Kathryn Joyce on Moms for Liberty: ‘There’s a Much Deeper Fight Going on That These Things Serve as Cover For’

“There’s a really important role that these ‘fringe’ groups play in pushing the envelope, in keeping things moving ever-rightward. And then these things, by and by, show up in much more mainstream parts of the right,” said Joyce.

Moms for Liberty founders Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler claimed they came from humble roots–three concerned mothers selling T-shirts to support their cause: protecting their children from what they perceived to be inappropriate material within the public school system. But, as journalist Kathryn Joyce reported in the April edition of Church & State, “Mad Moms: A New Christian Nationalist Front Group Claims To Champion Parental Involvement In Public Education. Critics Say There’s A More Nefarious Agenda Afoot,” Moms for Liberty (M4L) has a more insidious agenda – to fuel distrust in public education and promote far-right, Republican beliefs.

Joyce described the group’s history and association with popular right-wing figures and media outlets. For example, their first national summit in the summer of 2022 was funded by groups like the Heritage Foundation, Turning Point USA, Parents Defending Education, and, most notably, the Leadership Institute, who donated a $50,000 grant. FOX News host Megyn Kelly headlined the event, which ended up collecting $20,000 per ticket.

In an interview with Raging Chicken’s “Out d’Coup podcast,” Joyce explained how groups like M4L become well-known in the first place, and why she believes it’s necessary to keep track of groups with similar rhetoric.

“By the time it [the rhetoric of these right-wing organizations] filters down into more mainstream circles, it has become popularized,” she said. “There’s a really important role that these ‘fringe’ groups play in pushing the envelope, in keeping things moving ever-rightward. And then these things, by and by, show up in much more mainstream parts of the right.”

Joyce further elaborated on how the language and imagery employed by M4L allowed it to resonate with so many women on the right. By framing themselves as “concerned mothers,” M4L centers womanhood in a way that creates a sense of empowerment for women on the right. As co-founder Bridget Ziegler’s husband Christian Ziegler put it, “I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party…But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.” Christian just happens to be the chair of the Florida Republican Party.

“There’s parents of all political stripes who are always being warriors for their children,” Joyce said, in reference to how M4L hooks parents – especially women – into their movement by calling their members “joyful warriors.” A lot of parents have been fierce advocates for their children for decades, especially when it comes to parents who are “protecting their children who are Black, or brown, or immigrants or LGBTQ. In this sense, it’s a deceptive sort of framing, but it’s very powerful, and it’s language that’s being used to cover all kinds of agendas that don’t really have anything to do with that.”

Joyce pointed out how the Parents Bill of Rights Act that was passed on March 1 – a bill that was introduced by Republican Rep. Julia Letlow–contains demands that have already been in effect for years, such as allowing parents to meet with teachers and address the school board. “There’s a much deeper fight that’s going on that these things serve as cover for,” Joyce argues.

The fight in question, as conservative activist Christopher Rufo has admitted, is to “get to universal school choice” by operating “from a premise of universal public school distrust.”

“They get to kill a lot of birds with one stone,” Joyce said. “School privatization is basically being introduced in ever-more explicit ways as the solution to all of the controversies that are dominating the news.”

Joyce attributes the “moral panic” over critical race theory and book banning to Rufo’s influence over the conservative media sphere. However, as the public becomes more aware of groups like M4L, public education activists have more of a platform to speak out against them.

“I talked to a lot of public education advocates,” she said, “and a number of people told me that they felt like they had been looked at like they were crazy when they said all of these moral panics that are being whipped up are about defunding public education. One of them told me that she was more optimistic than she’s been in a long time because she felt like people were seeing what was going on.”
While M4L has the most chapters in Florida, Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of chapters.

Their most recent summit took place on June 29 in Philadelphia, lasting four days and attracting speakers like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.

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Ava Lobach

Ava Lobach is a Community Media Intern at Raging Chicken Media. Ava is especially passionate about LGBTQ rights and environmental justice.

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