Guest Column
Is Moms for Liberty collapsing in Florida and the nation? | Column
Its supporters have to decide if Moms for Liberty is creating more chaos for the right than for its foes in public education.
Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler and Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler are the focus of a sex scandal, and he is under investigation on rape accusations.
Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler and Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler are the focus of a sex scandal, and he is under investigation on rape accusations. [ Provided ]
Published Dec. 7, 2023|Updated Dec. 7, 2023

Could Moms for Liberty be nearing collapse? Co-founder Bridget Ziegler’s threesome scandal and the rape investigation into Republican Party of Florida Chairman (and paid Moms for Liberty consultant) Christian Ziegler have the far-right operation in turmoil. But Moms for Liberty was already showing signs of severe decline. Its survival will not be up to the moms.

Maurice T. Cunningham
Maurice T. Cunningham [ Provided ]

On Oct. 10 the Brookings Brown Center on Education Policy issued a report showing that Moms for Liberty was attracting members in blue and purple areas, but losing elections there. Instead, Moms for Liberty was winning seats in counties that were already conservative.

On July 5, City University of New York professor Heath Brown posted on Medium making the case that Moms for Liberty chapter gains were concentrated in just four states — Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Moms for Liberty’s “political power is considerable and expanding in some states, but nearly absent and even waning in others.”

Independent researcher Erin Gallagher found that Moms for Liberty makes it impossible to confirm its Facebook group membership claims — assertions that were being republished in right-wing propaganda networks and mainstream media accounts of Moms for Liberty’s supposed rising power. She concluded that Moms for Liberty is “transparently Astroturf” — a group that claims to be grassroots but is actually artificial turf.

Independent reporting on school board races in 2022 and earlier in 2023 showed me that Moms for Liberty was exaggerating its claims of school board race success. Some candidates even sought Moms for Liberty’s backing but required the group to not identify itself, for fear of backlash.

Then came Election Day 2023. An American Federation of Teachers analysis showed up to 80% of teacher union-backed candidates winning school board races. Moms for Liberty and its extremist ally, the 1776 PAC, lost with over 70% of their endorsed candidates. News accounts across the nation confirmed that Moms for Liberty got shellacked at the polls. The beating prompted Jon Valant, one of the co-authors of the Brookings report, to conclude:

They (voters) see that there are candidates on the ballot who are supported by Moms for Liberty, then you’re in a world where people are actually going out to vote against those Moms for Liberty candidates just because they’re associated with Moms for Liberty. So my biggest takeaway is that I think the Moms for Liberty brand has changed over the last couple of years in a way that is undermining the chances of some of the candidates that Moms for Liberty supports.

How have things been going since Election Day? Worse:

-- Moms for Liberty was forced to remove two chapter leaders for posing with Proud Boys.

-- The Moms for Liberty-dominated Central Bucks (Pennsylvania) School Board, after being swept out on Election Day, gave its submissive superintendent a $700,000 goodbye kiss before he was cashiered.

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-- A pastor who was the “faith-based” coordinator for the Philadelphia chapter was exposed as a registered sex offender.

-- Sarasota police are now investigating an October 2023 accusation of rape against Christian Ziegler. Bridget Ziegler confirmed to police that a year ago she participated in a threesome with Christian and the complainant in the criminal case.

Moms for Liberty is dependent upon a right-wing organization called the Leadership Institute, founded and run by GOP kingpin Morton Blackwell. Blackwell, now 84, recently left the board of the American Conservative Union, parent of the Conservative Political Action Committee, over a scandal in which a staffer accused CPAC chair Matt Schlapp of groping his crotch after a night of drinking.

On Dec. 7 Bridget Ziegler “resigned” as vice president of School Board Leadership Programs at the Leadership Institute, which she owed to Blackwell. Blackwell is also a co-founder of the secretive Council for National Policy.

Its goal is to replace public education with “free-market private schools, church schools, and home schools.” To achieve this, the right is laboring to build “universal public school distrust.” Moms for Liberty, with its book bans, disruptions at school board meetings, defaming educators as groomers and opponent parents as pedophiles, placing a bounty on teachers’ heads, and culture of fear have manufactured a lot of distrust.

The question Blackwell faces is, does Moms for Liberty create more chaos for the right than for public education? How he answers will determine the fate of Moms for Liberty.

Maurice T. Cunningham retired in 2021 as associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He is the author of “Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.”