This week, MAGA Judiciary Republicans are hosting a hearing on so-called parental rights in public education. Like many of the House GOP’s other hearings, their star witnesses are right-wing extremists instead of experts. Two witnesses, Nicole Neily and Tiffany Justice, are the founders of two right-wing nonprofit organizations with ties to the Koch Brothers focused on banning books with content about race, gender, and sexuality, and attacking trans and nonbinary students. Tyson Langhofer, the third witness, works for an SPLC-designated hate group. Aside from giving speeches at events hosted by the Trump White House and Federalist Society, he has spent the last four years pushing lawsuits against public high schools and colleges over conservative grievances. Once again, the MAGA House tends to focus on debunked conspiracy theories and right-wing grievances about social media instead of the top issues Americans are actually facing.
President and Founder, Parents Defending Education
Nicole Neily Runs A Politically Active Organization Pushing Right-Wing Grievances. Neily is the founder and President of Parents Defending Education (PDE), a right-wing astroturf nonprofit closely affiliated with the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a massive right-wing model legislation farm. PDE is a highly political organization, and has its own political action committee “to help conservative school board members get elected.” PDE has also lobbied for state laws banning books in order to restrict “content about race, gender, and sexuality” as well as bans on bias response teams. Their lobbying efforts are currently aimed at enacting “the Parents Bill of Rights,” a proposal to ban a laundry list of conservative grievances with public education. The group has even waded into issues beyond education, calling for restrictions on Environmental, Social, and Governance investments.
Nicole Neily’s Organization Targets Trans and Nonbinary Students. In March 2023, Parents Defending Education published a report targeting 174 school districts that have adopted policies protecting transgender and non-binary students from being forced to disclose their identity: “Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, told The Post the list ‘only begins to scratch the surface of what is taking place behind closed doors in America’s schools…‘Without a doubt, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of others with similar policies on the books. We urge everyone to keep an eye out — and to let us know if they find something similar in their backyard.’” PDE has made attacks against accommodations for trans students a top priority, having a lawsuit against a school district: “The Linn-Mar School District is currently being sued over the policy by the Parents Defending Education organization. An Iowa judge ruled in support of the district in September, but arguments to a federal appeals court were heard Feb. 16. One of the organization’s allies is former Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke to a group of the lawsuit’s supporters in Cedar Rapids on the same day as the appeals court hearing. ‘We’re asking the court to end this dangerous and degrading policy and restore sanity and the primitive role of parents in schools,” Pence said.” In April 2022, PDE joined 28 right-wing organizations in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona opposing Title IX changes including gender identity in discrimination protections for students.
Parents Defending Education Weaponizes Civil Rights Protections Against Public Schools. One of the group’s primary tactics is weaponizing federal civil rights procedures against programs designed with communities of color in mind. In February 2023, Neily’s group filed a Federal Civil Rights Complaint Over Student Affinity Groups, claiming affinity groups and cultural competency lessons constitute “racial discrimination.” A few weeks later, they filed another separate federal civil rights complaint over a “young black and latinx scholars” program. Just last week, PDE filed yet another federal civil rights complaint, this time over a Black Lives Matter event, alleging discrimination over affinity group meetings for high school students and teachers who self-identify as black, indigenous or people of color.
Nicole Neily Is a Frequent Face on Right-Wing News Media. Neily frequently appears on right-wing media networks to criticize the Biden administration and spread hysteria about the public education system. Over the past few months alone, she has appeared on Newsmax to disparage policies protecting transgender students, “woke agendas” supposedly “infiltrating our children’s education,” unarmed teachers, remote learning, and most recently public school funding sources.
Nicole Neily Has Spent Her Career Working for Conservative, Right-Wing Advocacy Groups and Think Tanks. Neily started off at the conservative-leaning Cato Institute before moving to the Franklin News Foundation and FreedomWorks, working as a Koch fellow for the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights. She later served as a board member for Young Voices and Young Americans for Liberty. In 2017, she founded a conservative nonprofit called Speech First, which she left in 2022 for Parents Defending Education.
Co-Founder, Moms for Liberty
Tiffany Justice’s ‘Moms For Liberty’ Is Part of A Right-Wing Coalition Responsible For “At Least Half” of All Book Bans. Justice is the founder and President of Moms for Liberty (M4L), a right-wing astroturf nonprofit claiming over 95,000 members—a number that is likely inflated. M4L is a highly political organization, having created a political action committee “to help conservative school board members get elected.” They have also lobbied for state laws banning books containing “content about race, gender, and sexuality,” pushing for “more oversight of what is being taught in schools.” M4L works closely with a group of other right-wing advocacy groups “pushing for books to be taken off library shelves and removed from the curriculum in school districts.” The coalition is responsible for “at least half of all bans.”
Tiffany Justice Launched Moms For Liberty With Heavy Support from Republicans and the Far-Right. M4L has received significant support from prominent Republicans and right-wing media. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, along with other prominent Florida Republicans, spoke at Moms for Liberty’s first national gathering in July 2022. According to Media Matters, “Right-wing media undeniably catapulted Moms for Liberty to prominence by essentially providing the group with free recruitment services. The claim that Moms for Liberty is a grassroots entity is seriously undermined by the fact that the actual organizing was done on a massive scale by high-profile right-wing media. […] Right-wing media’s ready embrace of Moms for Liberty at a time when the group barely existed is eyebrow-raising, particularly when considering the details of just how small and new the group was. Moms for Liberty received 501(c)(4) nonprofit status on January 1, 2021, and by January 27, co-founder Tina Descovich had already appeared on The Rush Limbaugh Show. Moms for Liberty nationally launched on February 8 with only five chapters. By the end of February, the group had been spotlighted by Breitbart and had received a “shout out” on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Attention from right-wing media only grew from there, with the group being featured in an interview with Glenn Beck and multiple Fox News segments in the following months.”
Moms for Liberty Targets Transgender and Nonbinary Students. M4L has made attacks against LGTBQ+ students, particularly transgender and non-binary students, a key part of its advocacy efforts:
- August 2022: Moms For Liberty Activists Advocated for Separating LGBTQ+ Students Into “Specialized” Classes. “An anti-LGBTQ Moms for Liberty activist told MSNBC that she believes LGBTQ students should have separate classes from straight and cisgender students in schools. […] “The kids that do have their, you know, they’re confused, or they are gay or whatnot,” said Moms for Liberty Miami-Dade member Crystal Alonso, “that the way they’re trying to go about it is to make it an open conversation and an open thing in classrooms. But like for example children with autism, Down Syndrome, they have to have special IP meetings with a counselor, they have to be put into separate classrooms…” [LGBTQ Nation, 8/18/22]
- July 2022: Twitter Suspended Moms For Liberty’s Account For Tweeting Hateful Content. “Twitter suspended the parental-rights organization Moms for Liberty on Monday for posting a tweet that accused backers of a California “gender-affirming healthcare” bill of endangering children by facilitating out-of-state tourism for youth gender-transition treatments. The tweet, which is no longer visible on the site, read: “Gender dysphoria is a mental health disorder that is being normalized by predators across the USA. California kids are at extreme risk from predatory adults. Now they want to ‘liberate’ children all over the country. Does a double mastectomy on a preteen sound like progress?” The social media platform locked the Moms for Liberty account in response, claiming that the comment violated its rule against hateful conduct, which forbids the promotion of violence on the basis of gender and gender identity. Suspended accounts cannot engage with followers via tweets, retweets, follows, or likes.” [National Review, 7/25/22]
- April 2022: Moms For Liberty Joined A Letter To The Department of Education Opposing Federal Title IX Discrimination Protections on the Basis of Gender Identity. In April 2022, M4L joined 28 right-wing organizations in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona opposing Title IX changes including gender identity in discrimination protections for students.
Tiffany Justice Is a Frequent Face on Right-Wing Media. Justice frequently appears on right-wing media networks to promote her organization and validate right-wing conspiracy theories, establishing herself as a “right-wing media sweethearts” and a regular on both Fox News and Steve Bannon’s War Room.
Senior Counsel and Director of the Center for Academic Freedom, Alliance Defending Freedom
Tyson Langhofer Works for A Well-Known Hate Group: The Alliance Defending Freedom. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) a hate group: “Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. Since the election of President Trump, ADF has become one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBTQ rights.”
- ADF Is A Right-Wing Mainstay. ADF is one of the most influential right-wing Christian advocacy groups in the country, with ties to powerful Republicans like Justice Amy Coney Barrett, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Senator Josh Hawley. A well-endowed Christian philanthropy effort known for supporting Conservative causes is also one of ADF’s biggest financial backers: “between 2018-20, the Servant Foundation donated more than $50 million to the Alliance Defending Freedom.” Those contributions “were among the five largest donations given out by the foundation in each of those three years.”
- ADF Helped Overturn Roe v. Wade. ADF was responsible for drafting Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law, and later defended the law before the Supreme Court last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Months later, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade’s federal abortion protections, invalidating abortion rights for tens of millions of Americans. ADF is now pushing a new lawsuit aiming to end federal regulatory approval for a drug used for more than half of all abortions in the country.
- ADF Supports Extreme, Far-Right Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies. ADF purports to defend the legal system’s “Christian foundation” against threats to “religious liberty,” but focuses its agenda on hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ efforts. The Alliance has played a key role in litigating landmark cases like Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which decriminalized non-hetrosexual sex, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized non-heterosexual marriage, and Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), which addressed discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In all three cases, ADF opposed LGBTQ+ civil rights protections. In the past, the organization has supported re-criminalizing non-heterosexual sex, defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad, alleged that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia, and claimed that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. Now, ADF is spearheading right-wing efforts to ban drag shows and bar trans athletes from competing in high school sports.
Tyson Langhofer Pushes Partisan Lawsuits Against Public High Schools and Colleges. Since joining ADF’s legal team, Langhofer has litigated numerous partisan lawsuits against public high schools and colleges on behalf of conservative students slighted by university policy or other students. In Denton v. Hecht (2020) Langhofer fought to reinstate a Florida State University student as a Student Senate President after the student lost a vote of no confidence by his own classmates in the wake of remarks he made suggesting that Black Lives Matter and the ACLU are “anti-Catholic” and promote “grave evils.” In Cross v. Loudoun County Public Schools (2021), Langhofer pushed to reinstate an elementary school teacher who was suspended after he denounced the district’s policies protecting trans students at a board meeting, declaring that he would “never” use a transgender child’s pronouns because that would entail “lying to a child,” “abuse to a child” and “sinning against our God.” In Perlot v. Green (2022), Langhofer settled a lawsuit against the University of Idaho Law School by three Christian Legal Society members who were issued no-contact orders after they reportedly accosted a fellow student about marriage equality at an American Bar Association panel, declaring that “the biggest discrimination on campus” was against the group “for its religious beliefs.” In the ongoing case Fellowship of Christian Athletes v. San José Unified School District Board of Education, Langhofer is siding with a student club that was denied official recognition because participation required a “Statement of Faith and Purity” that discriminated against LGBTQ+ students in violation of the district’s nondiscrimination policy.
Tyson Langhofer Has Ties to the Trump Administration and Federalist Society. Langhofer has ties to the Trump administration, and spoke at a Trump White House panel in March 2018. He also spoke at an event hosted by the arch-conservative Federalist Society in March 2022. He has also authored numerous editorials focused on conservative grievances with college campuses for both mainstream and right-wing news outlets, including USA Today, the Washington Times, and even local newspapers like the Columbus Dispatch.