Watch out for the MAGA moms

By Searchlight Team

Working the crowd (clockwise from top left): Moms for Liberty founders, Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, presidential contenders Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump; to round off the organisation’s 2023 summit in Philadelphia singer Mary Millben belted out God Bless America.

First published in Winter 2023/24 Searchlight magazine

A ‘conservative’ organisation that spread to 45 states in three years has been courted by presidential candidates, but it has also been mired in scandal. Leonard Zeskind reflects on its growth and ponders its future

The chairman of the Florida Republican Party, Christian Ziegler, recently came under fire for alleged rape and sexual battery. He has not yet been charged with a crime, and claimed the sex with a woman who was not his wife was consensual. It was another ho-hum moment in hypocrisy, as another conservative leader got caught with his pants down. Except that his wife is Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County School Board member and one of three women who founded Moms for Liberty, an outrageously aggressive “conservative” organisation.

A Sarasota County School Board resolution was passed calling on Ms Ziegler to resign, but she is yet to heed the call. The escapade has embroiled the Florida Republican Party and has hit Moms for Liberty. Apparently, Bridget and Christian had a sex session with the other woman the year before, a startling arrangement for an avowedly anti-LGBTQ person.

Bridget Ziegler has now been replaced on the executive board of Moms for Liberty with Marie Rogerson. The other two founders – Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice – remain on the board. A chapter in Pennsylvania has left the organisation, and others may follow.

The organisation was founded in 2021 to fight the vaccine mandates being promoted at the time to curtail the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic. It soon became a centre for challenging LGBTQ constitutional rights, race and ethnicity studies, and for banning books in school libraries the organisation considered to be explicit on sexual matters. It grew nationally, and as of July 2023 reportedly claimed it had 115,000 members in 285 chapters across 45 states.

It held its first summit in Sarasota, Florida, in 2022. Both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis, spoke at the meeting. The 2023 summit was held in Philadelphia and featured a speech by former President Donald Trump. Several African American politicians addressed the assembled and singer Mary Millben led on the singing of patriotic anthems.

Despite its claims to “conservatism” and its official colour blindness, evidence shows that Moms for Liberty does not want to conserve anything but the white skin of the founders. This is a MAGA group: America First nationalists.

The chapters are the source of the organisation’s strength. They are also a source of blight for its reputation. The Hamilton Indiana chapter was caught quoting Adolf Hitler in its June 2023 newsletter. The chapter apologised, but never adequately explained how the quote got into the newsletter.

In Miami, the local chapter helped sponsor a “Protect the Children” rally in December 2022, which was attended by about 20 members of the Proud Boys – since then convicted of seditious conspiracy. In Cabot, Arkansas, in June 2022, local police opened an investigation into a recording of a Moms for Liberty leader fantasising about shooting school librarians. “They would all be plowed [sic] down with a freaking gun,” the man had said. In 2021, the Indian River Florida chapter asked the local school board to remove 51 books from local schools’ libraries.

Moms for Liberty is also explicitly anti-union. The organisation focused on school board elections in November. It claimed that its candidates had won 44% of the poll. But The New York Times, Newsweek and other news sources described the results as “losses”. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the press that the Moms for Liberty “strategy to create fear and division” was a loser.

An independent accounting of the election in 11 states by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights found that the organisation had won 43 seats and lost 90. None of these races were in Florida, which is packed with chapters and a friendly governor. Many were in Pennsylvania, where Moms for Liberty had held its Summit. And in Iowa, which is first in the nation for presidential primaries [which, this year, are running mid-January], it ran 13 candidates, losing all but one race.

The election results served to point to the strengths of the organisation’s opponents: the American Federation of Teachers, Defense of Democracy, and the Campaign for Our Shared Future.

Whether the sex scandal mentioned at the top of this story, or the failed election results, or something else will ultimately hurt the prospects of Moms for Liberty is unknown at this point. Its rapid growth to 115,000 members, however, points to the strength of the MAGA movement. And a coherent strategy to push that aside is yet to emerge.

Leonard Zeskind is the founder of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights,

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