A parade of MAGA-minded presidential candidates drew cheers at the recent Moms for Liberty national summit with conspiracy theories, anti-LGBTQ smears, and calls for authoritarian policies to purge “wokeness” from American schools, businesses, and government agencies. It was a heady moment for a group that was founded by a handful of Florida mothers in 2021 to resist COVID-era vaccine and mask requirements in schools. The summit and its speakers revealed much about the vastly expanded mission to which M4L activists are being called: to be a political vanguard that will drive Democrats from power and save America from the supposed threats to its survival from communists, globalists, secularists, the “deep state,” teachers unions, promoters of “gender ideology,” and the rest of the MAGA movement’s perceived enemies.
Moms for Liberty Summit: Key Takeaways
Right Wing Watch attended the MAGA moms’ June 30-July 2 summit. Some of our key takeaways, followed by additional reporting and analysis:
- Moms for Liberty has been fully adopted by the deep-pocketed powerhouses of the right-wing political movement. The group and its activists are being funded, trained, and organized by the Leadership Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and other right-wing groups.
- Right-wing political strategists see M4L’s “mama bears” and “joyful warriors” as camera-friendly messengers for anti-government, anti-LGBTQ, anti-“woke” ideology—in other words, potential political kryptonite against Democratic officials and progressive candidates. M4L leaders and the operatives supporting them exude confidence that they are the keys to “taking America back.”
- For all its leaders’ talk about being a movement grounded in love, M4L speakers demonized the group’s political opponents as haters of America, enemies of faith and freedom, “groomers” and child abusers, and agents of Satan in a spiritual war between the forces of good and evil.
- M4L leaders say they’re against big government and its encroachment on liberty, but summit attendees cheered candidates’ authoritarian promises to wield presidential power to impose anti-diversity, anti-LGBTQ policies on schools, colleges, hospitals, and businesses.
- Anti-transgender messaging suffused the conference, with multiple speakers using lurid rhetoric equating gender affirming health care endorsed by major medical associations with child abuse and “sexualization” and “mutilation” of children.
- Leaders are aware that public scrutiny of M4L activists has harmed the movement’s reputation. Summit attendees were repeatedly urged to maintain a public posture as “joyful warriors” who are not motivated by hatred toward anyone but by love for their children and country.
- Moms for Liberty’s goals and actions are generating spirited opposition in defense of the freedom to learn. People For the American Way launched its Grandparents For Truth organizing project at an enthusiastic rally and press conference the first day of M4L’s summit; the event was cosponsored by other anti-censorship and pro-public education organizations and addressed by progressive local and state elected officials.
Moms for Liberty and the MAGA Movement
With a big boost from right-wing media outlets, Moms for Liberty chapters sprouted up across the country over the past two years, bringing chaos to school board meetings along with demands that books dealing with sexuality and racism be removed from school libraries. M4L activists have led school board takeovers and fired well-respected school officials. Along the way, some Moms for Liberty leaders teamed up with Proud Boys and other extremist groups and militias, and engaged in targeted harassment of educators and political opponents.
Moms for Liberty leaders have promoted the lore that the group’s expansion and impact was a kind of nonpartisan grassroots prairie fire fueled by t-shirt sales and mama bears’ righteous desire to protect their children from sinister forces controlling their schools. The truth is that M4L’s expansion has been energetically supported by the massively funded infrastructure built by the right-wing political movement over the past five decades.
MAGA Moms and the Leadership Institute
At the Philadelphia summit, M4L leaders heaped praise on the Leadership Institute, a right-wing training powerhouse that has nurtured the careers of many influential far-right activists. M4L officials presented Leadership Institute founder Morton Blackwell with a “Sword of Liberty”; an introductory video stated that the institute has “trained thousands of joyful warriors to save our school boards” and that M4L and LI are “rapidly growing to meet the challenges and opportunity of this unique moment in history.”
Right Wing Watch reported in August 2021 that the Leadership Institute and other right-wing political groups were focusing on school board takeovers as a strategy for building political power. The institute was already promoting a 20-hour online course to train conservatives to run for school boards to “stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory before it destroys the fabric of our nation,” and was distributing an “e-book” of a speech made by James Lindsay portraying critical race theory as part of “a 100-year-long project to develop this kind of cultural super weapon that’s now ripping America apart.” In Philadelphia this month, Lindsay, now a member of M4L’s advisory board, told the MAGA moms that that they are fighting the American equivalent of Mao’s murderous 20th century cultural revolution in China.
LI leader Blackwell began advising Moms for Liberty leaders in their first two months; the Leadership Institute’s adoption of the group is so complete that it has hired M4L co-founder Bridget Ziegler—whose husband chairs the Florida Republican Party—as vice president of the Leadership Institute’s school board program. At the summit, activists could take training sessions on running for school board and on what to do in the first 100 days of taking power.
In his remarks at the summit, Blackwell claimed that “leftist indoctrination” is “sweeping through schools” and he denounced “leftist administrators and teachers, backed by big labor bosses,” who he claimed are “pushing far left ideology in the classroom, warping the minds of young children.” He said that LI is “building out a robust operation to train thousands and thousands more parents and concerned citizens to take back our school boards and save the country.”
Targeting Transgender People
Trump’s attack on transgender people reflected the intensity of the summit’s focus on “gender ideology,” which suggests that stoking fear and resistance to the visibility and legal equality of trans people will be one of the MAGA movement’s political themes in 2024. “I will also take historic action to defeat the toxic poison of gender ideology to restore the timeless truth that God created two genders, male and female,” Trump said. Similar comments were heard from other speakers and in breakout sessions where transgender people and their allies were vilified, and gender affirming care for teenagers that is supported by major medical associations was portrayed as child abuse and “mutilation.”
Deflecting Attention from Unpopular Abortion Bans
The overriding goal of Moms for Liberty’s right-wing backers is to convince and mobilize women to vote for right-wing candidates at every level of government. The extreme and unpopular abortion bans being passed around the country are a threat to that strategy, which explains why speakers at M4L and the religious-right Road to Majority conference a week before urged attendees to try to shift focus away from those bans by trying to portray pro-choice politicians as “the real extremists” for supporting measures to protect abortion rights in law. Trump, who bragged about his Supreme Court nominees voting to overturn Roe v. Wade, charged falsely that pro-choice leaders want to protect the killing of newborn children.
Mocking Climate Change Activism
In a month of extreme weather around the globe and what scientists say may have been the hottest day on Earth in 125,000 years, M4L speakers mocked concerns over climate change. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy waved away climate concerns, saying the solution to many of America’s problems is to achieve faster economic growth, for which his prescription was “drill, frack, burn coal, and embrace nuclear.” Trump mocked concerns that sea levels would rise 1/8 inch “over the next 200 to 300 years,” a far cry from recent official estimates of the potential for sea level rise along the U.S. coastline of at least two feet by the end of the century, and possibly significantly more.
Promoting Christian Nationalism and Spiritual Warfare
Most of the summit speakers who invoked faith did so not to celebrate the defining American values of pluralism and church-state separation, but to denounce the removal of official prayer and Bible readings from public schools and to portray American politics in terms of spiritual warfare between the supernatural forces of good and evil. The summit’s opening reception featured a presentation by Wallbuilders’ Tim Barton, who follows in the footsteps of his father David in promoting bogus Christian nationalist history to conservative audiences.
Among the conference sponsors was Patriot Mobile, a cellphone carrier that uses its revenues to support Christian nationalist idoelogy and right-wing school board takeovers. The executive director of Patriot Mobile Action introduced herself this way: “My name is Leigh Wambsganss. And my pronouns are Bible believer, Jesus lover, Gun Carrier and mama bear.” Wambsganss declared, “This is a spiritual war, not a political war,” and she vowed, “we will take America back.”
MAGA Extremism, MAGA Misinformation
Moms for Liberty attendees were treated to speeches by several Republican presidential candidates: former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Former South Carolina Gov. and former Trump administration official Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.
The candidates’ speeches—like those of other M4L speakers and sponsors—were rife with warfare rhetoric, mockery and outrageous demonization of political opponents, and conspiracy theories. Trump’s hyperbolic speech denouncing the sinister forces he said want to destroy America by forcing “their sick creed of woke communism” on every American drew rapturous cheers and applause from the MAGA moms. About Democrats, Trump declared, “They hate God.”
While M4L activists cheered candidates’ vows to abolish the Department of Education and return control of education to the states, Trump and other presidential candidates championed their willingness to use the power of the presidency. Ramaswamy said he would act to prevent public school teachers from joining unions.
“I am proud to have laid out by far the most aggressive most visionary plan to liberate our children from the Marxist lunatics and perverts who have infested our educational system—they’re perverts,” Trump said, adding that he would issue an executive order on day one of a new Trump administration to cut federal funding “for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender ideology, and other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content on our children.”
He said he would implement “massive funding preferences” for states and school districts that abolish teacher tenure and said he would fight for direct election of school principals. “I’m also going to take very aggressive action to finally reclaim our higher education system from the Marxists and the communist left,” Trump said.
Trump echoed religious-right activists who portray secularism as a false religion. “The Marxist left and other lunatics preaching radical ideology have become a cult, with their own creeds and their own mantras and their own rituals. Instead of taking children to church, they believe in taking children to drag shows, you see what’s happening. ‘Let’s not go to church today, darling, let’s go to a drag show.’”
DeSantis’s speech was a reprise of his now-familiar denunciations of “woke” in all its forms, bragging about his administration’s actions to police the content of textbooks and eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs from public universities. He portrayed himself as a Churchillian hero in the war on woke: “And in Florida, we fought the woke all across the board, and as President, I will fight the woke in the corporations. I will fight the woke in the schools. I will fight the woke in the halls of Congress, we will never ever surrender to the woke mob. We are going to leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history where it belongs.”
Along with the Leadership Institute, the Heritage Foundation was one of the summit’s major financial backers. Heritage president Kevin Roberts denounced globalist elites who he said “don’t’ want our children to inherit liberty and freedom.”
Trump’s wildly applauded closing hit on the major messages of the MAGA movement and the Moms for Liberty summit:
This is our final battle. With you at my side, we will demolish the deep state. We will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the communists, we will throw off the sick political class that truly hates our country, we will rout the fake news media, we will take back our schools, we will defeat Joe Biden, and propelled by the spirit of July 4, 1776, we will win a righteous victory on November 5, 2024.
Joining People For the American Way’s new Grandparents for Truth project is one way to defend the freedom to teach and learn the truth and resist the growing political power of the MAGA movement’s authoritarian book banners.
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