David Gilbert: A Far-Right Moms Group Is Terrorizing Schools in the Name of Protecting Kids
Writing for Vice News, David Gilbert presents one of the most blistering looks at Moms for Liberty published. It includes some brutal and personal stories like this one, about a mother dealing with her recently-outed gay son:
Tony’s mental health spiraled soon after being outed in January 2022. He stopped playing baseball, locked himself away in his bedroom, and eventually started cutting and stabbing himself with pencils. But he found some hope through the Rainbow Youth Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group whom he first contacted a month later, in February.
In late March, Carolyn gave her permission for Tony to start counseling with the group, and Tony felt that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Then, two months later, out of nowhere, his mother revoked her permission. Carolyn tells VICE News she’ll never forget how Tony responded to her ban: “Mom, you just killed me.”
Later that day, Tony attempted to die by suicide.
Carolyn’s decision didn’t spring out of nowhere: Moms for Liberty, an organization that calls itself a “parental rights group,” had convinced Carolyn that the Rainbow Youth Project was trying to “convince Tony to have his private parts removed and changed.”
Carolyn first contacted Moms for Liberty after she heard about them on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News in February 2022, believing they could help her find a “cure” for her son’s homosexuality, she asked for advice on Twitter.
Over the next couple of months, Carolyn was bombarded with information and directed to posts from the group’s co-founder Tiffany Justice, all of which helped convince her to revoke permission for Tony’s counseling.
“They were trying to indoctrinate me to be a foot soldier for their cause, to hold bake sales and raise money, go to the school boards and stand up and fight against them,” Carolyn told VICE News. “Looking back, it was never about Tony. It was about them.”
M4L works hard to sell itself as a grassroots group of wholesome “joyful warriors.”
The group’s methods, however, belie the wholesome vision it tries to project. VICE News has spoken to students, administrators, parents, superintendents, school board members, and teachers who have faced vicious attacks by Moms for Liberty. Their stories paint a picture of a group that conducts orchestrated harassment campaigns against individuals, that’s resulted in many fearing for their safety and, in some cases, their lives.
“The greatest impact that Moms for Liberty is having is imparting fear, within the teachers and the educators and in the parents,” Laura Leigh-Abby, co-founder of Defense of Democracy, a nonprofit group advocating for inclusive education, told VICE News. “The true impact they’re having is really not calculable, because I’m seeing teachers who are afraid to speak out because they don’t want to be targeted.”
Gilbert shows how the harassment of individuals is part of M4L’s dna:
Tina Descovich helped found the group after losing a school board re-election in Brevard County, Florida, to a woman named Jennifer Jenkins. “In the beginning, I thought this was a joke because when they came to our school board meetings, I used to call them, jokingly, ‘Moms Against Jennifer Jenkins’ because they didn’t have this cohesive thought or mission,” Jenkins told VICE News.
But that quickly changed. As Moms for Liberty grew, Descovich was joined by Tiffany Justice, a former school board member in neighboring Indian River County, and Bridget Ziegler, a member of the Sarasota County School Board, and the trio officially incorporated Moms for Liberty as a 501(c)4 nonprofit in January 2021.
Ziegler’s involvement was key for the group’s evolution: She was deeply entwined with the GOP machine both locally and nationally. Her husband is the chair of the Florida GOP, and Ziegler has ties to national organizations like the influential Leadership Institute, an advocacy group that trains conservative activists.
This piece, lengthy and researched, tells story after story of parents, teachers and administrators targeted by the group. Read the full piece here.