More Love, Less Hate: Philly’s Message to Extremist Group

And They're Coming for All of Our Kids!

Niki Haley at the Moms For Liberty Conference
Moms for Liberty conference attendees record protesters with their phones.

If extremist groups like Moms for Liberty (M4L) thought they would come to Philadelphia to send LGBTQIA+ Philadelphians a message, Philadelphians sent them one back. Their message is that your hate isn’t welcome here, and we will show each other more love and have fun doing it. But how big of a threat is M4L, and why does such a small group have such an outsized influence?

Moms for Liberty started as an anti-public health group fighting against keeping kids safe from a deadly virus; of course, they claimed to be protecting kids. But are you protecting kids if you’re demanding kids be forced back into crowded classrooms without any protection between themselves and a virus that has already killed millions worldwide and would ultimately take the lives of more than one million Americans?

They also claimed and continue to claim they’re fighting for parental rights, but which parents, certainly not my parental rights or yours, if you are the parent of a black, brown, AAPI, Jewish, or LGBTQIA+ student, or a student who might be immunocompromised.

As their influence grew among the far-right, their disinformation and agenda shifted from anti-government, anti-science to even darker places. They would push for and — in too many instances — succeed in getting books banned for merely having LGBTQIA+ people in them, or addressing the holocaust, or history books centering black figures. They pushed to ensure LGBTQIA+ people couldn’t talk about themselves or their experiences in schools, couldn’t use bathrooms that corresponded to their gender, or play sports if they were Trans.

M4L says it came to Philadelphia because Pennsylvania has the second-largest number of chapters nationwide, though I could only verify 13 active chapters.

Sheila Armstrong antagonizes Trans activists outside the Philadelphia Marriott.

The group does have a chapter in Philadelphia, which may have as many as 20 members and is run by Sheila Armstrong. Armstrong was exposed as a paid operative for the Oz campaign after she spoke up and used the deaths of family members to garner support in Germantown while not disclosing her status until after it was brought to light. Previously she lost a bid for Council President Darrell Clarke’s fifth district seat; this failed campaign apparently caused her shift to the far right.

Armstrong intentionally engaged with protesters on Saturday to draw them into a confrontation while another person called the police to discredit them. She also used this tactic on activists outside of a closed-door “community meeting” that Armstrong was part of organizing and spoke at in Germantown for the Oz campaign.

“Moms for Liberty isn’t a racist organization,” said Armstrong, shouting me down as I tried to ask her about the group’s recent issues with quoting Hitler and banning books about the Black American experience, just before turning around to find myself surrounded by police. “I’m a black woman; why would I be a part of a racist group? I know what my parents went through in the civil rights era to get me to where I am.”

Her assertion that the group wasn’t racist was unsurprising, given how far right-wing groups like M4L operate. They describe laws designed to discriminate against trans kids as protecting women and girls, book bans, and limits on teachers’ speech as free speech. At the same time, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, they “use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance a conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.”

Chris Elston antagonizes protesters outside of the Philadelphia Marriot with anti-trans propaganda.

Sending out people like Armstrong and Chris Elston to antagonize and gaslight their victims is only the beginning. They also have members like Nicole Prussman, a recent chairperson of the Monroe County chapter, to take over the Facebook accounts of dead people to use as a tool for harassing the group’s critics, teachers, or whoever else they deem an enemy.

According to the Daily Beast article detailing Prussman’s activities, “multiple people accuse Prussman of bad behavior, ranging from allegedly opening unauthorized credit cards in a foe’s name, to calling people the n-word and saying they should hang from a noose, to catfishing.”

In September 2021, the National School Boards Association asked President Joe Biden to have federal agencies stop “threats and acts of violence” on school officials during meetings consumed by public protests against mask mandates, critical race theory, and transgender student policies.

Former President Trump speaking at Moms for Liberty Conference

Far from being held accountable, the organization appears to have been flooded with millions of dollars in dark money from billionaire groups and they have become a focal point for nearly all of the GOP contenders for President and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“The influence Moms for Liberty has been able to exert in the primary by attracting major GOP candidates for the Republican nomination for President shows they have touched a nerve nationally,” said Katharine Gorka, wife of Sebastian Gorka, who worked as a political advisor to both Victor Orbán and former President Trump. “Parental rights and education, in general, will be a key factor in both the primary and general elections.”

Presidential candidate speaking at Moms for Liberty Conference

According to sources inside the M4L conference at the Marriot this past weekend, Ron DeSantis received a raucous welcome and standing ovation as he laid out his anti-LGBTQIA+, Anti-Diversity, and other destructive “education policies.”

“I think what we’ve seen across this country in recent years has awakened the most powerful political force in this country: mama bears. And they’re ready to roll,” DeSantis told the crowd at the Philadelphia Marriott. “Moms are the key political force for this 2024 cycle — we have an opportunity to harness all the energy, all the concern.”

According to several people at the conference, the crowd was Trump’s to lose, and he did what he does best — feed them all the red meat he could.

“You have proven beyond all doubt that there is no earthly force more powerful than the love of a mother for her children. In school board races, PTA meetings, and town halls across the nation, you have taught the radical left Marxists and communists a lesson they will never forget: don’t mess with America’s moms,” Trump said on Friday.

“The radical left is even slandering Moms for Liberty as a so-called ‘hate group’ … but Moms for Liberty is no ‘hate group.’ You are joyful warriors and fierce patriots,” Trump told them as the crowd nearly drowned him out with their applause. “You’re not the threat to America; you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to America. … And together, we are going to throw them out of office on Election Day 2024.”

Niki Haley at the Moms For Liberty Conference

Nikki Haley took the anti-government extremist label a step further, embracing that designation and telling the crowd, “Well then, count me as a Mom for Liberty because that’s what I am.”

“By these guys showing up at their conference, it shows what they’ve already accomplished,” said Bridget Ziegler, the DeSantis-endorsed chair of the Sarasota County School Board and wife of Florida GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler, of the weekend’s appearances. “They can go and have a meeting with President Trump whenever they want. They can meet with DeSantis, Haley, or any of these guys. If you already have influence and access and can make a change, what’s the point.”

“When we started Moms for Liberty, people told us, ‘You need to just focus on the red states,'” said Tiffany Justice, one of the group’s three co-founders. “Unless we’re ready to start taking stars off the flag, we better start fighting for every state in this country.”

“M4L is a threat to every Black, Trans, Asian, Queer, and Jewish kid; no person in America,” said Jazmyn Henderson, an organizer with ACT UP. “Just because you aren’t on their hit list yet doesn’t mean you’re immune at the end of the day fascists, like these Klan-Karens are a threat to everyone that isn’t CIS, white, and their brand of Christian, and they are only growing in power and influence.”

About Cory Clark 68 Articles
Cory Clark is a photojournalist and writer who focuses on human rights and other social issues. His work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Philly Magazine and Fortune. He has worked as a freelancer for Getty Images, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse for many years. Currently, he serves as the Senior Reporter for both Revive Local and the New MainStream Press.

1 Comment

  1. Just wow, Cory. Sounds like you were really in the middle of the fray there. Thank you for this excellent report from the front lines of fascist attacks on human rights and democracy.

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