By JOHN LESLIE
The so-called Moms for Liberty (MFL) held a conference, labeled a “Joyful Warriors Summit,” in Philadelphia, June 29-July 2, despite numerous protests against their hate-mongering, book banning, and attacks on public education, Black history, and LGBTQ people.
Several groups—including the National Parents’ Union, ACT-UP, and the Young Communist League—sponsored demonstrations as well as raucous “Dance Party” rallies outside of both the Marriott Hotel, where the conference took place, and the Museum of the American Revolution, which hosted a reception for the MFL. A “Freedom to Read” rally was held outside of Philadelphia’s central library branch, while a tiny counter-protest of anti-book people screamed at them from their perch in front of the library’s entrance.
Unfortunately, while the protests were numerous, they were all fairly small, rarely exceeding 100 people at a time. An opportunity had come about for a variety of organizations and individuals—including unions, teachers, librarians, Black and immigrant groups, and other proponents of free speech and civil liberties—to unite in a broad coalition that could have mobilized thousands to counter the right-wing book banners. But that important step was never taken.
Days before the MFL event, a variety of political, community, and parent organizations participated in protests calling for the Marriott to cancel its contract with MFL. Additionally, protests were held outside the Museum of the American Revolution. A majority of museum employees and at least seven organizations representing historians called on the museum to cancel the MFL event. They included the National Council on Public History, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the Professional Organization of LGBTQIA+ Historians, and the Organization of American Historians.
Trish Norman, an assistant curator at the museum, joined the street protests. She told Hyperallergic, “As a queer museum professional who has been outspoken about the museum’s rental to Moms for Liberty, I believe that the rental agreement goes against the museum’s mission and values.”
A hate group
According to the Washington Post, (Oct. 15, 2021), 10 months after the MFL was founded in January 2021, the group claimed it had grown to 56,000 members and supporters in 135 chapters in 35 states. Although it poses as a grassroots network of concerned parents, the MFL leadership has close ties with major right-wing political organizations and counts a layer of wealthy people among its donors.
The Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC), which monitors hate groups, has classified the MFL as an extremist group. According to the SPLC, “Moms for Liberty and its nationwide chapters combat what they consider the ‘woke indoctrination’ of children by advocating for book bans in school libraries and endorsing candidates for public office that align with the group’s views. They also use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.”
As if to confirm the SPLC designation, on June 2, 2023, Scarlett Johnson of MFL appeared on a white nationalist conspiracy theory show hosted by the anti-Semite, Stew Peters. While on the show, she claimed that pride merchandise at retail stores like Target is part of a Marxist plot, and that transgender people are inciting violence against Christians.
MFL supporters have threatened violence against school personnel, offered bounties on teachers breaking a New Hampshire law against teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the schools (basically any Black history). One MFL chapter quoted Adolf Hitler in their newsletter, although under pressure, they later apologized. The MFL have been working to capture control of school boards nationally and have control of at least two, Pennridge and Central Bucks, in suburban Philadelphia.
Speakers at the MFL conference included an array of far-right Christian nationalists, white supremacists, and four GOP presidential candidates. One speaker, James Lindsay, is the author of a book that claims that CRT is part of a “Marxist” conspiracy and is a purveyor of the white nationalist “great replacement” or “white genocide” theory. White nationalism is based on the unfounded fear that whites as a social group will lose their primacy in U.S. society through declining white population numbers and increased immigration. It’s true, of course, that the “non-Hispanic” white population as a percentage of the whole is shrinking. White nationalism sees this as the result of a conscious policy of liberal elites, often Jews, to “replace” the white population with a population that racists think will be more easily controlled by ruling elites.
Other speakers included far-right figures like Dennis Prager, Kevin Roberts of the Heritage Foundation, Florida Governor DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and Christian nationalist extremist Tim Barton. Barton, president of the Wallbuilders, has been quoted as calling for “more God, more Jesus, more Bible in schools.”
Former President Trump spoke on June 30. He took some of the “Moms” out for a Philly cheesesteak afterwards, but they cut the excursion short because they feared counter-protesters would show up. As Trump’s motorcade passed protesters, there were shouts of “fuck you” and “traitor” from the crowd.
On the last day of the conference, Sunday, July 2, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson told attendees, “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.” Outside the hotel, MFL delegates were greeted by chants of “Philly is a trans city!” “Philly is a queer city!”
The police, who maintained an extremely aggressive presence throughout the duration of the conference, arrested six protesters on Sunday, five of them because they were allegedly blocking traffic, and one on charges that they were waving a trans flag over the barricade set up around the hotel.
Who pays their bills?
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Moms for Liberty “exploded on the scene with its leaders being guests on Fox News and breaking into the Washington Post. It has a well-developed website and extensive social media reach. Moms for Liberty has formed three federal and one state political action committees, one of which is a SuperPAC able to accept unlimited donations.”
The newspaper continues, “Moms for Liberty’s leaders claim to get by on T-shirt sales. They’ve barely even heard of the Koch brothers! Yet perhaps they’ve heard of the Council for National Policy. Two of Moms for Liberty’s National Summit sponsors, the Leadership Institute, and Heritage Foundation are critical members of the Council for National Policy, a secretive network of right-wing billionaires and Christian fundamentalist leaders that underwrites and coordinates right-wing politics.”
Moms for Liberty’s 2021 tax returns show that it received $250,000 that year in contributions and grants. MFL’s first summit, in 2022, was partly underwritten by a $50,000 grant from the Leadership Institute, which identifies its goal as to “identify, train, recruit and place conservatives in politics, government, and media.” MFL has also benefited from major fund-raising events. For example, former Fox News host Megyn Kelly appeared in an event where tickets were sold for as much as $20,000 each.
The MFL is part of a wide-ranging far-right offensive against LGBTQ rights—trans rights in particular—and a general backlash against the Black freedom movement. Hate and lies about LGBTQ people being pedophiles or “groomers”* has been weaponized by far-right politicians and activists. Nazi groups and other fascist organizations have mobilized in concert with far-right evangelicals to oppose drag queen shows and story hours.
Reported hate crimes are on the rise. According to the Marshall Project, “Hate crimes reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies rose from more than 8000 in 2020 to nearly 11,000 the following year, according to updated statistics released last week. Crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Sikhs and bisexual people all more than doubled. Meanwhile, hate crimes against Black, White and LGBTQ people made up nearly half of all incidents.”
In the run-up to Pride Month, far-right activists were urging supporters to steal and deface or set fire to Pride flags flying at homes and businesses across the country. Hate crimes aimed at Pride flags have occurred in at least five states. The unhinged far-right Congress member, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), labeled transgender women as “sexual predators” and called the Pride flag a “symbol of aggression” against cis-gendered people. She also bizarrely claimed that LGBTQ people already enjoy equality, in spite of the numerous laws being proposed and enacted that are restricting that equality.
More than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures; another 220 bills aimed specifically at transgender and non-binary people are under consideration or have passed. Also, 77 anti-LGBTQ laws have been enacted that ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth or censor LGBTQ content in school curriculums.
This offensive is not just limited to the U.S. Uganda recently passed a draconian anti-LGBTQ law that imposes life sentences for same-sex sexual activity and in some cases the death penalty. The passage of this law was lauded by some on the U.S. far right. Russia has also taken steps to further stigmatize and outlaw LGBTQ relationships. Sixty-four countries still criminalize same-sex acts, out of 193 UN member states.
Strategy and tactics against the far right
While there is not yet a mass fascist movement in the U.S. that is unified around a single program, leader, and organization, the growth and combativity of the far right in this period is cause for alarm. Trump, a political opportunist with no principles, helped set the stage for the current situation. As one Ku Klux Klan leader said, “Trump has set us free.” The growing far right has deep echoes inside one of the two main bourgeois parties, where formerly fringe ideas like Christian nationalism and the “great replacement theory” have gained a mainstream audience.
Fascism is a symptom of capitalism in crisis and is called into being by finance capital in order to defend its power against the working class.
Trotsky wrote: “At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium—the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat—all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”
The strategy and tactics that the working class and oppressed need to use should aim not only to defeat the fascists in the streets but to open the way for the political power of the oppressed and exploited. We cannot depend on the police, the courts, or bourgeois politicians to defend us. The best way forward is independent, united-front counter-mobilization against the right. Mobilizing the broadest layers of society against reaction, especially the labor movement, is an urgent task.
The Socialist Workers Party understood this in 1939 when they mobilized 50,000 workers to oppose a Nazi rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Socialist Appeal reported: “With a brutality recalling the days of Czarist Cossacks, 1,780 of Mayor La Guardia’s police, the largest number of cops ever collected in the city against a single demonstration, slugged and trampled under horses’ hooves scores of workers in an unsuccessful attempt to break up the demonstration.”
LaGuardia, a liberal Democrat, used police to protect the fascists. It is worth noting that the Communist Party refused to build a united front against the fascists alongside the Trotskyists. However, the ranks of the CP responded to the appeal from the SWP and mobilized in spite of their leadership’s political default.
Going forward, the necessity of building a revolutionary workers party capable of leading these struggles is clear. A party led by the most combative workers, youth, and oppressed people can help sweep this fascist filth from the stage of history and open the road to a struggle for a better world, a socialist world.
*Someone who becomes friends with a child with the intention of trying to persuade them to have a sexual relationship.
Photo: A banner hung outside the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia. (John Leslie / Workers’ Voice)