In Jamestown, Michigan, the local public library has about six months until funding runs out and may be forced to close.
Last week, residents voted down a mill, which raises property taxes, to fund the Patmos Public Library. What could make a town turn against its own library? Homophobic and hate speech — specifically, the false idea that children’s books with LGBTQ characters are secretly about pornography or are used for child abuse, which has exploded into the conservative worldview in the last year.
“50% increase in mileage to treat our children? Vote no at the library,” read a sign seen around town before voters went to the polls.
Debbie Mikula, the executive director of the Michigan Library Association, said she believes the millage didn’t pass because the library has LGBTQ-themed books. “This is a complete anti-library campaign,” he said.
Two library directors in Patmos left this spring. One said it was because of online harassment and allegations of child abuse.
The library board has less than two weeks to put the Millage back on the ballot for a vote in November. If they do not, it is possible that the library will have to close permanently.
People in Jamestown are “very, very conservative,” Mikula said, “and they’re holding the library hostage.”
Conservatives’ disdain for most government institutions — such as schools or public health agencies — is not a new phenomenon. Think of the way the right-wing were confronting government officials WHERE tried to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But now, perhaps emboldened by openly far-right politicians, they have set their sights on our public libraries.
“I’ve seen Republicans try to take over school boards all my life, but this is completely different,” said Alison Macrina, director of the nonprofit Library Freedom Project, about the shift to public libraries.
In the same way that parents in the 80s and 90s worried about their children being drawn into a satanic cult, suburban moms now fly and turn at night at the horrors of books that might depict anything but conservative Christian morals.
“In recent years, public libraries have taken a stronger stance on racial justice and queer rights and representation,” Macrina said. “That’s reactive to that, for sure.”
And it is a reaction that is seen in the US
A public library in Vinton, Iowa—a small town of about 5,000—closed temporarily in July after most of the staff resigned due to threats against its LGBTQ members. People in the city complained that there were not enough books about former President Donald Trump, that LGBTQ books were on display, and that members of the LGBTQ community worked there, according to Iowa’s starting line. The library reopened with an all-volunteer staff.
In Llano County, Texas, the county board shut down the public library system for a few days in December in order to review the books available to children and remove what is deemed questionable. They specifically targeted the 850 books that GOP state Rep. Matt Kruse had personally deemed unsuitable for children earlier that year. He he said His list of books included those that “may cause students to feel discomfort, guilt, distress, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”
Suzette Baker, the county librarian, reportedly refused to go along. He told local reporters in March that he was she was fired from her job for not removing books, including a memoir by Jazz Jennings, a transgender teenager. “It’s her biography of her life growing up as a transgender teenager, and apparently this group thought it was too much for their kids to read,” Baker said. “No one forces their children to read anything.”
Now, residents are suing the countysaying that book bans constitute censorship and violate their First and 14th Amendment rights.
Free speech advocates have noted that the targeting of public libraries is not limited to just one or two states.
“It can’t be a coincidence that so many people across the country are getting the same message,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, told HuffPost. “They’re taking some of that ‘stolen voter’ energy and channeling it into public schools and public libraries.”
But there isn’t really a single group leading the charge—instead different groups, including Moms for Liberty or Catholic Suffrage, are pushing the same narratives.
“The nature of their organization is that ideas bounce around from group to group on Facebook,” Macrina said.
Moms For Liberty is a right-wing group with an unassuming name that two former school board members started 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 reported Media MattersMoms For Liberty works with conservative groups to flood public libraries with children’s books they approve, such as a book against transgender children or a book that portrays Rush Limbaugh as a hero — without considering how parents of LGBTQ or black children might feel.
For Pride Month, the conservative political advocacy group Catholic Vote launched a campaign called “Hide the Pride.” In June, the group encouraged parents to go to their public libraries and check out any LGBTQ or other books conservatives don’t like — to prevent other people from reading them. “Do you see rainbow-trans-BLM flags everywhere? Including your taxpayer funded public spaces? Doing. And we are meeting the challenge head on,” read an online leaflet with instructions on how to “reclaim” the library.
The team encouraged people to go to their libraries in groups and record themselves checking out books, then posted photos online of people doing just that. The group argued that its campaign was fair because parents were not consulted before these books were placed in their libraries.
The obvious solution for these parents is simply to not allow their own children to read about LGBTQ issues or racial justice. But that’s not why they’re targeting libraries.
“They’re not interested in compromising,” Friedman said. “Their goal is to shut them down and stop them completely.”
There is a long tradition of book banning in the US In the 1980s, the Moral Majority, the group founded by Jerry Falwell, led the way in book banning. Thanks to the election of Ronald Reagan, the influence of Christian evangelicals was increasing in public life – and they opposed books that did not reflect their beliefs.
But while the movements echo each other, the new effort to ban the books has certainly changed things.
Right-wing culture warriors also have the support of elected officials. As they began their crusade, laws to ban the books began to appear in state legislatures.
“I’ve never seen this kind of effort to change laws,” Macrina said. “You see it at a very small level now.”
Even Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (D) have talked about book bans in speeches, making book censorship red meat for Republican voters.
“The reactionaries are now advertising themselves as Christian nationalists. They used to flatly deny that they were,” Macrina said. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a popular figure in the right-wing movement, is now selling t-shirts identifying herself as such.
These groups want not only to rid public libraries of books they don’t like, but also to reshape public life as we know it. That’s why they claim to censor and promote freedom, but only care about conservative views.
“It comes from a kind of Trump book,” Friedman said. “All public institutions are enemies of the state.”
And it’s only a matter of time before they set their sights on another institution.