Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | June 9, 2023

SPLC says Oklahoma parent organizations are ‘hate’ groups

Ray Carter

At one time, being a member of a hate group meant one was involved in acts of violence, including lynching, as was the case with the Ku Klux Klan.

But now the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has redefined the phrase “hate group” to include parents whose only offense is being active in civic affairs and objecting to things like in-school sexual discussions with their five-year-old children.

On its latest “hate map” for Oklahoma, the SPLC claims there are 13 “hate groups” in the state—but at least five of those groups are parent organizations with no record of any violent extremism of any type, a fact the SPLC’s own website tacitly confirms because the only complaints it raises about the parent groups are that the parents are actively involved in local school issues.

In particular, the SPLC targeted Moms for Liberty chapters across the nation, including three in Oklahoma.

Janice Danforth, chapter chair of Moms for Liberty in Tulsa County, noted that her group’s efforts involve routine issues of concern.

“We’re a parental rights group that wants accountability and transparency. We want literacy rates to improve, and we’ll continue to expose the failures that aren’t doing that as long as needed until they improve,” Danforth said. “And if we’re going to get labeled for that, for exposing the truth, then so be it. We’ll keep fighting the battle because we, as Moms for Liberty, are joyful warriors.”

The website for Moms for America describes the organization as a “movement of mothers to reclaim our culture for truth, family, freedom and the Constitution.” The “Declaration of Mothers” posted on the group’s website declares, among other things, “We recognize the sacred role of mother as the heart of the home and home as the heart of society. Mothers by their divine nature and intrinsic influence determine the future of a nation, mold its citizens, determine its institutions, and shape its destiny. Parents are, first and foremost, the primary teachers and protectors of their children in a free society.”

The organization also has a “parent pledge” they ask candidates for public office to sign.

That pledge states, “I pledge to honor the fundamental rights of parents including, but not limited to the right to direct the education, medical care, and moral upbringing of their children. I pledge to advance policies that strengthen parental involvement and decision-making, increase transparency, defend against government overreach, and secure parental rights at all levels of government.”

“Many groups such as the SPLC are making themselves irrelevant by attacking people because of their beliefs. They have cried wolf so many times now, that they have become the wolf.” —State Sen. David Bullard

Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, two of the national founders of Moms for Liberty, released a statement responding to the SPLC’s attack that said, “Two-thirds of Americans think the public education system is on the wrong track today. That is why our organization is devoted to empowering parents to be a part of their child’s public-school education. That is our fundamental goal, which began just two years ago when teachers’ unions locked students out of schools during the pandemic.

“Empowering parents continues to be our mission today and that has fueled our organization’s growth—like wildfire to now 45 states in the country,” Descovich and Justice continued. “Name-calling parents who want to be a part of their child’s education as ‘hate groups’ or ‘bigoted’ just further exposes what this battle is all about: who fundamentally gets to decide what is taught to our kids in school—parents or government employees? We believe that parental rights do not stop at the classroom door and no amount of hate from groups like this is going to stop that.”

Local officials who have interacted with Oklahoma members of Moms for Liberty quickly came to the group’s defense.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center has been lost in liberal purgatory for a very long time,” said state Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant. “They have in the last two decades been weaponized by liberal elites in an attempt to declare that evil is good and good is evil. Moms for Liberty are patriots who are paying attention and taking their country and state back. I applaud them for not just being aware but for standing on solid ground and growing awareness. If you are scared of Moms for Liberty, then you are scared of what a Constitutional Republic has always been. Many groups such as the SPLC are making themselves irrelevant by attacking people because of their beliefs. They have cried wolf so many times now, that they have become the wolf.”

“This is yet another example of left-wing extremism and their insidious methods of labeling moms engaged in their kids’ education as public enemy number one,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters.

He called the SPLC report part of “a highly coordinated attack against parents” that is intended to reduce parents’ “power in the outcome of their child’s future.”

The SPLC’s effort also drew rebuke from political figures and entities across the nation.

“The SPLC is a hateful, bigoted, and despicable organization,” said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “They’re now attacking and labeling parents who want to have a say in their own kids’ education. Asinine.”

U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, wrote, “The SPLC is a garbage organization now dedicated to harassing groups that advocate for parents. In the future, their pronouncements must be met with scorn.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said, “The SPLC is a corrupt slush fund devoted to defamation.”

Heritage Foundation President Dr. Kevin Roberts issued a statement, declaring, “The SPLC’s ‘hate map’ is itself a weapon, used by activists and actual domestic terrorists to attack family-focused organizations as history has shown (or as we saw with Family Research Council in 2012). We can surmise why the SPLC continues to do this. The groups it smears are succeeding in their mission to save children from the scourge of toxic sexual and racial ideology. The SPLC will do whatever it can to defeat them, even if it risks the lives of anyone who dares challenge its woke orthodoxy. But the SPLC’s shameless tactics will not work. We and our brave allies will not cower. We will not yield. We will expose them. And we will win.”

To the SPLC, Supporting School Board Candidates Equals Anti-Government ‘Hate’

The SPLC declares Moms for Liberty to be an anti-government group, yet most of the criticisms leveled by the SPLC against Moms for Liberty is that the mothers are involved in local government affairs.

The SPLC website’s explanation for classifying Moms for Liberty as a “hate” group includes such things as Moms for Liberty hosting “online and in-person school board trainings in partnership with the Leadership Institute. Additionally, during the national summit in 2022, a special session was offered on how to build and run a school board campaign.”

In their “year in hate and extremism” report for 2022, SPLC officials complain, “Schools, especially, have been on the receiving end of ramped-up and coordinated hard-right attacks, frequently through the guise of ‘parents’ rights’ groups. These groups were, in part, spurred by the right-wing backlash to COVID-19 public safety measures in schools. But they have grown into an anti-student-inclusion movement that targets any inclusive curriculum that contains discussions of race, discrimination, and LGBTQ identities.”

The SPLC’s comments on “inclusion” refer to efforts to inject more LGBTQ material into classrooms, including early elementary grades, which has drawn objections from parents nationwide.

The SPLC also notes that Moms for Liberty enjoys strong support from many Republican officeholders, and that members of Moms for Liberty “can be spotted at school board meetings across the country wearing shirts and carrying signs that declare, ‘We do NOT CO-PARENT with the GOVERNMENT.’”

The SPLC notes that members of Moms for Liberty have objected to the book Gender Queer being in school libraries. That book is notable for graphic depictions of oral sex that many consider pornographic.

The SPLC report also complains that many states now bar males (who say they identify as female) from competing against girls in girls’ athletic events, and many states now have laws that prevent youth from receiving cross-sex hormones, puberty blockers, or sex-change surgeries before age 18.

Oklahoma is among the states that have passed such laws.

The SPLC also argues that groups opposed to Critical Race Theory in classroom settings are engaged in “hate” activities.

Oklahoma is among the states that have passed laws banning the incorporation of common Critical Race Theory tenets in classroom instruction, making it illegal to teach Oklahoma students that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The SPLC’s attack on Moms for Liberty includes the fact that Florida chapters of the group supported passage of a state law that states, “School district personnel may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” unless there is reason to believe disclosure would “result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.” The Florida law also states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

“The SPLC’s shameless tactics will not work. We and our brave allies will not cower.” —Heritage Foundation president Dr. Kevin Roberts

Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a similar bill this year, although the measure did not advance in the Oklahoma Senate.

The SPLC also attacks Moms for Liberty because the group’s members object to “biological males being allowed to play in girls’ sports, restrooms not being based on biological sex, and students and teachers being punished for sexual harassment if they use the incorrect pronoun.”

Despite the SPLC’s portrayal, opposition to boys competing in women’s sports is not a fringe position, according to national polling.

A poll conducted in May by The Washington Post and University of Maryland found 55 percent of Americans oppose allowing male athletes to compete in girls’ high-school athletic events, while only 30 percent were in support.

SPLC Attack Is Not First Targeting Parents Involved in Their Children’s Education

The SPLC’s attack on parent groups is not the first time that parents have been targeted by entities who object to growing parental involvement in public schools.

In 2021, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) asked the Biden administration to prosecute individuals under federal anti-terrorism laws for alleged disruption of school-board meetings. The examples cited by the NSBA in its request included no examples of actual terrorism and centered mostly on parents who spoke at meetings.

The NSBA’s state affiliate is the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA). Unlike many other affiliates across the country, the OSSBA never publicly rebuked the NSBA’s effort to prosecute parents as terrorists and OSSBA maintained its ties to the NSSBA even as other state school boards associations across the nation severed those connections.

The SPLC’s attack on parents is viewed as a continuation of the NSBA’s efforts by some critics.

U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., wrote, “Organizations that dare say ‘We do not co-parent with the government’ are now branded as hate groups. And parents who speak up at school board meetings are labeled terrorists by the DOJ (Department of Justice). This is all a concerted effort to intimidate families from exercising their rights & voice.”

SPLC Has Long, Troubled History—Even a Former Employee Calls It a ‘Scam’

The SPLC’s attack on parent groups continues a longstanding pattern at the organization of proclaiming conservative policy organizations to be “hate” groups, despite there being no hint of violent activity associated with those groups.

Critics, including not only conservatives but also those on the political left and even a former employee, have long described the Southern Poverty Law Center a sham organization that does little to identify or reduce the influence of actual hate groups.

In 2019, a Current Affairs column by Nathan J. Robinson stated, “The biggest problem with the (SPLC) hate map, though, is that it’s an outright fraud. I don’t use that term casually. I mean, the whole thing is a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC.”

Robinson described SPLC activity as “a scam bordering on criminal mail fraud.”

Also in 2019, former SPLC staffer Bob Moser wrote of his experience at the organization and said it was “hard, for many of us, not to feel like we’d become pawns in what was, in many respects, a highly profitable scam.”

At that point, Moser noted the SPLC had an endowment of more than $450 million and said the center “continues to take in far more than it spends.”

While the SPLC targeted moms’ groups on its 2022 “hate” map, the SPLC notably ignored other organizations that could be much more credibly described as hate organizations.

For several years, members of Antifa have mirrored Ku Klux Klan tactics by wearing masks in public and physically assaulting public-policy opponents. As recently as January, six individuals in Atlanta were arrested on charges of domestic terrorism following violent riots associated with Antifa activists. In 2021, more than two dozen suspected Antifa members were charged with a range of violent crimes in Portland, Oregon. In 2021, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office in California charged 11 alleged Antifa members with felony conspiracy and felony assault charges.

The SPLC “hate map” includes Moms for Liberty chapters in all three of those states—Georgia, Oregon, and California—on its list of “hate” groups. But the SPLC does not list Antifa as a hate group in any of those states.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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