Discover more from MomLeft
Blowing Up The Library
At least 47 violent threats to libraries have led to disruptions of schools, libraries, and public programs in the past 12 months.
By the time the Warren-Newport Library in Gurnee, Illinois received a bomb threat on Tuesday evening, the library had settled into a grim routine. The building was evacuated. Police searched and found no trace of a bomb. The library remained closed for the rest of the evening.
It was at least the third bomb threat the library had received in two weeks.
Libraries should not receive three bomb threats in two weeks. Libraries should not receive bomb threats at all. But in August, Warren-Newport Library wasn’t even the single most bomb-threatened library in the U.S. The Mary L. Stephens library in Davis, California also received at least three bomb threats that month, after a worker asked speakers at a Moms for Liberty event to stop misgendering transgender athletes. And after the anti-LGBT Twitter account Libs of TikTok targeted a librarian at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Union Public School district in August, the schools received at least seven rounds of bomb threats.
Public libraries are under attack. Amid an aggressive campaign against Black and LGBTQ+ life in the U.S., reactionaries have targeted libraries that host inclusive catalogs and events. Those attacks have manifested in harassment of librarians, shouting matches at board meetings, drastic budget cuts, and nearly 150 bills (in 2023, alone!) that would restrict libraries’ abilities to operate.
At the forefront of that campaign has been a rolling series of violent threats (bombs, usually) against libraries. Over the past 12 months, by my count, at least 47 violent threats about libraries have led to disruptions at those libraries or their associated public schools. This is my conservative estimate. The figure could easily be higher. I excluded, for instance, the February bomb threat that shuttered public schools in Anchorage, Alaska. The threat, local observers noted, came a few hours after Fox News ran an article incorrectly suggesting an embattled sex-ed book was on shelves at the school’s libraries. (It wasn’t, not that the book’s presence would justify SWATting schoolchildren, anyway.)
I didn’t count that incident because the link between the bomb threat and library panic is unproven. I also didn’t count the individual library closures that took place when a bomb threat shut down an entire city’s (or in one case, an entire state’s) library system. Here’s what I’ve got:
August’s three bomb threats at Warren-Newport Library were part of a series of hoaxes against Chicago-area libraries that month. Among them were bomb threats sent to the Wilmette Public Library (at least twice), the Park Ridge Public Library (at least twice), the Morton Grove Public Library (two threats in one day, which I’m only counting once because it only prompted one evacuation), the Oak Park Public Library, and Vernon Area Public Library. The nearby Glencoe and Glenview Public Library systems didn’t receive threats, but closed out of abundance of caution due to vaguely worded bomb threats about libraries in the area.
Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias linked the threats to efforts to ban books about race, gender, and sexuality.
“The bomb threats received by Illinois libraries during the past several days represent a troublesome and disturbing trend that has escalated from banning books, to harassing and criminalizing innocent librarians and now to endangering the lives of innocent people,” Giannoulias tweeted.
Although a motive has yet to be announced in the August intimidation campaign, there’s good reason—in Illinois, alone—to link library threats to anti-LGBT harassment.
In July, the state’s Crystal Lake Public Library was the subject of a bomb hoax, just days after it announced a new program that would allow children to get library cards even if they didn’t live in the area, Book Riot noted. (Programs that lend books to children outside a library’s neighborhood have come under recent fire from anti-LGBT activists, who fear the programs will be used to skirt book bans.) And in September, Illinois’ Downers Grove Public Library was forced to cancel a teen-friendly drag bingo event due to “vitriolic” threats.
Elsewhere in August, the Iowa City Public Library system was closed for bomb threats, which coincided with plans for a Democratic lawmaker to discuss concerns about new education laws. (The library received more threats later in the week, but remained open.) In Davis, California, meanwhile, the Mary L. Stephens Library faced at least three August bomb threats after a worker objected to an event at which Moms for Liberty speakers misgendered trans athletes. After the worker asked the group to leave, the library was the target of a far-right social media campaign that encouraged people to call the library worker directly.
A lone library worker was also the center of a social media firestorm in Tulsa last month, when Libs of TikTok shared an out-of-context video of a Union Public Schools librarian joking about “pushing [my] woke agenda at the public school.” Ryan Walters, the clout-chasing superintendent of Oklahoma’s schools, shared the Libs of TikTok post, adding that “Woke ideology is real and I am here to stop it.” The school subsequently received at least seven rounds of bomb threats, one of which stated “you will stop pushing this woke ideology or we will bomb every school in the union district.”
That’s just August 2023.
In July, Georgia’s Forsyth County Public Library closed for a bomb threat (authored, to be fair, by a youth volunteer at the library). In June, Oregon’s Tigard Public Library was forced to close for a day due to “due to repeated threats of violence and information indicating the safety of our community may be jeopardized” because of a planned drag story hour.
In May, Birmingham, Alabama’s Springfield Road Public Library was forced to cancel an event about consent, due to repeated violent threats, some directed at specific librarians. “The activities planned included a story hour, featuring children’s books such as ‘Will Ladybug Hug?’, ‘Can I Give You a Squish?’, and ‘Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like It).’” AL.com reported. Missouri’s Dallas County Library received its own bomb threat that month, after a local man placed a letter in a book-drop, threatening to detonate a bomb that would leave a hole the size of a football field.
A panic about the book This Book Is Gay led to a rash of March threats. That month, Libs of TikTok tweeted that the book was on shelves at the Iowa City Community School District. Shortly after that tweet, the school received two bomb threats that officials linked to the book. The schools were evacuated on two consecutive days, after which the book was removed from the library. A bomb threat sent to New York’s Hilton School District that month also referenced This Book is Gay.
Elsewhere in March, Indiana’s Lebanon Public Library was temporarily closed after a man with a rifle and two pistols outside the library made comments about harming people inside the building. And in Tennessee, the Hendersonville Public Library received at least 14 bomb threats (from one guy, I’m only counting once) after the facility was accused of being “rude” to conservative actor Kirk Cameron during a book event.
In December, California’s San Juan Hills High School received a bomb threat after Libs of TikTok targeted a teacher for keeping This Book is Gay in a classroom library. “You will evacuate or you will all die,” read a threatening email, reviewed by the Capistrano Dispatch. “We will personally ensure that this subhuman degenerate (expletive) piece of (expletive) is killed.”
That same month, Michigan’s Patmos Library (which has been targeted for dramatic budget cuts and possible closure over LGBTQ+ books) closed for a day over a concerning post from a local official. “Time to shut down the library by force,” Republican 11th Congressional District Chair Shane Trejo wrote in a Facebook post. “And then perhaps charge the people writing these checks as accessories for child abuse.”
Trejo, I’ve previously reported, used to host the “Blood Soil and Liberty” podcast with a member of white supremacist group Identity Evropa.
And last September was a boom month for library bomb threats. That month, a series of hoaxes temporarily shut down the Denver Public Library, the Boston Public Library, the Nashville Public Library, the Fort Worth Public Library, and the Salt Lake City Public Library systems, as well as all libraries in the entire state of Hawaii.
That’s 47, conservative estimate. Let me know if I missed any.
These threats do more than close a library for a day. They make library workers’ lives hell. They militarize a space that should be a sanctuary. They imperil an overstretched library system that already works overtime doubling as an internet hub, hot-weather refuge, educational center, senior center, childcare center.
Libraries are some of the country’s last, best public spaces. They’re among the vanishingly rare spots where a person can linger without having to buy anything. An assault on them—by bomb threat or by defunding—is an assault on the very idea of common ground.
“It’s not just about loss of life,” Yale sociologist Vida Bajc told The Trace after a series of mass shootings in 2019. “Shootings also steal from people the sense that they inhabit a place, that it’s their space.”
When we lose our public spaces to violence, we lose sight of each other, Bajc suggested.
“Our democratic values are being eroded by our expectation that large events can be disrupted,” Bajc said. “What kind of society are we becoming without spontaneous social interaction and bonding with strangers? Without democratic access to space? Security doesn’t lend itself to these values.”
In that light, library bomb threats look like theft—a few bigots barricading spaces that belong to everyone.
I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the loss of public spaces. Some of that’s due to reading (and hooting and hollering about) Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, a book that argues that the medieval land privatization that helped shift Europe’s economy from feudalism to capitalism also had the effect of forcing women off the community land they’d historically worked and into the newly solidifying domestic sphere. Walled off from long-held resources and strategically shunned from much of the age’s emerging field of wage-work, women were pressured out of the public and into the home, where they were expected to perform the unpaid domestic labor that undergirds the capitalist economy.
This shift, Federici argues, was not a passive, peaceful evolution in gender roles, but was enforced by the era’s own societal shock troops: the witch-hunters who deployed unsettlingly familiar moral panics about supposed Satanism and sexual degeneracy. Like so many modern anti-LGBTQ panics, the witch-hunters could also mask their agenda in think-of-the-children scare-mongering. Just as homophobes smear queer literature as wrongfully incorporating children into some distasteful and undifferentiated morass of Gay, witch-hunters also envisioned sorceresses melting down children and putting them to use for evil ends (somewhat more literally, via using children as ingredients in potions).
I ran into a more obvious enclosure earlier this summer when I visited the Elmhurst, Queens library, which was hosting the latest installment of a popular, long-running drag story hour. When I arrived at the library to report on the event, I found it surrounded by police barricades and more than a dozen NYPD officers, who were there in response to protests by a violently anti-LGBT group.
The anti-LGBT side was tiny compared to the day’s counter-demonstration of drag defenders—local volunteers who shielded library patrons with a protective wall of rainbow umbrellas. But as I watched families navigate the perimeter of metal police barricades, it was clear the anti-drag faction had achieved at least some of its aims. They, a small minority, had introduced hostility and barricades to a place that prioritized openness.
The event’s bright spots for me were the drag defenders, whose wall of umbrellas offered privacy for library patrons. Children and parents walked into the library behind that rainbow barricade. They were children who wanted all the freedoms libraries offer, protected by adults who remembered a more hostile world and refused to go back.
I’m writing from Boston, which I’m visiting with my playground-age children. This is huge for me because it means I have a plausible excuse to go down Boston’s infamous Cop Slide. Will it be normal for me? Will I get a concussion? This newsletter has been scheduled for publication in advance of my Slide Adventure, so I cannot leave you with any easy answers.
In the meantime, here are some Mom Links:
-Deep-red counties in Texas (which has already effectively banned abortion) are creating ordinances that make it illegal to use their roads to drive someone for an out-of-state abortion, the Washington Post reports. (Spotlighted in the article is Llano, Texas, where some officials have discussed shutting down the library over LGBTQ+ books.) This broadside on women’s privacy and our right to travel comes as Alabama’s attorney general argues that he has the right to prosecute people who help Alabama women travel for abortions outside the state.
-It’s back to school and the laws are newly shittier. NBC News reports that more than 30 new LGBTQ+ education laws are in effect as students head back to class.
-With student debt payments set to resume, the Guardian has an important look at how the payments stand to hammer U.S. parents. “It’s a matter of whether we’re going to put food on our tables or whether we’re going to make our monthly loan payment that we can’t afford,” one young mother said.
-Conservative youth organization Turning Point USA is on a crusade to talk young women and girls out of college and into being tradwives. Media Matters has been following these developments, which are just as insidious as they are brain-meltingly stupid.
That’s it for this week! If you liked this installment of MomLeft (a new newsletter for moms on the left), please consider subscribing and/or passing it along to a friend!