SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Four new groups, including a local organization started by a former staffer of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, have been designated as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and it releases an annual database report tracking extremist groups throughout the United States.
Last year, the organization listed four extremist groups with a presence in South Dakota. That number is now eight, with four new “antigovernment movement” groups joining White Nationalism, Neo-Nazism and other hate groups.
The SPLC lists two Moms for Liberty Chapters in Hughes County and Minnehaha County as well as Freedom Bound International and South Dakota Parents Involved in Education as newly listed “antigovernment movement” organizations.
According to the SPLC, “antigovernment groups” are groups that “believe the federal government is tyrannical, and they traffic in conspiracy theories about an illegitimate government of leftist elites seeking a ‘New World Order.’” There are eight groups listed in Minnesota, seven in Iowa, four in Nebraska, three in South Dakota and two in North Dakota.
Freedom Bound International is listed as part of the “sovereign citizens movement,” which are people who believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
South Dakota Parents Involved in Education is the local chapter of United States Parents Involved in Education, which says it “seeks to return education to its proper local roots and restore parental authority over their children’s education.”
Moms for Liberty added to ‘extremist’ list
Moms for Liberty, started by two former Florida school board members in 2021, reached South Dakota in 2022. There’s a Moms for Liberty chapter in Hughes County and one for Minnehaha County.
Private Facebook groups for each chapter list 95 members for Hughes County and 147 for Minnehaha County.
The Hughes County Moms for Liberty Chapter says it is “dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating, and empowering parents to defend their parental rights.”
SPLC describes Moms for Liberty as a “far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement.”
KELOLAND News reached out to the Hughes County Moms for Liberty Chapter for comment about the SPLC designation. Any comment received will be added to this story.
At the national level, Moms for Liberty co-founders said in a statement “name-calling parents who want to be 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?” the statement says. “We believe that parental rights do not stop at the classroom door and no amount of hate group groups like this is going to stop that.”
The contact for Hughes County Moms for Liberty Chapter is Maggie Seidel. Seidel moved to South Dakota to work for Noem as a policy director and senior adviser. She left Noem’s office in March 2021, but still calls Hughes County home.
After starting the Moms for Liberty Chapter, Seidel has attended numerous Pierre School Board meetings and highlighted reading and math scores.
Annual state test scores for English language arts and mathematics are 54% and 51%, respectively, for grades 3-8 and 11 in the Pierre School District. The state average test score for language arts is 51% and math is 43%.
In an interview with KCCR Radio in Pierre on May 24, Seidel said a local group of parents formed the Moms for Liberty chapter in Hughes County and it didn’t have an agenda.
“We wanted to be proactive and try to preserve Pierre,” Seidel told KCCR Radio.
Seidel said there has been a perception that bringing up test scores has been an attack on teachers and she doesn’t agree with that. She said Moms for Liberty wants to work with teachers.
“It’s not a left or a right thing; it’s an up or down thing,” Seidel told KCCR Radio.
Seidel said she is a mother to two boys. When asked about taking her kids into the Pierre School District, Seidel said she’d like to. She said she’s been troubled by people in Pierre telling her she’s been wasting her time focusing on public education and to just send her kids to St. Joseph School, a private school in Pierre.
“The Department of Education has some pretty fantastic ideas about literacy and improving it here in South Dakota,” Seidel said. “We adopt some of those techniques and this is a blip on the radar.”