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The Right-Wing Plot To Destroy Public Libraries

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In Jamestown, Michigan, the local public library has about six months until funding runs out and it could be forced to shut down.

Last week, residents voted against passing a millage, which raises property taxes, to fund the Patmos Public Library. What could make a town turn against its own library? Homophobic and hateful rhetoric — specifically, the false idea that children books with LGBTQ characters are secretly about pornography or getting used to abuse children, which has exploded within the conservative worldview during the last yr.

“50% millage increase to groom our children? Vote no on library,” read one sign seen around town before voters went to the polls.

Debbie Mikula, the manager director of the Michigan Library Association, said she believes the millage didn’t pass since the library has books with LGBTQ themes. “It is a full-out campaign against the library,” she said.

Two library directors at Patmos left this spring. One said it was due to online harassment and accusations of abusing children.

The library board has lower than two weeks to get the millage back on the ballot for a vote in November. In the event that they don’t, it’s likely the library may have to shut down permanently.

The people in Jamestown are “very, very conservative,” Mikula said, “they usually are holding the library hostage.”

“In the previous couple of years, public libraries have taken a stronger stance of racial justice and queer rights and representation,” said Alison Macrina, the director of the Library Freedom Project. “That is reactive to that, actually.”

Illustration: Jianan Liu/HuffPost

Conservatives’ scorn for many government institutions — like schools or public health agencies — is just not a latest phenomenon. Consider the best way right-wingers treated government officials who attempted to blunt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But now, perhaps emboldened by openly right-wing extremist politicians, they’ve set their sights on our public libraries.

“I even have seen Republicans attempt to take over school boards my entire lifetime, but this is completely different,” Alison Macrina, the director of Library Freedom Project, a nonprofit organization, said in regards to the shift to public libraries.

In the identical way that folks within the ’80s and ’90s fretted about their children being swept up in a satanic cult, suburban mothers at the moment are tossing and turning at night over the horrors of books that may depict anything but conservative Christian morals.

“In the previous couple of years, public libraries have taken a stronger stance of racial justice and queer rights and representation,” Macrina said. “That is reactive to that, actually.”

And it’s a response being seen across the U.S.

A public library in Vinton, Iowa — a small town with about 5,000 residents — temporarily shut down in July after a lot of the staff quit due to threats against its LGBTQ members. People within the town complained that there have been not enough books about former President Donald Trump, that LGBTQ books were on display, and that members of the LGBTQ community worked there, based on the Iowa Starting Line. The library reopened with an all-volunteer staff.

In Llano County, Texas, the county commission made the general public library system shut down for a number of days in December as a way to review the books available to children and take away any deemed questionable. They specifically targeted the 850 books that GOP state Rep. Matt Kruse had personally deemed inappropriate for youths earlier that yr. He said his list of books included those who “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or some other type of psychological distress due to their race or sex.”

Suzette Baker, a librarian within the county, reportedly refused to go along. She told local reporters in March that she had been fired from her job for not removing books, including a memoir by Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen. “It’s her biography of her life growing up as a transgender teenager, and clearly this group thought that was an excessive amount of for his or her children to read,” Baker said. “Nobody is forcing their kids to read anything.”

Now, residents are suing the county, saying book bans are censorship and violate their First and 14th Amendment rights.

A person sits in the Houston Public Library on April 26, 2022 in Houston, Texas. A group of local residents is suing Llano County in federal court for the county's removal and censorship of library books addressing racism and LGBTQ issues.An individual sits within the Houston Public Library on April 26, 2022 in Houston, Texas. A gaggle of local residents is suing Llano County in federal court for the county’s removal and censorship of library books addressing racism and LGBTQ issues.

Brandon Bell via Getty Images

Free speech advocates have noticed that the targeting of public libraries isn’t just confined to 1 or two states.

“It can’t be a coincidence that multiple people across the country are getting the identical message,” Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and teaching programs at PEN America, told HuffPost. “They’re taking a few of that ‘stolen election’ energy and directing it towards public schools and public libraries.”

But there isn’t really a singular group leading the charge — as an alternative different groups, including Mothers for Liberty or Catholic Vote, are pushing the identical narratives.

“The character of their organizing is that the ideas are bouncing from group to group on Facebook,” Macrina said.

Mothers For Liberty is a right-wing group with an unassuming name that two former school board members launched in Florida in 2021 to fight for “parental rights,” including battles against mask mandates and “critical race theory.” The group now claims to have 160 chapters in 33 states.

As Media Matters reported, Mothers For Liberty is partnering with conservative groups to flood public libraries with children’s books they approve of, like an anti-trans children book or a book that paints Rush Limbaugh as hero — with no regard for the way parents of LGBTQ or Black children may feel.

For Pride Month, the conservative political advocacy group Catholic Vote launched a campaign dubbed “Hide the Pride.” In June, the group encouraged parents to go to their public libraries and take a look at any LGBTQ or other books conservatives don’t like — to stop other people from reading them. “Do you see rainbow-trans-BLM flags in all places? Including in your public, taxpayer-funded spaces? We do. And we’re meeting the challenge head on,” read one online flier with instructions on the best way to “reclaim” the library.

The group encouraged people to go to their libraries in groups and record themselves trying out the books, then posted photos online of individuals doing just that. The group argued its campaign was fair because parents hadn’t been consulted before these books were put of their libraries.

The plain solution for these parents is to only not allow their very own children to examine LGBTQ issues or racial justice. But that’s probably not why they’re targeting libraries.

“They’re not excited by compromising,” Friedman said. “Their aim is to shut them down and stop them entirely.”

There’s an extended tradition of book-banning within the U.S. Within the Nineteen Eighties, the Moral Majority, the group founded by Jerry Falwell, was leading the charge in book banning. Due to the election of Ronald Reagan, Christian evangelicals’ influence was growing in public life — they usually objected to any books that didn’t reflect their beliefs back at them.

But while the movements have echoes of one another, the brand new effort to ban books has definitely modified.

The correct-wing culture warriors even have the support of elected officials. As they began their crusade, laws about book banning began showing up in state legislatures.

“I’ve never seen that form of effort to alter laws,” Macrina said. “You’re seeing that all the way down to the really micro level now.”

Even Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) have spoken about book bans in speeches, making book censorship pork for Republican voters.

“Reactionaries at the moment are promoting themselves as Christian Nationalists. They used to vehemently deny that they were,” Macrina said. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a preferred figure within the right-wing movement, is now selling T-shirts identifying herself as such.

These groups wish to not only rid public libraries of books they don’t like, but additionally to reshape public life as we comprehend it. That’s why they claim they’re being censored and are promoting liberty but are only concerned with conservative views.

“It comes from a form of Trumpian playbook,” Friedman said. “All public institutions are enemies of the state.”

And it’s only a matter of time before they set their sights on one other institution.

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