Who is Moms for Liberty?
We met the founders of Moms for Liberty about a month after they moved into their new national headquarters in a nondescript office plaza in Melbourne, just southeast of Orlando.
"We are very excited about it. We've been working out of our homes all over the place for the last 10 months," said Tina Descovich, one of its founders.
It's here where Descovich and co-founder Tiffany Justice now manage the sale of Moms for Liberty navy T-shirts, car magnets and other merchandise as they also and oversee what has become a brand expanding to more than 150 chapters across 33 states. The group's nationwide membership roster is estimated at roughly 60,000, Descovich estimates.
"Every day I'm like, 'What? How is this happening?" she said.
She was asked what their group stands for.
"Moms for Liberty is a united group of parents across the country who are working to defend our parental rights at all levels of government," Justice said.
Both Descovich and Justice are two former school board members who came up with the idea for the group in January after Descovich lost her school board election in Brevard County, and Justice said she chose not to run for her school board in Indian River County, a neighboring county away.
"We both saw a need for parents to reclaim their children's education, and I think the timing was right for the organization to grow," explained Justice.
Small town conservative group turns into a nationwide movement
The growth of the organization can largely be attributed to the COVID pandemic which, at the time, was fueling debates over when and how schools should reopen across the country. Then came school mask mandates and the group that began as a local cry by a few small-town conservative moms morphed into a nationwide movement taking the internet, social media and school board meetings by storm.
"We believe parents are the experts of their own children," said Justice when asked about mask mandates, which have been lifted in Florida but remain an issue for some of its chapters nationwide.
"You can't say COVID made this happen," said Descovich. "I think COVID policies have exposed the problem to parents and it has driven people to us," she said.
Among those parents include Barbara Abboud, who was frustrated with her own district's mask mandates when she decided to start the first Moms for Liberty chapter outside of Florida in Nassau County, New York.
"No one was listening. No one was taking us seriously when we said our kids were suffering under some of these things that are happening," Abboud explained.
While the group's mission is squarely focused on improving public education and upholding the right of parents to be involved in those decisions, both Abboud and Descovich no longer send their kids to public school.
"Just because I needed to pull my child out to protect him doesn't mean I don't want to stay in the fight to protect all the other children," said Descovich.
Justice has four children who all go to public schools in Indian River County.
Critics question Moms for Liberty agenda
But with all the attention that Moms for Liberty has generated, the group has also had its fair share of critics who believe the organization's conservative-friendly agenda is encouraging angry moms to attack schools and school boards for books they feel are too sexual (several schools have removed books over concerns raised by the group), policies they believe are too socially sensitive and curriculum, members say, is anti-white.
"They're just hopping from topic to topic to stir chaos and controversy," Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins told us a few months ago when she went public with details of harassment and threats she had been receiving since earlier in the year.
Those threats included angry protesters showing up to her home and, what she described, as false child abuse allegations. Jenkins, a Democrat, beat Descovich for school board last year.
Shirley Brown, a Sarasota County school board member who said she had also been the victim of increased threats and harassment, also raised concerns about groups, including Moms for Liberty, who have shown up to school board meetings shouting and yelling against mandates and other issues.
"Having unruly school board meetings isn't in anyone's best interest," Brown said.
Descovich and Justice said there is no evidence any members of Moms for Liberty have been involved in any school board threats, and they denounce any inappropriate behavior by members.
"These are not our people, we denounce it," Descovich said.
"Our moms are joyful warriors. We're helping them engage with their school districts in a positive manner, and I think that's something we can be proud of. I'd like to talk more about that," Justice said.
Justice and Descovich also balk at any mention the group is GOP funded or politically motivated.
"We are an issue-based organization. Our No. 1 goal is to help parents speak up for their parental rights, and if there's an elected official who wants to get behind that all the better," said Descovich who added most of the funding they've received has come from small donors and t-shirt sales.
The political affiliation of members isn't something the group asks, nor is it something they care to know, say it's founders.
"I don't think our moms really care about political affiliation. I think our moms care about voting for people who are going to put children first," Justice said.
Jeannine Buntrock chairs a Moms for Liberty chapter in Minnesota and is a registered independent.
"There are a lot of people like me who don't like when things go extreme left or right," she explained.
The non-partisan group's partisan impact
But Christian Ziegler, vice president of Florida's Republican Party, believes the Moms for Liberty movement is already having a noticeable impact on the Republican Party in a good way.
"Twenty, 30, 40-year-olds who have never been involved before are now waking up. They're getting informed, and now they're getting engaged," he said of the group's influence at the local level.
In Florida, the number of registered Republicans now outnumber Democrats for the first time in history.
Ziegler, whose wife helped found the group but stepped down to continue serving on the Sarasota County school board, believes Moms for Liberty was a contributor and will continue to drive a historically tough-to-reach crowd to the ballot box for Republicans.
"With the amount of people showing up to school board meetings, I don't think it's a stretch to say they'll be showing up to the ballot box bringing their friends and family. They'll make it very clear which candidates support liberty and parental rights and are against mask mandates on kids," he said.
Not backing down
Back at the Moms for Liberty headquarters in Melbourne, in addition to the group's signature t-shirts that tout "we do not co-parent with the government," you'll also find books on how to read the Constitution. We also found booklets on "How to spot critical race theory" and fight back.
Descovich said they don't hand out those booklets.
Its founders remain unapologetic over who they are. Chapters, which set their own agendas, are now focusing on curriculum that members say is too sexual.
"They want to sexualize our children. It's completely inappropriate," Descovich said.
They also remain defensive over who they're not, denouncing any claim the group is anti-LGBTQ or promotes discrimination in any way. Moms for Liberty remains committed to not backing down.
"There's an effort to marginalize what we're doing and make us look a certain way," Justice said. When asked why, Descovich responded, "We're disrupting the balance of power in public education."