Corporate media whitewashes book-banning hate group ‘Moms for Liberty’

A recent Washington Post analysis of book challenges in the U.S. gave the book-banning draconian hate group Moms for Liberty (M4L) the white-glove treatment. 

Demonstrators outside Moms for Liberty summit in Tampa, Florida in 2022.

On May 23, the Post reported that 62% of 2,571 requests to remove books from schools and libraries in 2022 were filed by just 11 people. The article refers to M4L chapters a half-dozen times and explores the organization’s connection to the 11 individuals and other requests to ban books that portray LGBTQ2S+ and youth of color in a positive light. Yet not once does the article delve into M4L’s undeniable connection with far-right hate groups and funders. 

Glaring omissions include the group’s connections with the right-wing evangelical Council for National Policy, the Leadership Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action for America, QAnon and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, now an official GOP presidential candidate for 2024. Links to these groups can be found on the M4L website.

Without a clear exposé of the forces behind M4L, the Post’s analysis reads like a how-to instruction manual for people who may want to follow the group’s methodology. It even includes examples of handwritten complaint cards filed against specific books. 

The article goes so far as to suggest that Jennifer Pippin, a M4L member, may have a valid point in objecting to some LGBTQ+ books because of their sexual content, thus making excuses for her homophobia. If sexual content could be considered a valid reason for removing a book, then shelves of library romance and much of the literary fiction sections would be bare, and the Bible would have to go.

In an Aug. 17, 2022, article, the Post explored the groups Book Look and Book Looks, describing their electoral initiative to vote out school board members who have resisted book banning. Both groups started as committees organized under M4L. 

Media Matters pointed out, however, in its Sept. 20, 2022, exposé: “Even though the organizations are clearly tied. … the Washington Post extensively reported on Book Look and Book Looks without mentioning their close affiliation with Moms for Liberty (although the piece did quote the chair of a local Moms for Liberty chapter praising the two groups’ efforts to ‘prevent children from encountering sexually explicit material’).”

The Post had previously framed M4L as a grassroots organization “channeling a powerful frustration among conservative mothers” as if this were an admirable thing. (Oct. 15, 2021) In reality, guided by training from the Leadership Institute, M4L members “are opportunistically manufacturing outrage and selling it to parents under the guise of empowerment.” (Media Matters, Nov. 12, 2021)

The Post’s repeated refusal to include readily available information on M4L’s right-wing corporate funders also helps to perpetuate M4L’s blatant lie that they are simply “concerned for children’s lives,” and self-financed by selling T-shirts. 

Book-banning growth parallels M4L rise

The American Library Association documented 729 book-ban attempts between 2020 and 2021, over five times more than the previous year. The number then doubled in 2022. A record 1,260 attempts to remove books from schools and libraries have been reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, according to an April 7 press release that noted: “The challenges targeted 2,571 unique book titles, the vast majority of which were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or Black persons, Indigenous persons and persons of color. 

“Of the overall number, 90% were part of attempts to challenge multiple titles at the same time — evidencing coordinated efforts to restrict or remove books about marginalized groups. . . . More than half of states also have seen the introduction or passage of legislation that would severely restrict access to library materials, including withholding funding for libraries or criminalizing the professional activities of library workers who fail to comply with the likely unconstitutional demands.” (tinyurl.com/yc7rbahw)

The rapid increase in requests to ban books parallels the growth of Moms for Liberty, which officially incorporated as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt nonprofit organization in January 2021. This particular IRS status puts no restrictions on lobbying and engaging in political activities, and M4L is not required to list its major donors.

In August 2020, M4L’s co-founder Tina Descovich began harassing Brevard County, Florida, school board member Jennifer Jenkins, after losing reelection to her. At the time, the district had LGBTQ+ guidelines that protected students by allowing for “the right to dress and use bathrooms according to the gender they identify with.” The two also clashed over mask mandates to protect against COVID-19.

Beginning with disrupting school board meetings, the harassment later intensified. Media Matters reported that “According to Jenkins, parents [associated with M4L] reportedly began calling school board members ‘pedophiles’ and threatening them, saying, ‘We’re coming at you like a freight train! We are going to make you beg for mercy. If you thought Jan. 6 was bad, wait until you see what we have for you!’” (April 11, 2023)

“Someone even falsely reported Jenkins for child abuse,” she said, “prompting an investigation from the Florida Department of Children and Families.”

In addition to Descovich, M4L official founders include Tiffany Justice, a former school board member in Florida, and Bridget Ziegler, a member of the Sarasota County School Board. 

In January 2021, M4L debuted on the Rush Limbaugh Show and was featured on several other right-wing programs. The group’s national summit in Florida at the Tampa Marriott in 2022 featured speeches by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, and Trump’s former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The summit offered training by Leadership Institute, the summit’s largest donor. LI is an influential group that trains conservative activists.

With deep ties to both the local and national GOP machines, Bridget Ziegler is credited with the group’s evolution. Her spouse Christian Ziegler chairs the Florida GOP and has ties to LI. At her election night victory party in August 2020, Bridget Ziegler was photographed with members of the Proud Boys.

As of this writing, M4L reportedly has 115,000 members in 265 chapters in 43 states — predominantly in Florida and Texas but growing in Pennsylvania. Moms for Liberty has positioned itself at the center of the book-banning movement intent on whitewashing U.S. history, while pushing an anti-LGBTQ2S+ agenda promoting right-wing propaganda. There is currently no chapter in Philadelphia, where M4L plans to hold their 2023 summit June 29 to July 2.

Activists push back 

M4L’s plans to hold a national summit at the Marriott Downtown in Philadelphia (date?) has already brought together protesters outside the hotel on May 12. (workers.org/2023/05/71125/) 

More demonstrations are planned, starting with an Anti-fascist Pride event on June 2 outside the Marriott at 1200 Filbert St. at 6 p.m. If you can’t be there, or even if you can, call (215) 625-2900 and tell the Marriott “Keep Moms for Liberty out!”

Betsey Piette

Betsey.Piette@workers.org

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Betsey Piette

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