Scandal-plagued civil rights group launches attack on parental rights groups

Southern Poverty Law Center's annual report on "hate and extremism" focuses heavily on Moms for Liberty, whose dossier falsely claims member was "indicted for terroristic threatening" educators.

Published: June 10, 2023 11:45pm

Updated: June 11, 2023 1:43am

The Alabama-based civil rights organization that made its name suing the Ku Klux Klan has put parental rights groups in its sights and for the first time has started tracking the "antigovernment movement" ideology in its annual "Year in Hate & Extremism" reports.

The Southern Poverty Law Center added "reactionary anti-student inclusion groups" to a list of 702 "antigovernment extremism" groups it tracked in 2022, separate from 523 "hate" groups. The organization focused almost exclusively on just one in its annual report published this week: Florida-based Moms for Liberty, far and away the leader in chapters nationwide.

The focus echoes Attorney General Merrick Garland's 2021 memo pledging to prosecute "harassment, intimidation and threats of violence" against school boards, in response to a plea from the National School Boards Association to crack down on "domestic terrorism and hate crimes," which critics deemed were actually parent-led protests about curriculum and COVID-19 restrictions. House Republicans recently questioned why Garland has yet to retract the memo.

Moms for Liberty is fundraising off the designation, citing a donor offering to match up to $300,000 in donations "to help fight back against the deliberate silencing of parents" by SPLC.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) weighed in as well, noting an SPLC lawyer was arrested and charged with domestic terrorism for allegedly participating in an attack on a police training facility-to-be. So did Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), noting Tuesday he asked for an IRS investigation of SPLC's tax-exempt status in 2019 for "systematic defamation."

SPLC has weathered several scandals in recent years – including the firing of its founder in the wake of internal allegations of racial and sexual discrimination and a multimillion-dollar settlement with a Muslim activist it deemed an "anti-Muslim extremist" – as well as three decades of scrutiny for its marketing and fundraising practices.

The author of the report, Intelligence Project Director Susan Corke, visited the Biden White House Jan. 6 and met with National Security Council counterterrorism director John Picarelli "accompanied by researchers from American University who work with the SPLC," according to White House visitor logs reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

While the meeting's subject remains unknown, Garland's 2021 memo directed the Justice Department's Criminal Division and National Security Division to create a task force that would determine how to prosecute alleged crimes against schools.

The education section of the SPLC annual report, which does not appear to be available in a single printable document, compares today's "so-called parental rights activists" to those who yelled "derogations and obscenities" at a 6-year-old black girl entering a newly integrated school in 1960.

The newer activists have adopted "old racist and homophobic ideas, as well as conspiracy theories asserting Marxist indoctrination," with "a dash of QAnon rhetoric, accusing progressives of attempting to groom and sexualize children," the section states.

"They also seek legitimacy and mask hate speech by combining their vitriol with rhetoric that appeals to concerned parents" such as opposing COVID-19 school restrictions by spreading "anti-mask conspiracies," SPLC claims.

While SPLC's press release on the report claims the education section identifies a dozen parental rights groups, it names only three: Moms for Liberty, Virginia-based Parents Defending Education and Ohio-based Moms for America, perhaps the oldest such group, founded in 2004

Users must scour SPLC's "hate map" by ideology, then by state, or download the spreadsheet of all 1,225 hate and antigovernment extremism groups, to learn the rest. They include U.S. Parents Involved in Education, Parents Against Critical Race Theory, Parents' Rights in Education and No Left Turn in Education. 

Each chapter is listed individually – Moms for Liberty alone is credited with 230 – but neither the map nor the spreadsheet provides further details on listed groups.

The 52-year-old civil rights group may be trying to limit potential defamation litigation by lesser known groups by burying their listings and limiting their descriptions.

A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against SPLC by the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society in April for its inclusion on the hate map as an "anti-immigrant hate group," despite SPLC previously ruling out groups that use the political process as hate groups.

Like the Dustin Inman Society, which promotes "legal, sustainable and reduced immigration," Moms for Liberty is one of 77 groups important enough to SPLC to merit its own "extremist file" dossier and the only parental rights group in the club.

It shares the "Antigovernment General" category with two groups whose alleged members have been prosecuted for participation in the Jan 6, 2021, Capitol riot: the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters

The press release alone could cause SPLC legal headaches. It does not distinguish between peaceful and militant groups when claiming they are all "intent on staging public spectacles of hatred that harass, threaten and violently harm Black, Brown, Asian, Jewish, LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities."

Moms for Liberty is one of just four groups identified by name in the press release, along with Patriot Front, Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, implying its members have a history of criminal prosecution like the others.

Yet the only evidence for true threats the release provides is associational – Moms for Liberty has "shown up alongside Proud Boys" at some protests – while making clear SPLC's primary beef with Moms for Liberty is that it "hijack[s school board] meetings, preventing officials and parents from conducting their normal proceedings" and advocates for policies SPLC opposes.

Moms for Liberty's dossier is heavy on First Amendment-protected activity and appears to reference only a single gray-area incident. 

Melissa Bosch was secretly recorded at an Arkansas chapter meeting implying she would go on a school shooting spree "if I had any mental issues," but was not charged because "this statement was not made in the context of a threat," according to the June 2022 police report. The decision was reported in the Arkansas Times.

The dossier falsely claimed Bosch was "indicted for terroristic threatening towards the faculty and staff," even as it cited a different Times report when Bosch sued the school district for invoking the inflammatory comment to ban her from school property.

SPLC did not respond to requests from Just the News about the new "antigovernment movement" category, why flagged groups are buried on its website, the risk of litigation for associating Moms for Liberty with groups that have faced criminal prosecution, and the subject and result of the Jan. 6 White House meeting.

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