July 1, 2023

Maurice Cunningham: Pulling Back The Curtain On The Leadership Institute’s Dominion Over Moms For Liberty

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Maurice Cunningham is an expert in tracking the trails of dark money in the education world. In this piece for the Bucks County Beacon, he looks at one of Moms for Liberty’s close partnerships.\

Remember in the Wizard of Oz when the cloth is pulled back and “the great and powerful Oz” warns “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”? Moms for Liberty has a curtain too. They’ll present themselves as suburban moms at their national summit in Philadelphia, but behind the curtain is Morton Blackwell, a right-wing patriarch who has been around so long he was a 1964 Goldwater delegate.

Moms for Liberty (M4L) has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group, has been identified by PENAmerica as leading the country’s book banning movement, and called out by the Human Rights Campaign in its recent declaration of a national emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. It celebrated a Hitler quote then apologized for the reference but not the substance of his ideas about education.

Blackwell founded the Leadership Institute (LI) in 1979 to train conservative activists. LI has asserted virtual dominion over M4L’s operations. Blackwell is also a co-founder of the Council for National Policy, which has advocated for abolishing public schools and replacing them with “free-market private schools, church schools, and home schools.” M4L co-founder Tiffany Justice, appearing on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast, boasted:

“We’re going to take over the school boards, but that’s not enough. Once we replace the school boards, what we need to do is we need to have search firms, that are conservative search firms, that help us to find new educational leaders, because parents are going to get in there and they’re going to want to fire everyone.”

LI and M4L teamed up for a School Board Activist Workshop in January 2022 and LI was responsible for three M4L School Board Activism and Campaign Trainings in February 2022. In early 2023 LI and M4L assembled an Iowa Town Hall featuring Governor Kim Reynolds, a Story Telling WorkshopGrassroots Fundraising and a busy week of trainings in Maryland, New York, and Georgia including appearances by Betsy DeVos and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green.

LI was the largest sponsor for M4L’s first summit last year in Tampa. A national conference is a difficult undertaking for a one-year-old organization like M4L, but it is business as usual for the Leadership Institute. Speakers included Governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Rick Scott, Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson. LI’s Dylan Craig wrote:

“I’m proud to say Leadership Institute partnered with Moms for Liberty and supported the Summit as the top sponsor, official photographers/videographers, trainers, and all-around support. LI held training for attendees on Candidate Vetting, Grassroots Lobbying, Communications, Running for Office, Strategic Research, Vote Goals, and four hours of Media Training.” 

Read the full article here. 

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