Museum in Philadelphia under fire for hosting far-right group’s event

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The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia is facing backlash for agreeing to rent out one of its event spaces to the far-right group Moms For Liberty on 29 June, the first day of the organisation’s “Joyful Warriors Summit” at a nearby hotel. Moms For Liberty is classified as an anti-government, anti-inclusion extremist organisation by civil rights watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center, and is known for railing against “inclusive curriculum, LGBTQ rights and what they see as inappropriate reading material in classrooms and libraries”, according to SPLC.

The hyper-conservative “parent brigade” has been criticised for its non-profit status as a 501(c)4, which allows Moms For Liberty to remain tax exempt and avoid disclosing the identity of its donors. Adept at courting controversy with inflammatory hate speech, representatives for the group have recently been pushed to apologise after its Indiana-based chapter quoted a 1935 speech by Adolf Hitler in a newsletter.

Employees of the museum are outraged by the institution’s participation in the conference, which is projected to run through 2 July and feature right-wing speakers including former US president Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The museum agreed to rent its facilities to Moms For Liberty in December 2022, but the decision was only made public following a leak in late May. The civil rights advocacy organisation Defense of Democracy started an online petition in solidarity with museum employees on 5 June, which as of this writing has garnered more than 1,600 signatures. According to the Philadelphia Gay News, around 60% of the museum’s staff has signed it.

In a statement to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for the Museum of the American Revolution said, “because fostering understanding within a democratic society is so central to [its] mission, rejecting visitors based on ideology would in fact be antithetical to [its] purpose”. The spokesperson added, “We welcome all visitors and pride ourselves on a museum experience that reflects our mission to uncover and share the stories of diverse people and complex events that sparked the ongoing American experiment in liberty, equality and self-government.”

While the spokesperson conceded that “some members of the staff” did not condone the booking, they also asserted that the museum planned to “to do all we can to support them by listening with intention, making sure they know they are valued and accommodating them when the event date arrives”.

In a comment to Philadelphia Gay News on 5 June, longtime museum staff member Bee Reed, said, “I have very mixed feelings. I’ve been working for the museum for four or five years now, and I’ve always been grateful to work someplace that has been so supportive of me as a queer person. But with this—I feel a great sense of betrayal.” An anonymous staff member commented that the museum’s board has been “silent and absent” throughout the controversy.

Defense of Democracy organised a protest of the museum’s decision on 9 June, renting a billboard truck complete with a video denouncing Moms For Liberty. A concurrent protest by Act Up Philly and the Young Communist League gathered in front of the museum. On 16 June, organisers staged another demonstration, decrying the Moms For Liberty booking in the context of the museum’s progressive programming, like a screening of a documentary on Black American history and a special exhibition about the influence of a prominent Black family in Philadelphia in the 18th century.

The museum’s social media accounts have been flooded with complaints from visitors, locals and activists. On the museum’s Instagram post in honour of Juneteenth, a moderator for the institution responded to a flood of comments demanding accountability by thanking followers for their “concerns about an upcoming, private, after-hours rental of one of our facilities and exhibits”, and directing aggrieved commenters to a general contact form on the museum’s website.

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