(NewsNation) — Republican candidates seeking the party’s nomination as presidential candidates are heading to Philadelphia to speak at a Moms for Liberty summit. The group that originally started with a focus on school board races is becoming a major force in politics, but who are they?
Moms for Liberty began in 2021, coordinating efforts to elect conservative candidates to school boards. The Florida-based group used parental rights as a rallying cry and set its sights on school board races which are often overlooked and uncontested.
Chapters formed across the country, with members showing up to school board meetings to protest pandemic restrictions and targeted schools teaching curriculums that included topics on race in the U.S., information about LGBTQ people or social-emotional learning, an educational approach focused on self-awareness and interpersonal skills.
Members of the group have also launched efforts to ban books they deem inappropriate and backed legislation like Florida’s laws prohibiting teachers from mentioning LGBTQ topics in school, which opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Moms for Liberty pitches itself as a nonpartisan, grassroots effort started by passionate parents who call themselves “joyful warriors.” Yet the group’s close ties to Republican organizations, donors and politicians raise questions about partisanship and doubts over how grassroots it really is.
The Philadelphia summit will include training for those who seek to influence school boards as well as hosting high-profile speakers, including former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, activist Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, all vying for the 2024 GOP nomination.
In a NewsNation town hall, Democratic challenger Robert F. Kennedy Jr. defended his record on LGBTQ rights after initially agreeing to speak at the summit. He later declined the invitation and is not set to appear.
In 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated the group an extremist organization. They compared the organization to pro-segregationist groups and noted it has a record of harassing school employees and spreading false information.
The label did not deter any of the Republicans speaking at the summit from appearing.
Haley responded by tweeting, “If @Moms4Liberty is a ‘hate group,’ add me to the list.” Ramaswamy went onstage for a Thursday town hall with Justice and tweeted that SPLC stands for “Selling Political Lies to Corporations.”
Moms for Liberty, for its part, is fundraising off it. After the SPLC report was public, Justice said the group quickly raised $45,000, an amount a larger donor has agreed to match.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.