Over 60 parents and other community members gathered outside the Durango VFW hall last night to voice their opposition to a far-right extremist group leader the La Plata County Republicans invited to speak at their monthly meeting.

Darcy Schoening leads the El Paso County chapter of Moms For Liberty (M4L), a national group that advocates for conservative Christian policies in public schools. They focus largely on removing books, curriculum, and district health care policies they consider inappropriate for students, nearly all of which involves LGBTQ-related issues. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently designated M4L an anti-government extremist group. Schoening is also a conspiracy theorist who believes the COVID pandemic was intentionally manufactured and the 2020 election was stolen.

Five groups helped organize last night’s protest. They were: La Plata Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Southwest Movement for Black Lives, LGBTQ+ advocates Four Corners Alliance for Diversity, Affiliated Members of the Durango Education Association, and Indivisible Durango.

Durango progressive groups protest extremist group speaker at La Plata GOP meeting. Photo Credit: Emily Rodman

Emily Rodman of La Plata SURJ explained the groups’ goals.

“The purpose of the protest was to declare our Durango community values of inclusion and affirmation of all children and youth regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or class,” said Rodman. “We declare our opposition to book banning and censorship in all forms; and to declare our support for public schools and teachers.”

Durango progressives protest against book bans promoted by extremist group speaker who appeared at a recent La Plata GOP meeting. Photo Credit: Emily Rodman

She also listed the groups’ reasons for their protest.

“The goal of M4L and similar groups is to maintain the dominance of white, Christian, cis, straight people, and to suppress, exclude, and erase people who do not align with their beliefs,” said Rodman. “M4L is an anti-student inclusion group; they oppose any curricula that focuses on greater inclusivity, in particular, material that teaches the history of racism. They also work to ‘erase’ LGBTQ people, particularly trans-youth. The group pushes for book bans in school libraries and laws that limit teacher freedom, leading the American Historical Association to condemn the group’s advocacy of censorship. They also intimidate and harass teachers and school officials who do not share their views.

“Schoening has stated that teachers and their unions are engaged in a coordinated effort to make children trans and gay to “break down the family unit and conservative values” and “slowly erode constitutional rights.”

Moms For Liberty Chair Darcy Schoening speaks to the La Plata Republican Party, Sept. 5, 2023. Photo: La Plata GOP

Rodman also noted that M4L has called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education and the public education system generally, and that it has close ties with the Proud Boys and other groups and individuals responsible for the Jan. 6th insurrection.

M4L’s Schoening & La Plata GOP Chair Shelli Shaw

According to photos of the meeting posted by the La Plata GOP, attendees inside appeared to approximately equal the number of protestors. Schoening welcomed the protestors, writing in the El Paso County M4L group that ” Can’t wait to roll into Durango tomorrow and trigger a bunch of liberals…hopefully their ‘anti-fascist action’ and ‘anti-transphobe action’ lives up to their hype, and there are actual tears. I’m also hoping for a little LARPing action…ideally with swords and shields. And ideally a little face paint.”

After the event she commented on the “pretty massive demonstration” and claimed she needed private security.

“Last night was one of my favorite nights ever! I was welcomed back to La Plata County by the amazing friends and patriots of Durango,” said Schoening. “There was a pretty massive demonstration to make me feel unwelcome, but the ever-prevailing people of La Plata turned out in full force. There was not an empty seat to be filled! Thank you to Shelli Bush Shaw & Will Shaw for your hospitality, thank you to Kelly (Hegarty) for your hard work, Lisa Zimmerman, and so many more, for having me and making me feel so welcome.

This was the first time I needed private security to follow me around and to be driven to a secret entrance and exit. As I told the left, I feel honored.”

The La Plata GOP counts at least two notable election fraud conspiracists among its leaders.

Chairwoman Shelli Shaw, who ran for statehouse in 2022, told the Colorado Times Recorder at the time that she had seen evidence of fraud, including that ballots in Colorado may have been cast by dead people.

Shaw’s former campaign manager and now fellow party officer, Secretary Hope Scheppelman, added another title to her resume in July when she won the Colorado GOP’s special election for statewide Vice Chair. Scheppelman is also an election denier who claimed that “they ” attempted to steal last year’s election in Arizona “with bad machines.”

Neither Shaw nor Scheppelman responded to email inquiries as to whether the La Plata GOP knew of M4L’s extremist group status or Schoening’s promotion of conspiracy theories, as well as if there are any specific policies in their local school districts that they oppose. This article will be updated with any response received.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Ms. Scheppelman’s last name in one of three instances. The error has been corrected.