Right-Wing Extremist Network Financed Moms For Liberty

Interview with Maurice T. Cunningham, author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, conducted by Scott Harris

In recent years, the right-wing group Moms for Liberty has provoked angry clashes in public schools across the country over what can and can’t be taught in the classroom about sexuality, the LGBTQ rights movement, the history of slavery and modern-day racism in the U.S. The group has also been in the forefront of the movement demanding the wholesale banning of books in schools by many award-winning authors, whose views they disagree with.

Many Moms for Liberty activists and leaders have falsely accused their critics of “grooming” young children for sexual abuse, parroting dangerous conspiracy theories promoted by groups like QAnon. The group gained a foothold in some communities, playing off the anxiety many parents felt during the COVID pandemic when schools were closed and remote, at-home learning was a poor substitute for children being with teachers in a classroom.

Although Moms for Liberty presents themselves as average parents concerned about their children’s education, they are in fact part of the nation’s right-wing infrastructure that includes the Leadership Institute and the Heritage Foundation, through which they receive funding and organizational support. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Maurice T. Cunningham, author and retired University of Massachusetts professor of political science, who talks about Moms for Liberty’s origin and agenda in the Republican party culture war.

MAURICE T. CUNNINGHAM: They’re really a creation of establishment far right politics. In this case, particularly the Heritage Foundation and the Leadership Institute, which both have been around for over 40 years. And so they are what my friend Ann Nelson would call an obedient franchise of these operations and a large umbrella group called the Council for National Policy, which all of these groups are members of.

And so, you know, this idea that they’re, you know, just moms out protecting children is farcical. Not true at all.

SCOTT HARRIS: And, Morris, I wanted to ask you a bit more about their agenda. If you were to generally describe what Moms for Liberty was after, how would you pigeonhole them?

MAURICE T. CUNNINGHAM: The overarching goal of Moms for Liberty is to destroy public education. On the way they want to take down teachers unions. But ultimately they want to destroy public education, and as, one of their overseers, the Council on National Policy has put it in a policy memo, they want to do away with public education and replace it with free market, meaning for-profit schools, religious schools — largely Christian — evangelical and homeschools.

That’s it. That’s what the future of education will look like in this country if Moms for Liberty gets its way. That is a very dire outlook indeed. But that’s what they’re out there doing.

SCOTT HARRIS: Going back to Moms for Liberty. Their influence has dissipated in recent years, I would say. And I wonder if you could review some of the media attention that Moms for Liberty has received from CBS’s weekly show, 60 Minutes. There’s certainly, a very kind of ugly sex scandal in Florida that really challenged Moms for Liberty and their holier-than-thou approach to preaching their brand of morality.

I wonder if you talk a little bit about the Moms from Liberty’s fall from grace. And we should also include in that their kind of epic failure in running their candidates for local school boards across the country.

MAURICE T. CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, you could see this coming last fall but, nothing has gone right for them. You know, they sort of kicked off the second half of last year with a scandal involving one of their chapter heads quoting Hitler in a newsletter. And then they stood by the chapter head, quoting Hitler, of course. But then you had, you’re right. The school board races went very badly for them. They won only about 33 percent of it.

They followed that not long after with a sex scandal in which one of the co-founders, who ostensibly left the organization early but remained, involved a woman named Bridget Ziegler, who was a co-author of the Don’t Say Gay bill down in Florida, was found, confessed to have engaged in a threesome with her husband and another woman.

And this came up in an investigation of the husband because the woman charged him in a separate encounter with sexual abuse. Now, he was never indicted on that. But the whole thing that just flamed up. And then, you know, on top of those things, so you have those disasters. The moms are on an interview with 60 Minutes, the remaining co-founders, Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, and they’re asked by Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes.

They had been charging teachers with being groomers, grooming children for sex and having an agenda, you know, an indoctrination agenda and what they mean by that is people teaching and upholding the dignity of LGBTQ-plus children. And so Scott Pelley asked the two of them, what do you mean by groomers? What do you mean by gay agenda? And after three years of hurling these charges around, they had no answer.

They have no idea what they’re saying. They can’t defend accusing people of being groomers because it’s a false charge. It’s vile. And I’ll tell you one other thing about it. You know, they were reeling after that interview went public. But I tell you, in the last couple of weeks, Moms for Liberty has gone right back to accusing people being groomers.

It’s terrible behavior and they need to be called out on it every time.

Cunningham is the author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Mark Cunningham (16:29). More articles and opinion pieces are found in the Related Links section of this page.

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