In North Idaho, an unlikely-seeming battle has begun over who gets to ban books in public libraries, and how, and for what reasons. Long a bastion of the scariest types of white Christian nationalism, North Idaho attracts the most control-hungry, violent, power-obsessed zealots in the entire religion. And they are starting to make some very threatening moves to seize control of taxpayer-funded libraries in this region.
Not long ago, I read a horrifying headline at an Idaho news site: “‘It’s not about the books’: Northern Idaho library director resigns over extremism.” Indeed, white Christian nationalists are starting to make some very menacing and threatening moves toward taxpayer-funded libraries in the northern end of the state.
I’m not surprised. These self-professed godly ambassadors of Jesus, the self-appointed spokespeople for the supposedly real live god of all the universe, want to ban a whole bunch of books. Yep! Books are apparently more powerful even than iron chariots to these Christians. They want to block access to these books for everyone’s kids, not just their own. I’m betting they feel emboldened by Idaho’s recent lurch toward the Christian Right end of conservatism, but I’m also betting they know that they’re working against a ticking clock.
(Author’s note: I use the term “heathen” to mean people who are unaffiliated with right-wing Christianity. It’s not formal. In formal usage, the term usually indicates a Norse-style neopagan.)
Situation Report: Christian extremism in Northern Idaho
Some months back, news began to break about a situation erupting around public libraries. Extremist right-wing Christians were extremely upset about these libraries stocking books they didn’t like. They wanted to prevent children in the area from accessing those books. And they were playing very, very dirty pool to get their way. In Jamestown Township, Michigan, voters decided to cut funding to public libraries by 84%, which effectively forces them to close for lack of money.
That’s the somewhat civilized way to play the censorship game. I suppose Michigan’s extremist right-wing Christians are made of slightly finer stuff than those living in other states.
Northern Idaho’s extremist right-wing Christians, however, are a whole other ball of wax. There is no way I can possibly overstate or exaggerate, nor be hyperbolic, about Idaho’s Christian extremists. They’re not just right-wing culture warriors. If only!
They constantly seek to one-up each other in terms of performative piety and potential for violence. They are the Taliban of evangelicalism, the future hopeful rulers of the Republic of Gilead champing at the bit to take over the entire state, and from there the country.
As you might expect, Christian extremists in Idaho are quite happy to behave in drastically hypocritical ways (see Ammon Bundy’s fine example for an idea of what these folks like in their politicians). All they care about is dominance.
So they have taken the simpler expedient of menacing librarians directly with hints of violence, all to try to force their culture-war enemies to flee in fear.
The library culture wars reach Idaho
I strongly suspect that some extremist right-wing evangelical leader must have put a bee in his followers’ bonnets about this, because it all hit at once and from all sorts of directions. These aren’t innovative folks on their own. That said, once pointed in a direction they like, then they can move with purpose.
And these sorts of Christians have always liked this particular direction. Withholding information from children is one of their very most favorite things to do. Sure, they’d likely rather just burn the books. Burning books not only accomplishes the goal of destroying material that might threaten their power, but also functions as an implied threat of violence to the book-burners’ enemies—and a strong statement of dominance and power.
I guess these Christians figured that threats of violence alone might do the trick without having to haul their cookies to a church parking-lot pyre and deal with plumes of dangerous smoke.
Regardless, around the beginning of summer this culture war around library books reached Idaho.
How the Idaho library culture war began
On May 9, a local news story described extremist Christians’ first attack on a library in Meridian, Idaho. That’s a basic, mostly-white, middle-class suburb of Boise. It probably seemed like the safest possible opening skirmish to the coming culture war.
These Christians presented the Library District Board with complaint letters that threatened potential lawsuits. According to the news story, they were upset with the idea of mask mandates and the library’s supposed promotion of “critical race theory” (CRT).
(As for me, I’d give them a donut if any of them could even accurately describe what CRT entails. The evangelicals who fight against CRT tend to operate with a less-than-accurate definition of the term, much as they do with other big words like postmodernism and atheism. Indeed, one of the trustees of the library mentioned that the letters “appeared to be copied from an internet source.” For a lot of reasons, this entire story reminds me powerfully of Creationists’ Wedge Strategy back in the early 2000s.)
But most particularly, these outraged Christians accused the Meridian Public Library system of “disseminating obscene materials.”
Obscene = stuff Christian extremists don’t like
By “obscene,” they mostly meant books that dealt with subject matters like race and LGBTQ life. They regard such depictions as “indoctrination,” which in their eyes is superbad if it’s about stuff they hate. If it pertains to stuff they like, like their religious beliefs and relationship rules, then indoctrination is perfectly fine, though they don’t call it that. Instead, they give their own euphemisms like training up a child.
At the time, this accusation probably felt like a safe bet to a bunch of authoritarians. After all, it came right after the Idaho House of Representatives passed a bill that would have criminally charged librarians if minors checked out “materials deemed ‘harmful.'” It died there, when the Senate refused to pick it up for consideration.
But still, the idea of penalizing librarians was on Idaho Christians’ minds as a way to control information flow.
The pressure mounts
The Guardian has discovered strong links between “deep-pocketed rightwing donors” and these groups of Christian extremists seeking to remove books they hate from libraries. They published that story in January. It just took a while for the money to connect to Idaho, I suppose.
By August 9, though, a group called “Idaho Liberty Dogs” was posting this irresponsible drivel on Facebook:
Did you know that public libraries across Idaho, are being used as taxpayer funded ‘Grooming Locations’ to indoctrinate young children and teenagers into the LGBTQ lifestyles?KTVB7
And way too many of the elected office holders of Idaho were happy to pander to these control-hungry Christians and help them get their way.
By August 18th, Meridian library board meetings were getting quite rowdy. Around the same time, the Brooklyn public library system began offering free library cards to teens and young adults nationwide in response to the furor.
And then, on August 22, one Northern Idaho library director announced her resignation.
Of course this happened in Northern Idaho
Boundary County sits at the very northern tippy-top of the state, just south of Canada. If you remember Ruby Ridge, that took place in Boundary County in 1992.
About 12,000 hardy souls live in Boundary County’s 1,278 square miles of land. Almost every single one of them are white. As you might guess, residents there don’t tend to be wealthy people. What they are instead is deeply survival- and community-oriented. Folks in Northern Idaho treasure self-sufficiency like a religious ideal. After all, when winter storms take out all the roads leading into a town, its people have to fend for themselves.
About 30% of Boundary County’s residents are under the age of 18. That demographic must look like white fields unto harvest indeed, to use the Christianese, to the extremist Christians living up there in great numbers.
And boy oh boy, there are a whole honkin’ lot of extremist Christians living up there. In recent years, journalists have been raising the alarm about the “normaliz[ation]” of “paramilitary extremists” in the state.
Of late, they’ve been freaking out about books containing elements that challenge the narrative they want to maintain about themselves, the nation, and their community. Almost every book they complain about is one they have not even read themselves, needless to say, and often aren’t even stocked in that library. (See their statements.)
Christian extremists go on the warpath
Less than a year ago, Kimber Glidden became the librarian in Boundary County. It didn’t take long for residents to target her with complaints about books they hated. From a March 25 story in a local paper:
[Adrienne] Norris claimed that Glidden would have put the graphic novel in the graphic novel section for those 10 years old and up. Glidden said that is not the case.
“[During the March 17 meeting] She launched into some dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric without doing any fact finding,” Glidden said. “[Norris] Did come to the library to confront me about several books, “Gender Queer” being one of them. She verbally gave me a formal complaint on that book; we don’t even own it in our collection.”
Glidden said she told Norris that if the library were to have “Gender Queer: A Memoir” it would be housed upstairs in the adult nonfiction area of the library, far removed from the children’s section.Bonners Ferry Herald
When Glidden refused to cave in to their overreaching demands, these Christians began to ramp up their behavior. Some of them formed a new group aimed at recalling various library board members, including Glidden. Others flooded the library with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demands about everything under the sun. These requests interfered massively with the library’s operations, just as they do with courts’ operations.
Then, things took an even darker turn.
WWJD? Threaten a librarian with guns and violence
In public meetings, these Christians threatened Glidden with Hell—using explicit imagery and language, of course. These threats came from people she knew belonged to violent Christian groups, so naturally she felt physically threatened by them.
At other times, these Christians would simply stand at the back of the room in public meetings—armed to the teeth and displaying their weapons. Glidden notes that some of them even signed up to volunteer at her library. However, they’d show up armed and displaying weapons around her.
At this point, Glidden is scared just to be living in the area. After she resigns, she plans to move away from these domestic terrorists. I can’t blame her.
No way, no how could anybody pay me enough to move to Northern Idaho. It’s beyond beautiful country, but the scary Christians outweigh any positives about the place.
This Northern Idaho fight is not about books themselves
This fight isn’t really about books. It’s not even about libraries, in and of themselves.
It’s about the flow of information and who will control it moving forward, especially as that information pertains to kids.
In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing push to get Christian indoctrination in front of children in public venues.
And I can understand why, for what it’s worth.
How control-hungry Christians have gotten their ideas in front of children in the past
For many years now, parents brought their children to Christians in various ways:
- Free or low-cost church-based daycare and “Mommy’s Day Out” programs aim themselves at busy working parents. While the parents utilize this service, the program concertedly indoctrinates their child.
- Religious private schools welcome the children of non-believers, then indoctrinate them every day in the beliefs of their sects.
- Vacation Bible Schools offer low-cost-to-free summer programs for children. Some parents view them as a lifesaving resource that helps save money on childcare when school is out. These programs operate at a loss because churches consider them invaluable opportunities to indoctrinate children.
- After-school clubs (like the Good News Clubs) use children’s and teens’ activities to draw in heathen children. Needless to say, once those heathens are in place, the clubs’ members and leaders alike seek to indoctrinate them.
That subterfuge worked for a while.
However, this new generation of parents is the least “churched” in American history. They increasingly see these religious programs as untrustworthy for various (rightful) reasons.
Thus, these newer-generation parents are increasingly unlikely to willingly and knowingly plop their kids in front of religious indoctrination.
Casting about for another option
Hence, control-hungry Christians must gain access to children in other ways. They must sneak their “good news” into kids’ heads when their parents aren’t around and won’t suspect it’s happening until it’s too late.
(That’s how I ended up converting from Catholicism to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), incidentally. I promise you: my mom had no idea in the world that that innocent-sounding “pizza blast” actually involved over-the-top fire-and-brimstone preaching and brutal emotional manipulation. Had she known, chances are very good she wouldn’t have allowed me to go.)
For a while, sneaky indoctrination required Christians to gain control of taxpayer-funded public schools. But it seems to me that schools have felt like a losing proposition for them for a while now. The return on investment (ROI) just isn’t there.
But the burning need to sneak-indoctrinate young children still exists. Right-wing Christians believe in something they call the 4-14 window. That’s the window of time they have to effectively indoctrinate a child for life: 4 to 14 years old. If they don’t get the job done by then, that person will likely never convert, and if they do it’ll never be a sure thing; they will likely come to their senses eventually and leave.
I really think sneak indoctrination is what’s going on with this library fight in Idaho.
Idaho Christians: Seeking control of everyone’s kids
That’s why it’s not enough that Christian extremists in Idaho (or anywhere else) control what their own children read. They don’t want control of just their own children’s reading choices. They already have that. Instead, they want control over the reading choices of everyone, most especially the children of heathens.
Quite literally, these Christian extremists want to control how young minds grow and develop. They need those young minds to remain vulnerable to their indoctrination, or else their religion will never, ever have a single hope of recovering its dominance. It’s clear to me that they think that children will be far more vulnerable to indoctrination in an atmosphere where nobody dares to challenge the Christian Right’s narrative.
As it is, right-wing Christians are painfully aware of how poorly they’re holding onto their own children. The last survey I saw indicated that somewhere between 60-90% of Christian teens leave the religion, most of them for life. (Think on that, the next time you see a picture of a bunch of young Christians.)
So Christians’ hardline indoctrination tactics don’t even reliably work on their own kids. That’s why they must extend their reach to heathens’ kids. If the available pool of young Christians widens considerably, then even if the full 90% leave, then hopefully that’ll leave enough to keep things ticking along—at least until they can make it hard to leave.
Christian extremists are in it to win it
That is ultimately why a bunch of wealthy right-wing Christians are happy to fund these extremists’ control-grabs against libraries.
If Christian extremists do gain control over the Boundary County Library, their next move will simply be to find some other way to control the minds of children-what-ain’t-theirs. And then another. And another.
It won’t end. Indeed, it can’t.
There is no way to mollify Christian extremists with half-measures, not when their very dominance is at stake. Dominance matters far more to them than anything Jesus directly told them to do.
For that, they will pull out the stops.