Moms for Liberty co-founder tells American parents they have something in common with Trump


Sitting in a large auditorium in the nation’s capital, Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice traded the spotlight of school board meetings in a tiny Florida county to take center stage before upper crust conservative Washington elites.

Justice turned to make direct eye contact with those in the crowd and delivered a stern warning: The Department of Justice is coming after parents the same way it had former President Donald Trump.

Justice went on to describe calling her teenage daughter when she first found out the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Moms for Liberty “extremist” and “anti-government” after meeting with members of the Biden administration, at the Weaponization of U.S. Government Symposium Tuesday, put on by right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation.

“She googles it, and she says, ‘Mom, you’re like next to the KKK,” Justice said.

The crowd erupted into laughter. Justice scoffed, “it’s ridiculous.”

Justice’s appearance at the Heritage Foundation event seemed to mark a shift in focus for Moms for Liberty after its endorsed candidates won fewer than one-third of their school board elections last year. Instead of rallying around a fresh set of seats up and down the ballot, Justice sounded off talking points the crowd usually hears from the Republican party’s presumptive nominee Trump.

Trump has characterized his 91 felony counts spanning four criminal cases as a political witch hunt concocted by the DOJ to stop him from winning the 2024 election. Justice echoed this sentiment in her remarks accusing the Biden administration of weaponizing the DOJ against parents who speak up at school board meetings.

“They understand that it’s happening to President Trump,” Justice told USA TODAY. “But they are now seeing all these other things happening and are saying ‘Woah. Wait a second. This isn’t something that’s happening to somebody else. This is happening to me.’”

Justice was referencing a string of cases the Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to state and local authorities to investigate in a 2021 memo. Republicans have argued the memo targeted parents protesting at school board meetings and Justice said Tuesday that at least one of them belonged to Moms for Liberty.

Garland told members of the House last year that the cases investigated threats or acts of violence. He added that they were prompted by a National School Boards Association letter which supported media reports of parents threatening school board members and district employees over pandemic policies.

In response to USA TODAY’s request, the FBI declined to comment.

A national pivot away from school board endorsements

Moms for Liberty is known for challenging school mask mandates in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls to ban library books, and its federal super PAC. Its members created controversy at school board meetings in 2022, citing concerns K-12 schools were supposedly teaching “critical race theory” and material related to sexuality and gender.

Justice said Moms for Liberty has chapters in 48 states, and with plans to expand into Vermont, that number will soon be 49.

Since its founding in Florida in 2021 by Justice, Tina Descovich, and Bridget Ziegler, one of the group’s primary goals has been to get “liberty-minded” individuals elected to local school boards.

However, a Brookings Institute report revealed that in 2023, 33% of Moms for Liberty candidates were elected in comparison to 47% in the 2022 election cycle.

Moms for Liberty has yet to release a list of endorsements for 2024 and does not have plans to do so soon.

Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, and Tina Descovich, greet attendees as they open the first Moms for Liberty National Summit on Thursday, July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The convention continues through Sunday, July 17th with conservative speakers and strategy sessions for members.

Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, and Tina Descovich, greet attendees as they open the first Moms for Liberty National Summit on Thursday, July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The convention continues through Sunday, July 17th with conservative speakers and strategy sessions for members.

Maurice Cunningham, a retired associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and author of “Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization,” said the group’s pivot away from endorsements is unsurprising.

“People do not like they are very associated with book bans,” Cunningham said. “People do not like the whitewashing of American history…and they don’t like the constant attacks on LGBTQ children.”

Kit Hart, a mom of five children ages 4 to 13, runs the Moms for Liberty chapter in Carroll County, Maryland. She said her local chapter has endorsed two candidates, Greg Malveaux and Kristen Zihmer, in a board of education race this year. Their opponents, she said, are openly anti-Moms for Liberty and she has to work to counter their narrative that the group’s main goal is to ban books.

Moms for Liberty Carroll County chapter members hand out books to community members at an art event on March 29, 2024 to disprove its reputation that it supports sweeping book bans. From left, Kim Zentz, Beth Serio, Kit Hart, Sallie Taylor, and Shannon Hinkhaus.

Moms for Liberty Carroll County chapter members hand out books to community members at an art event on March 29, 2024 to disprove its reputation that it supports sweeping book bans. From left, Kim Zentz, Beth Serio, Kit Hart, Sallie Taylor, and Shannon Hinkhaus.

Hart said she thinks Moms for Liberty not releasing a public list of its endorsed candidates nationally is a “very smart move” given the organization’s controversial reputation.

“Luckily we don’t have scared candidates. We have very brave candidates here in Carroll County. At the local level it’s a different story,” Hart said.

Fewer voters tend to participate in school board elections because they have less information about them than other races, allowing groups like Moms for Liberty to affect the results more easily. However, the Brookings report suggested that while the organization’s endorsements may have boosted voter turnout, it is possible that they drew in the wrong voters.

“M4L could have the opposite effect, especially in more progressive areas,” Brookings researchers conclude. “It could elevate the profile of local school board races in ways that turn out voters opposed to its preferred candidates.”

Scarlett Johnson runs the Moms for Liberty chapter in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. She said her chapter waits until one or two weeks before an election to reveal its endorsements to avoid drawing unwanted attention to the candidates.

Justice said her reason for not releasing a national public endorsement list at this time has to do with safety concerns.

“What happened when we put out a list was the people on them got death threats. It was like putting our people on a chopping block,” Justice said.

President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said said while no one should be threatened for running for office, she suspects Moms for Liberty has other reasons for not publicly endorsing candidates this year.

“It’s not that they were being threatened. It’s that they created this kind of environment of threats and division and people are saying to them that we want nothing of it,” Weingarten said. “The public and parents are not about these culture wars. They are not about this divisiveness, so that’s why they’re changing the agenda.”

Justice said Moms for Liberty would still like to see candidates it supports elected at all levels of government but that this year she is “not giving away the playbook.”

More: ‘Fight this battle piece by piece’: Concerned moms are shaping culture wars and 2024 race

Cunningham said although it’s somewhat surprising the group is now switching gears to attack the FBI, what he called the country’s most conservative law enforcement organization, the attack is in alignment with its overall goal to undermine institutions.

“Moms for Liberty now realizes it cannot prevail in many school board races,” Cunningham said. “It has retreated to part of its mission before. Part of its mission was always to create disruption and distrust. They’re very good at that.”

How grassroots is Moms for Liberty?

In her remarks Tuesday, Justice thanked the Heritage Foundation for its help and support over the last three years. She told USA TODAY that the Foundation helped Moms for Liberty file different Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about the Biden administrations meetings with the SPLC.

Weingarten and Cunningham said while Moms for Liberty purports to be a grassroots group, they believe it is obedient to larger right-wing forces. Weingarten alleged the group has had the political backing and financial support of Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from the start.

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, center, is presented "The Sword of Liberty" by Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, Tina Descovich, second from right and executive director of program outreach Marie Rogerson, far right, during the first Moms for Liberty National Summit in July.

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, center, is presented “The Sword of Liberty” by Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, Tina Descovich, second from right and executive director of program outreach Marie Rogerson, far right, during the first Moms for Liberty National Summit in July.

“The two most important moms in Moms for Liberty are not Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice. They are Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute and Kevin Roberts of Heritage,” Cunningham said.

Republican Florida State Rep. Randy Fine disagreed. He said Moms for Liberty is a grassroots organization and that he has watched it grow since its founding in his home state.

Hart and Fine said that Justice’s concerns over FBI investigations into parents should be taken seriously and they are glad to see Moms for Liberty shining light on bigger issues in the U.S. including what he considers a two-tiered justice system.

“This is a bootstraps organization. It is made up of parents who are mad,” Fine said. “If I’m a mad parent in Florida, which both of these co-founders are, and I’ve solved the issues that exist in K-12 education in Florida, I would naturally turn my attention outside of Florida.”

Author and expert in local campaign strategy Shawn Frost sat on the same school board as Justice and served Moms for Liberty as a media engagement consultant around the time of its founding.

He said he advised the Moms for Liberty to humanize its members and attempt to turn the temperature down regarding the culture war, but that the group ultimately “did away with” him.

Frost said he is not surprised to see the organization now painting the DOJ as a persecutor.

“Victimhood sells. Victimhood compels. If you make people feel as though they’re victims, then they will join your cause. Rather than empowering them, which is my preferred model,” Frost said. “They are certainly nationally aspirational and Tiffany particularly really enjoys being celebrated in that fashion.”

Rachel Barber is a 2024 election fellow at USA TODAY, focusing on politics and education. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, as @rachelbarber_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Moms for Liberty targets FBI



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