MFL made its name in school board meetings, protesting COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. Their efforts quickly evolved into combating inclusive education and LGBTQ+ acceptance in schools and communities by pushing the narrative that children are being indoctrinated and sexualized through a radical “Marxist” agenda. Their tactics include advocating bans of books about people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, attacking the inclusion of hard histories in school curriculum, and targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The summit’s strategy sessions feature topics including “Comprehensive Sex Education: Sex Ed or Sexualization” and “Protecting Kids from Gender Ideology.” The summit will also feature training sessions on how to master and drive narratives in their communities.
The group has grown massively since its establishment in 2021. MFL claims to have 285 chapters in 45 states with membership over 100,000, placing it at the forefront of the anti-student inclusion movement. This still represents less than half a percent of U.S. parents. Public polling shows most Americans do not support banning inclusive education, including teaching racial history. The nonprofit organization, which claims it began by selling T-shirts out of a bedroom in one of the co-founder’s homes, reported earnings of $370,029 in 2021.
MFL did not respond to Hatewatch’s request for comment. After the request, the group tweeted: “The SPLC was wrong to think that their intimidation tactics would work to influence our amazing guests. For such a time as this.”
While MFL claims the event has sold out, activists in Philadelphia have organized against the summit. ACT UP Philadelphia and Defense of Democracy (DOD) are among the groups expected to protest the event.
DOD, a group established in 2022 to fight attacks on public education by MFL and similar organizations, has campaigned against the summit. DOD rented a billboard truck about the event and promoted a nationwide petition against Marriott Hotel hosting MFL.
DOD regional director Lyndsie Wall told Hatewatch her group is proud of the awareness it has brought to the upcoming summit. Wall said this conference allows MFL to organize its followers and then send them back across the country to spread hate, “and there should be no place for that.”
Moms for Liberty has been strategic in leveraging its ties to politicians and big-name media personalities. They consistently spread hard-right, anti-LGBTQ+ and conspiracy theory rhetoric while claiming to be a non-partisan organization of concerned parents.
The national summit, themed “Rocking the Cradle of Liberty,” features politicians, several state education officers who are responsible for influencing state legislation, and controversial figures who support the group’s agenda of combating student diversity and inclusive education.
Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are top-billed speakers. Trump and DeSantis, both frontrunners for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, are warriors in the so-called culture war on “wokeness,” which refers to being conscious of social injustices but has been distorted by some to mean the suppression of white people.
Under Trump’s presidency, attacks on critical race theory (CRT) and diversity, equity and inclusion programs went mainstream. If re-elected, Trump promises to pick where he left off by cutting funding to schools and programs deemed as embracing CRT or gender identity..
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
During his tenure as governor, DeSantis picked up the torch ignited by Trump, passing groundbreaking legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people and mandating what can be taught in schools. His Stop W.O.K.E. and “Don’t Say Gay” laws have served as a blueprint for states across the country seeking to oppress, exclude and criminalize Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ people.
Ron DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will also attend the summit. Haley has made anti-LGBTQ+ remarks. She told CNN in June that keeping biological boys out of girls’ sports is the “women’s issue of our time.”
The Women’s Sports Foundation, a leading nonprofit focused on women's education and involvement in sports, disagrees with Haley. The organization “supports the right of all athletes, including transgender athletes, to participate in athletic competition that is fair, equitable and respectful to all.”
Upon MFL being designated an antigovernment group by the SPLC, Haley quickly came to the organization’s defense, telling Fox News that “if you’re going to call Moms for Liberty a ‘hate group,’ then put me right there in them.” Haley mischaracterized SPLC’s designation for MFL, which SPLC listed as an antigovernment group.
Like many of his colleagues, Ramaswamy attacks the transgender community. He tweeted in June: “Let’s abandon the farce that the ‘humane’ thing to do is to affirm [transgender people’s] confusion, rather than to actually help. It’s inhumane.” He was this first of the presidential candidates to sign MFL’s Parent Pledge before hosting a New Hampshire town hall with the group. GLAAD has cataloged anti-LGBTQ+ comments made by Ramaswamy and other 2024 presidential primary contenders, and urges voters to ask about them.
Ramaswamy did not respond to a request for comment.
Other featured politicians include Congressman Byron Donalds, R-Fla. Donalds, who ran for Speaker of the House, considers himself a “Trump supporting, gun owning, liberty loving, pro-life, politically incorrect Black man.” In 2021, Donalds co-sponsored legislation to combat critical race theory. He did not respond to Hatewatch’s request for comment.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is now running for governor, is also slated to attend. His main campaign issue is education. In his memoir, he called for removing science and history from elementary schools. Robinson has expressed concern about public schools “indoctrinating children” and stated that education is a spiritual issue and not a political one. He called LGBTQ+ topics “filth” at a North Carolina church and said there is no reason to “be telling any child” about them. The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on Robinson to resign over his anti-LGBTQ+ comments.
High-ranking education officials from Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina and Oklahoma are scheduled to appear. These states have passed legislation regulating how an individual’s sexual orientation and gender are discussed in schools and banning the teaching of anything considered to be critical race theory.
Such controversial figures as extremists James Lindsay and KrisAnne Hall and far-rightactivist Chris Elston will also speak alongside the political figures.
Lindsay has made a name for himself promoting false conspiracy theories about cultural Marxism infiltrating American schools and society. He was removed from Twitter for his attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, then later reinstated. Lindsay has also made racist, anti-LGBTQ remarks that compare drag queens to Minneapolis murder victim George Floyd. Lindsay claims drag queens aim to provoke violence against themselves, naming this “Drag Floyd.” He further stated that Pride Month is simply a ploy by the LGBTQ+ community to provoke Christian conservatives into attacking them.
Lindsay did not respond to a request for comment.
Hall, an activist and self-described “constitutional attorney,” travels the country proselytizing her antigovernment views to militias, law enforcement, and church and neo-Confederate groups. Hall partners with members of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association to offer trainings. She also claims that America controls citizens under a Marxist agenda and that citizens do not need to comply with the federal government because the ultimate power rests with sheriffs. Hall will conduct a strategy session on the how the “American education system completely ignores the origin and value of the principles that created and maintain Liberty in America.”
Hall did not respond to a request for comment.
Chris Elston attends protests in front of the U.S. Capitol and children’s hospitals with signs hanging from his body that bear messages against transgender children and gender-affirming care. He has partnered with extremist organizations and individuals like Lindsay, MFL and Awake Illinois. On the MFL podcast, he stated: “There is no such thing as a transgender child. Far-right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has also joined Elston to publicize his message against transgender youth. Elston will moderate a session on the truths of “gender ideology” and how to combat it.
Elston told Hatewatch that he was honored to be speaking at the summit with what he considers esteemed organizations and individuals.
Bridget and Christian Ziegler are also expected to attend. Bridget was an original MFL founder but left the group's leadership in late 2021. She remains closely involved with the organization. She won re-election to her Sarasota County School Board seat in August 2022. Florida Proud Boy James Hoel assisted her re-election by campaigning through his organization, Sarasota Watchdogs. Her husband, Christian, was elected vice chair of Florida’s Republican Party in 2019.
According to Christian Ziegler, the Republican Party struggled for years to get young women involved until MFL provided him with the missing demographic. “MFL has done it for me,” he told The Washington Post. Just a few months after playing a pivotal role in the re-election of DeSantis, Christian was named chair of the Florida Republican Party.
For Wall, DOD’s regional director, the mixing of extremists and mainstream politicians signals extremism’s increasingly mainstream place in U.S. politics.
By appearing at an extremist group summit, these speakers and politicians are showing “who they are aligned with, and that they are, in fact, extreme,” Wall concluded.
Photo illustration by SPLC (L-R, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Tiffany Justice, Tina Descovich, Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy. Source photos from Alamy News and USA Today Network)