Right-wing efforts to ban books are gaining steam in classrooms and school libraries—and they’ve now moved into public libraries as well, with record levels of challenges to keeping books on shelves. Maybe it’s a children’s book about crayons or “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation.” Maybe it’s literally every single book with an LGBTQ+ character, as the superintendent of the public schools in Charlotte County, Florida, has ordered, banning even books brought into the classroom by students for silent reading, Popular Information’s Judd Legum reports.
It’s one horror after another as small numbers of people object to large numbers of books and prevent everyone else’s kids—and, increasingly, other adults—from having access to them. As book-banning spreads, it’s important to understand how it’s happening and what has changed from the censorship efforts of just a few years ago.
Following the firing of a Texas teacher for teaching “Anne Frank’s Diary: A Graphic Adaptation”—a book authorized by the Anne Frank Fonds, a foundation started by Otto Frank that controls the diary’s copyright—PEN America tweeted about a 2013 effort to ban “Anne Frank’s Diary” (not the graphic adaptation), for which a Michigan woman was “laughed out of town,” Emer O’Toole wrote at The Guardian. Fast-forward a decade, however, and the censorship is organized and widespread, being pushed by prominent figures like Christopher Rufo and Corey DeAngelis, who use their large social media followings not just to defend instances of book-banning but also to take them national.
So, for instance, when American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tweeted about the firing of the Texas teacher over “Anne Frank,” DeAngelis launched a campaign to get the tweet slapped with a community note describing it as false—on the alleged basis that Weingarten had not specified in her text that it was the graphic adaptation, even though she linked an article with a headline making that clear. A Moms for Liberty co-founder piled on. They successfully got a community note criticizing Weingarten’s tweet, only to have it voted down by community members who weren’t part of their pile-on. Weingarten’s tweet wasn’t alone in being the target of such attempts, either.
New York teacher Sari Beth Rosenberg dug in on how these far-right book-banners managed to establish a false narrative that made its way into the media:
NBC News reporter Ben Collins took on the allegations that while the text of Anne Frank’s diary might not be pornographic, the graphic adaptation is:
But the national reach of figures like Rufo and DeAngelis and groups like Moms for Liberty means that almost no book-banning effort is local anymore. When Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, “Maus,” was banned by a Tennessee school district in early 2022, it drew national attention and outrage. But 18 months later, several Missouri districts have followed suit—without widespread attention.
There is a large right-wing apparatus working to push the envelope on what gets banned and then normalize even the most outrageous cases. Book-ban advocates say the attack is not on what Anne Frank wrote; it’s on what the graphic (ooh, graphic) adaptation showed, which they allege is pornography. If you look at Collins’ video, you’ll see how ridiculous that claim is, but followers of DeAngelis and Moms for Liberty either won’t bother or will claim, straight-faced, that yes, the word “penis” is in itself that problematic. Just as Charlotte County, Florida, isn’t only banning books with LGBTQ+ sexual content but books with any LGBTQ+ character, however incidental.
Right-wing book-banning efforts have money and power behind them these days. Objections to specific books that just a decade ago might have been brought up by one person in one town and laughed out of that town are now taken up by prominent right-wing operatives and pundits and nationalized—which in turn means that local school districts have to take the individual complaints more seriously, lest they become a target for the likes of Rufo or Moms for Liberty. There’s a whole right-wing book-banning ecosystem here, and it is coming for Anne Frank.
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