“It’s fine work. Monday bum Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then bum the ashes. That’s our official slogan.” These are the words of Montag the fireman in the novel “Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian vision for a world where books are illegal. In that world, firemen don’t put out fires but start them, particularly in houses in which books are found. 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper catches fire.
Today, a form of Fahrenheit 451 “firemen” have appeared at school board meetings, the gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey, state legislatures in Texas and Florida, and public libraries.
In September, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office in Wyoming referred to the county prosecutor a criminal investigation of librarians at the Gillette Public Library. The alleged crime was making available on the library shelves five books deemed to be pornographic by the county’s self-appointed “firemen.” These “firemen” were right-wing busybodies who objected to children reading “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, “How Do You Make a Baby” by Anna Fiske, “Doing It” by Hannah Witton, “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg, and “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew P. Smiler. It is difficult to conceive that there are adults who would ban books while failing to understand their precious little cherubs are seeing on the Internet material far more pornographic than anything found in a library. But the fascination for book banning by the right-wing continues, even in an era of readily-accessible digital content.
To avoid a conflict-of-interest, Campbell County prosecutor Scott Matheny handed off the criminal investigation to his counterpart in adjacent Weston County. Weston County prosecutor Michael Stulken concluded: “I cannot ethically bring criminal charges if the facts surrounding a certain matter are not supported by probable cause.” The Gillette Library Board voted to uphold the decision by the library to keep the books on the shelves. That did not satisfy one of the real-life “firemen,” who said, “I’m not intending to change my mind because of something a lawyer chooses to do or not do.”
It was not the decision by “some lawyer” that kept the books on the shelves of the Gillette Public Library but by a prosecutor who found no probable cause that a crime had been committed. One of the manifestations of Trumpism, which is nothing more than re-baked Nazism, is that the law is to be disregarded if it does not satiate the appetites of the frenzied right-wing mob.
Not willing to take no for an answer, one can see the potential for Trumpists in Wyoming to become full-fledged “firemen” and torch public libraries that contain books to which they object. In 1933. Nazis parading with lit torches around Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, and other cities and towns gathered at book collection points and set fire to massive piles of books. The Nazis even posted invitations to these book burnings. The next time there is a group of tiki torch Nazi marchers parading around Charlottesville or some other city in Virginia or around the United States, their final destination may be the local library. Who would stop them? The police, who include Nazi and white supremacists sympathizers in their ranks? The library staff? The firefighters? The Republicans, in their zeal to ban books, may bring back book burning after some 90 years of relative dormancy.
Wyoming is not alone in seeing efforts to ban books. Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, the fleece vest-wearing wannabe “good ole boy,” who is also a former CEO of the mega-predator Carlyle Group, has closed his campaign with a vow to ban from Virginia public schools the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” by Toni Morrison. Youngkin has made a national celebrity out of Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County resident who has waged a campaign against “Beloved,” a novel depicting the horrors of slavery, since 2013.
Murphy, who is white, claims that her son, a senior in high school at the time, had “nightmares” after reading the book in an advanced placement literature class. Ms. Murphy obviously didn’t realize that her high school senior had access on the Internet to material far more violent and sexual than what was in a highly-acclaimed novel. For starters, Ms. Murphy, who appears to be enlisting as a “fireman” in Virginia, might want to know about websites featuring the mangled bodies of car crash victims, scores of people engaged in sex orgies, and the psychological manifestations of bestiality, necrophilia, and coprophilia. She may even stumble across news about her hero, Donald Trump, having a predilection for pedophilia, along with his one-time very best friend, Jeffrey Epstein. If Murphy has problems finding such material on-line, she might ask for technical assistance from her son, the one who had “nightmares” after reading “Beloved.”
For 8 years, Murphy has led a battle against “Beloved” in Virginia schools and she has gained supporters around the commonwealth. One can envisage someone like Murphy leading a brigade of white “firemen” in burning books that become illegal in her ideal world.
After stoking the last burning embers of what were once massive library collections, Murphy, Youngkin, Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis, and their ilk can dwell on this passage from Fahrenheit 451: “Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.”
In 1821, the German author Heinrich Heine wrote in his tragedy, “Almansore”: “Where they burn books, they also ultimately burn people.”
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).