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Chenoa Summers is hoping to flip Arkansas State Senate District 20 blue next week in a race where a Republican ran unopposed four years ago. She was inspired to run when right-wing extremists started attacking her local library and demanding book bans; her opponent is someone who supports legislation that would make teachers and librarians criminally liable for the books they teach or distribute.

Summers isn’t just stopping there, though. She’s fighting for voting rights, bodily autonomy, and support for LGBTQ people. As she said in a recent forum, while she may not look like a traditional candidate, she’s running to represent everyone in her district. Her opponent, on the other hand, “has made it clear he only represents people who look and think like him.”

Summers spoke with OnlySky about being an atheist, why the attacks on libraries are personal to her, and what right-wing extremists have been doing to her community. (These statements have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

On her religious history

I am definitely an atheist. I came out as an atheist when I was in high school, and I was bullied horribly for that kind of thing. So when I got to college, I ended up going off and on to the Secular Student Alliance. So I felt a little bit more welcome at that point. I started getting more comfortable in my skin.

I grew up as evangelical. However, my mom was very liberal. I don’t care what your race is, what your national origin is, religion, gender identity, I plan to represent everybody no matter what, whereas my opponent only wants to focus on Christians.

How attacks on libraries inspired her candidacy

I live in Craighead County, Arkansas, in Jonesboro. We have one of the best libraries in the state. And it has been attacked relentlessly over the last year by censors. And not just like any old “Oh, I don’t like this book, so you have to take it off shelf.” It’s particularly Christo-fascist censors. They want to take books off the shelves, because it does not align with their religion.

My opponent was one of the ones who stirred all of that up. He got up in front of a big crowd, in August 2021, at a library board meeting, misgendered a trans man, and threatened library funding…

That was a turning point for me, I had to get involved. I could not stay silent anymore. I decided to run in November 2021. And then I announced it in January 2022.

How right-wing extremism affects her community

I had a debate with my opponent [recently], and I did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I never do. I did not bow my head for the prayer. He took that, he posted it on social media, and just ran with it. I can see that bringing out the worst in people. I have been attacked relentlessly since [then].

We have a paramilitary organization here in Arkansas. They’re called the Arkansas Patriots. They have been terrorizing the library at this point. They had threatened, at one point, to march around the library with guns, openly carrying assault weapons. We forwarded that to the police.

[There are also] extremists who are targeting the library to take books off the shelves or move books out of their appropriate areas. They are calling librarians “groomers” and “pedophiles” out in public… I’ve been called a “groomer” just because I love my library and support them.

Again, this all goes back to white Christian nationalism. They’ve specifically targeted LGBTQIA+ voices and black, brown, and indigenous voices—anything that they don’t agree with, they target it and they just blast it.

Listen to the full podcast episode:

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.