Republican War on the Books: They Don’t Just Want to Control Your Body – Next, Your Mind

Once Republicans started falsely accusing educators and librarians of “grooming” children for sexual abuse, it was only a matter of time before there was talk of jailing them. Sure enough, in a clip collected by Tennessee Holler, a newly elected district attorney in Hamilton County, Tennessee, did just that during a meeting between her, the pro-censorship group Moms for Liberty (whose name would make George Orwell proud) and the local sheriff. In the video, recorded in May, you can hear an anti-freedom ‘mom’ ask, ‘Do you feel like there should be some kind of prosecution against these librarians?’

Coty Wamp, the new county attorney, offers a “thick throat” before claiming that a lawsuit is on the table: “There’s going to come a point in some of these books where he crosses a criminal line. That is called contributing to the delinquency of a minor”.

Now that the video has gone viral, Wamp denies she intended to say what she said. When contacted by Jezebel, she issued a confusing disavowal, saying she never meant that she would “sue librarians or teachers for the books that are in our schools”, but did not speak. than an imaginary scenario in which “an adult was standing on a street corner handing out pamphlets to young children that depict sexual acts.” As the video shows, of course, she was answering a question about librarians, at an event organized by a group whose main political activity is to harass librarians and teachers over books with “woke” content that ‘they do not love.

Indeed, in that same Jezebel interview, Wamp covered again, in a way that sounds a lot like if she didn’t rule out suing librarians and teachers for allowing children to read books whose content offends the racist or homophobic sensitivities of Republicans:

For me, as a lawyer and someone who has prosecuted these cases, you also have to figure out who is ultimately responsible for putting these books in these schools. Is it the librarian? Is it the school administration? Is it the school board? Because if we’re going to talk about who’s responsible, who’s responsible for this, who’s responsible? We need to talk about it.

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Clearly, the Republican war on reading has only just begun. Since GOP hedge fund zillionaire Glenn Youngkin won Virginia’s 2021 race for governor with a campaign celebrating Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison’s censorship attempts, Republicans across the country have been swept up in a book banning frenzy. Using false concerns about “children” as a cover, Republicans have waged all-out war not just on books, but on any form of speech deemed “woke,” usually because it advocates anti-racism or humanizes LGBTQ people. . Red states are banning books and terrorizing teachers for anything they consider “critical race theory,” now a shapeless umbrella term used to demonize everything from the walking teaching of Martin Luther King Jr. on Washington telling kids the Holocaust was wrong. Old myths that gay people “recruit” children have been revived by a simple terminology update – these days LGBTQ people are accused of “grooming” children, with no evidence required – and used to justify laws such as “don’t say gay” in Florida. law, effectively forcing gay teachers and students into the closet. The circle of censorship widened, as conservatives began targeting drag shows and Pride parades, trying to prevent any public expression of homosexuality or gender diversity.

But as always happens when reactionaries put on their censorship pants, the main focus is reading. Spoiler: They hate it. Authoritarians have always been wary of reading because it is such a private act. A reader, after all, is alone with the text and his thoughts. It’s very difficult to control what kinds of “dangerous” ideas — such as people of color and LGBTQ people as complete, complex, interesting, and often contradictory human beings — might begin to form in this space. This is exactly why we see so often in history a reluctance to allow oppressed groups of people, such as women or racial minorities, access to literacy or higher education. And it’s also why Republicans raged against reading in the wake of the defeat of their barely literate leader, Donald Trump, in the 2020 election.

They even go after math books, for heaven’s sake.

As Dan Kois at Slate reported on Wednesday, Republicans in Virginia have even launched a campaign to revive old obscenity laws once used to censor books by Henry Miller and James Joyce. Using “protect the children” as a cover, the state of Virginia, Del. Tim Anderson and some of his GOP colleagues have launched a legal petition to return to the days when books were declared “obscene”, allowing them to be banned from libraries, schools and even bookstores. . This is a direct challenge to decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence establishing that the First Amendment does apply to literature. But after the cancellation of Roe v. Wade — and Judge Clarence Thomas’ open invitation to right-wingers to challenge any 20th-century case establishing rights they don’t like — Republican lawyers are eager to explore how far they can go to simply suppress an entire century of progress in human rights and civil rights.

This particular case probably won’t go that far, especially since the current Supreme Court doesn’t seem to hate free speech as much as it hates reproductive rights or the right to vote. But in cases like this, it’s often not about trying to win it all at once, but rather about resetting the parameters of the debate. Now that some Republicans are outright trying to ban the sale of novels, other efforts — like pulling books from schools or harassing and defunding public libraries — may seem more “soft” by comparison.

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And make no mistake, the crackdown on reading is shaping up to be a major rallying issue for Republicans in the months and years to come. As Kathryn Joyce reported for Salon, Moms for Liberty was born almost overnight and transformed into a powerhouse in GOP politics after receiving a flood of black money spending. “Today, Moms for Liberty has approximately 95,000 members in some 200 county chapters in nearly 40 states,” she wrote. It has now become common for Republicans to pander to the group by promising a crackdown on schools and libraries that allow kids to read books on topics moms hate, which almost always means racial justice or LGBTQ life. .

One of the most immediate effects was on small town American libraries. In Michigan, funding for a library was cut as conservative residents rallied to shut it down. In Iowa, another library temporarily closed after staff were harassed over the presence of both LGBTQ books and staff. Librarians report being fired and harassed – often by being called “pedos” and “toilets” – for storing books that the right deems “woke”. In Texas, a conservative activist called the cops to accuse a school library of distributing pornography. The American Library Association has documented censorship efforts at more than 700 libraries over the past year.

Fortunately, libraries have strong protections for free speech, at least for now, and are often able to fend off such censorship efforts. In the long run, however, the most damage is likely to be done to the public school system and the long-held principle that all American children should have access to free education. As the Washington Post reported last week, there is a catastrophic shortage of teachers across the country, as many teachers already underpaid and stressed by the pandemic have simply quit in the face of all this abuse.

“This shortage is artificial,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Post, blaming the situation on the “political situation in the United States.”

As Weingarten suggests, the teacher shortage is a feature, not a bug, of the current right-wing hysteria over “critical race theory,” alleged sexual “grooming,” and other fabricated panics. As Joyce has documented in investigative reports for Salon, gutting the very concept of public education has been a cherished long-term goal of the religious right. This political moment, with the GOP base in total panic over the “wake-up call,” presents a perfect opportunity to advance an otherwise unpopular agenda to undermine, defund, and ultimately destroy public education as we know it.

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How far the Republicans will go with their censorship campaign is still an open question. On the one hand, polls show that book bans and other forms of censorship are strongly opposed by large majorities of Americans. But this is also true, for example, of laws that prohibit or severely restrict access to abortion. The Republican solution to this is to circumvent democracy with a minority form of government. Through gerrymandering and voter suppression, the GOP has gained a political grip on large swathes of rural and suburban America where moderates and liberals have been marginalized or pushed out in a stifling climate of religious right oppression. . As Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., recently admitted out loud, the goal is to make life so intolerable in some areas that “red states are going to get redder” and Republicans can exert control. undemocratic by looping the majority blue in a handful of dense metropolitan areas.

Gaining power by making much of the country so inhospitable that only the most angry and deluded people want to live there is a daunting task. It starts by destroying people’s ability to live peacefully in their own homes, attacking their right to have the sex they want, form the kinds of families they want, and even read the books they want. they want. The assault on privacy was never going to stop at controlling what people do with their genitals. The ultimate bossy goal has always and forever been to control what you do with your mind.

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