Meet the far-right group spreading its message of ‘liberty for some’ across the country — even in Washington state.
Who are the Moms for Liberty and what is their ultimate goal?
Started January 2021 in Brevard County Florida, Moms for Liberty (MFL) began its quest to establish a chapter of its organization in every county in the country. In Washington state, there are 9 counties with chapters, including Benton county. They attracted big names to their signature Joyful Warriors Summit in 2023, including Donald Trump and GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
The launch of the group initially was in support of “parental rights” at a time when mask mandates and Critical Race Theory (CRT) were the HOT topics at school boards across the country. They reached nationwide recognition very quickly with folks like Steve Bannon, Rush Limbaugh, and Tucker Carlson talking about them in interviews and mentions. Steve Bannon has real power in America — his podcast, WarRoom, is listened to by millions of people on Apple Podcasts (and is frequently one of the top downloads). His calls to action often encourage listeners to run for positions as low-level elected officials, become neighborhood precinct committee officers, or run for school boards and city councils. Bannon said, “ The road to saving the nation runs through our schools.”
Moms for Liberty is a far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement. The group grew out of opposition to public health regulations for COVID-19, opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum, and has advocated book bans.
MFL claim they are pushing back on government overreach at every level, and they have been effective in starting at the ground floor by electing members to schools boards all over the U.S.
MFL is also tied to the GOP in Florida and elsewhere, endorsing conservatives and combating what they call “gender ideology”. MFL claim that programs in schools like inclusion and equity are veiled attempts to promote LGTBQ+ ‘lifestyles’ and teach kids how to transition at schools and hide these identities from their parents.
MFL also claim that most of their fundraising comes from T-shirt sales, including the now well-known shirts with the phrase: “I don’t co-parent with the Government.”
In 2021 and 2022, conservatives won many seats on school boards across the country, using libertarian phrases like “school choice” and “parents’ rights” to fight against what they see as the erosion of the “traditional family”. These culture war issues fire up groups of parents on both sides.
According to an article from Florida Today, MFL endorsed 270 candidates nationwide in 2022 that all featured the same message: school closures during COVID were destructive, critical race theory is itself racist, boys and girls are different and should not share the same locker rooms and restrooms, and there's too much focus on a pro-LGBTQ agenda.
MFL in Washington State
As school board takeovers happened here in Benton County in the Richland School District, one of the elected board members, Audra Byrd, ran on a platform of “school choice” and “parents’ voice.” The other, Misipati Semi Bird (now a candidate for Governor running as a Constitutional Conservative), rallied hard against so-called CRT in schools. Sitting board member Kari Williams joined the other two to form a trio making up a ‘conservative’ majority (supported by the local chapter of MFL and the GOP), which then voted to go against the Governor’s mask mandate in February 2022. These board members were recently recalled after 18 months of drama.
While on the board, Semi Bird pushed hard for a total ban of CRT in the district and Audra Byrd helped pass a poorly-defined ‘controversial topics ban’ by a vote of 3 to 2. This ban was seen by many as a workaround to eliminate pride flags and other LGBTQ-inclusive materials in the school district.
The combative nature of MFL at school board meetings can be witnessed on various social media sites, where shouting and disruptions are a regular occurrence. Many parallels are made with the Tea Party movement and the style of the engagement the MFL use in public meetings. An article in The Nation spoke of the connections with the alt-right and white national movement:
“Moms for Liberty has a lengthy record of harassing school officials, LGBTQ+ students, and others, in some cases resulting in arrests and court-issued restraining orders. Group members have threatened gun violence against the figures they target; a favorite refrain in these blow-ups is ‘We’re coming for you!’ alongside the MAGA standby: ‘pedophile’.”
The MFL uses very specific verbiage, and communicates their talking points to their members as a script. First, it was fighting COVID mask and vaccine mandates. Then the focus became anti-CRT. Now, a list of books with LGBTQ+ themes has been created — and is being used throughout the country — by members of MFL to advocate for book bans. The list includes 150 books, many of which were written by Black and Brown authors. Attacks on public officials are becoming rampant — accusations of people of being “groomers” or “tyrants” and claims that the government/media/school systems are corrupt.
The Benton County MFL Facebook page has included moderators who are elected officials, like Kennewick City Councilmember Gretyl Crawford and various members of the Benton County Republican Party. Recently, one of the founding members of MFL in Benton County challenged a curriculum from an online supplemental reading program for kids in the 4th grade. The story was called Adventure in El Yunque by Christopher Rodriquez. The challenge brought to the board from the MFL member was on the basis that it had one line that mentioned two dads (which they assumed meant a possible gay relationship). The MFL challenger said that it was “gender ideology” and “not appropriate” for children in public school — language which parrots the description of the curriculum listed on the MFL national site. Other challenges brought against books have occurred in Benton and Walla Walla counties, as well.
In Columbia County (in Dayton, just a few miles down the road from Walla Walla), a petition gathered enough signatures to allow a ballot measure to close the library district. This was after a county resident, Jessica Ruffcorn, was upset that minors had access to books that she and others considered “sexual” and inappropriate for children. From an article in the Dayton Chronicle, Ruffcorn is quoted saying: “The petition is a public response to the lack of action to move sexually explicit books from the sections for minors. At last count, the library contains 167 books that contain graphic sex involving minors, books written for minors about gender and sex education, or books about sexuality for early readers.”
Ruffcorn has spent the last year attending library board meetings and making extensive social media posts amplifying her opposition about books that she believes are inappropriate. Ruffcorn went as far as suggesting Columbia County Rural Library District (CCRL) Director Todd Vandenbark might be a “groomer”. Vandenbark has since resigned from the Library Board.
The closing of the only public library in this small, rural community will be devastating. The library is a space for community connection. Jay Ball, who chairs the Dayton Library’s board of directors, said that this is “the end of the library as we know it.” The situation at the rural library district is unique, as only a small number of voters have the power to close the district that impacts so many residents of the county.
One resident of Dayton who is unable to vote on the ballot issue, Lorna Barth, president of the Friends of the Dayton Memorial Library, said:
“I want to keep the library in Dayton because if this one is dissolved there is not [sic] plans, no money, and no support for one in the county. I live in the City of Dayton and can NOT vote on the ballot proposal. That’s ⅔ of the voters that are restricted on their ability to vote on a community asset they all pay taxes on every year. So this outcome is in the hands of about 1,000 people. All of us in the county have to take what they decide and watch [it] crumble — one more service, one more public place, one more building at a time.”
If the voters decide to dissolve the Rural Library District, the State Library will take the inventory of the books and the city will be left with the empty building.
There are several national organizations that have formed around pushing back on MFL, including Defense of Democracy — which was formed in 2022 by two moms to combat three endorsed MFL candidates for school board in New York — and STOP Moms for Liberty. Both groups fight back by organizing ‘get out the vote’ campaigns, sharing information, and encouraging members to engage with the community at the local level.
Lifelong resident of Eastern Washington, Dori enjoys the outdoors, her family, and making good trouble. She has worked in broadcasting and reporting and believes in the value of the 4th estate. She is a true community advocate that loves Washington.
Hero image by Heather Wilder