Civil War as a battle of “tradition versus change” and that she believed the Constitution permits states to secede; she defended the Confederate flag flying at the statehouse until the 2015 killings of nine Black people by a white supremacist, after which she backed its removal.  She recently said she would be “inclined” to pardon Trump for his “reckless” handling of confidential documents.

Vivek Ramaswamy The businessman running for president recently declared that he would pardon Trump and is asking all Republican candidates to pledge to do the same. Ramaswamy launched his campaign during an appearance onTucker Carlson’s (former) Fox News show and in a video denouncing “Covidism, climatism and gender ideology,” which he derided as “new secular religions.” He is the author of a book attacking “Woke, Inc.” and he argues that investment managers who consider corporations’ environmental and social records are breaching their duty to maximize their clients’ wealth. He has called affirmative action the “biggest form of institutionalized racism in America today.” In a recent email he declared that America was founded on ten “truths,” beginning his list with “God is real” and “There are two genders.” His plan for boosting economic growth: “abandoning the climate cult, drilling more, fracking more, burning coal unapologetically.”

Mark Robinson became North Carolina’s lieutenant governor after his pro-gun speech at a city council meeting went viral, propelling him to victory in a crowded Republican primary. He has used his time in office to travel the state delivering viciously anti-LGBTQ diatribes and promoting divisive Christian nationalism. Antisemitism stains his social media history. His message to people who disagree with his insistence that the U.S. is a Christian nation: leave the country.

Byron Donalds, a Florida Tea Party activist elected to Congress in 2020, supported a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s victory and joined Trump backers who voted against congressional certification of the presidential results. As a state legislator, Donalds cosponsored legislation that gives any county resident the power to challenge a book used by a school district, which has empowered book banners. Donalds supported DeSantis education officials’ rejection of math textbooks; at a congressional hearing Donalds suggested that a bar graph using data about racial bias did not belong in a textbook “in any state in the union.”

Ryan Walters, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is waging a scorched-earth campaign against teachers and teachers unions, which he called “terrorist organizations” at a budget hearing in May; he has been accused of lying to legislators at that hearing. At a state board of education meeting, Walters played a five-minute video savaging teachers unions, a video so hostile—it included insinuations that teachers supported pedophilia—that educators feared it would incite physical attacks on public schools. His agency banned sexually explicit materials from school libraries without defining the term. After Trump’s recent indictment, Walters put out a press release headlined, “Joe Biden Leading a Banana Republic Coup Against American Justice,” an indication of his focus on MAGA politics and promotion of Trumpish conspiracy theories.

Ellen Weaver, South Carolina State Superintendent of Education, co-founded a think tank with hard-right former Sen. Jim DeMint which is part of the right-wing State Policy Network. She promotes public subsidies for private schools and right-wing claims about the supposed threat of critical race theory and “woke Washington ideology” to students. Superintendent of Education is an elected position in the state, one requiring a master’s degree, which Weaver did not have when she announced her run. Weaver received an associate’s degree from fundamentalist Bob Jones University; she was fast-tracked for a master’s in education leadership from Bob Jones in six months, leading to calls for an investigation into the questionable circumstances.

Jacob Oliva is Secretary of Education in Arkansas, where Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed statewide book-banning legislation that threatens librarians with jail time and is being challenged in court. Huckabee chose Oliva, who had been implementing DeSantis’s “anti-woke” education policies at the Florida Department of Education, like removing the term “institutional racism” from school policies. In Arkansas he is responsible for implementing the state’s new LEARNS Act, which diverts money from public to private and religious schools.

Manny Diaz, a former legislator named by DeSantis as Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, backed expansion of the state’s “don’t say gay” law through grade 12 and other DeSantis policies supposedly designed to protect students against “indoctrination,” including provisions that make it easier for books to be purged from shelves.

Dennis Prager is a prominent far-right propagandist whose PragerU videos have been viewed billions of times. Prager argued against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol. Prager is allied with Christian nationalists and promotes their false claims about U.S. history. When Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress and chose a Quran for his ceremonial swearing in, Prager slammed him for not using a Bible, saying, “If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”

Kevin Roberts has led the always right-wing Heritage Foundation into increasingly extreme MAGA territory. In a speech celebrating the 50th anniversary of Heritage’s founding, Roberts said the 2024 election “may be our last, best chance to rescue this nation from a woke, socialist left bent on its destruction,” mocked “non-vaccine vaccines” and “useless masks,” declared that there must be no bargaining with the “woke left,” and asserted that “dismantling the woke and weaponized Administrative State” is a matter of national survival. A Heritage ebook about critical race theory suggests that systemic racism cannot exist because racial discrimination is illegal.

Tim Barton is following in the footsteps of his father David Barton and is apparently set to inherit the family business of promoting Christian nationalism by spreading bogus claims about the Bible, the Constitution, U.S. history and current events. The false history peddled by the Bartons has influenced the GOP platform, the content of textbooks, and current right-wing efforts to take over school boards. Earlier this year the Bartons made a presentation on public schools that Right Wing Watch found was “rife with the sort of disinformation for which they are known.”

KrisAnne Hall is a right-wing attorney-activist who defended Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill as necessary to stop “the atrocity of the LGBT and the government school system weaponizing our children with propaganda.” Hall is an ally of anti-government activist and “constitutional sheriff” Richard Mack. In 2021 she told viewers of the religious-right Flashpoint program that Americans were beginning to realize that “deep state is not just Washington, D.C. Deep state is my school board, it’s my county commission.”

James Lindsay was part of a team of hoaxers who wrote fake journal articles to mock academic fields they derided as “grievance studies.” Lindsay helped spark the right-wing campaign against critical race theory and its use to squelch teaching about racism, which he has promoted via PragerU.  The right-wing training outfit Leadership Institute uses his material to encourage right-wing school boards takeovers. Lindsay is allied with Christian nationalists and has repeatedly claimed that the left is trying to provoke conservative Christians to commit violence against drag queens to create a “Drag Floyd” response—a reference to protests against the police murder of George Floyd—to justify shutting down churches. He has suggested that the “wokeness” of progressive Jews is to blame for a surge in right-wing antisemitism.

Chris Elston, known to anti-equality activists as “Billboard Chris,” is one of Canada’s most prominent anti-trans activists who has taken his campaign against trans-affirming healthcare to Fox News, religious-right gatherings, and streets across the U.S. In 2021 he posted video of himself harassing a woman who worked at a gender clinic. (Trans-affirming healthcare under attack in many red states is endorsed by major medical associations as potentially lifesaving treatment.)

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