Bullies trying to ban books at the Campbell County Public Library are grabbing all the headlines, but only because authorities are taking their hysterical rants seriously.
This high-profile conflict is about as uncivil as it gets. The Gillette protesters aren’t content to force their beliefs on their neighbors by pulling five books from the shelves — titles designed to answer young adults’ questions about sex and sexuality. No, they also want to throw librarians in jail for violating the state’s child-sex laws.
When parents went to the sheriff’s department with their complaints instead of the library board, the case was referred to County Attorney Mitchell Damsky. He called the books in question “inappropriate for children and disgusting.”
With the approval of the Campbell County Commissioners, Damsky has asked a special prosecutor to decide if criminal charges are warranted.
I fear that if the special prosecutor fails to find a violation of Wyoming law, the puritanical mob will simply declare the book lenders witches and demand they be burned at the stake.
Commissioner Del Shelstad has fanned the flames of this controversy by threatening to not only cut funding for the library, but close it.
How did this situation spin so out of control? It started, innocently enough, in June when the library displayed several books for “Pride Month,” a national celebration and show of support for the LGBTQ community.
County commissioners spent an hour listening to several people condemn the library for supposedly promoting pedophilia and smut, along with a host of other sins.
“What you’re looking at right here is the promotion of immorality and perversion,” said protester Hugh Bennett. “This is an assault on our morals, our ethics, our heritage and our belief in God.”
Susan Sisti, pastor of the Open Door Church, was fired up about the Pride Month display but objected to many other things at the library. She railed against books that depict witchcraft and evil grandmothers, plus a Black Lives Matter section she claimed is “Marxist in nature.”
“I’ve never seen anything darker. If I were Satan, I would stack it with the books that are in [the teen room],” she said.
The dust might well have settled after this homophobic skirmish — at least until next year’s Pride Month — but former legislator Scott Clem took to Facebook when he learned that a magic show the library planned to sponsor featured a transgender entertainer.
Soon messages flew back and forth demanding that the show be cancelled. One of the people who responded was Shelstad. “Do we want this garbage in a county library? No!” the commissioner wrote. “How do we handle it from here? The Commissioners tell the appointed library board to cease this kind of support for any group. Period. Not the Governments [sic] place.”
Protesters erroneously claimed the show was “highly sexually explicit” and even called the magician, Mikayla Oz, a pedophile who is “coming for our children.”
Oz’s shows make no mention of her gender identity. The magician, who has performed hundreds of shows for family audiences throughout the Midwest, said she received several threats. So did the library’s staff.
For the first time, Oz cancelled her show.
Protesters were emboldened to keep going after the library. On the heels of “Banned Books Week,” 35 complaints were filed against 18 books in the 188,000-volume collection.
The five that Hugh and Susan Bennett took to the sheriff’s department were titled “This Book Is Gay,” “How Do You Make a Baby,” “Doing It,” “Sex Is a Funny Word” and “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy.”
Hugh Bennett called the quintet “hard-core pornography to children” and said carrying the books was “felony behavior.” At a recent library board meeting he told members, “You’re fighting a losing battle and the longer you resist, the worse it’s gonna be.”
“There’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room and it’s called socialism,” Ed Sisti, a Gillette pastor, told the library trustees. “It’s everywhere, and it’s in our library. It’s seeking to divide families. That’s been an old Nazi tactic for a long time.”
If there is an immense ape lurking about Gillette that’s prone to Nazi-like behavior, it believes in fascism, not socialism. If the good Pastor Sisti wants to learn the difference, I suggest he visit his local library. (Spoiler alert, the Nazis were the ones burning books.)
I’m sure the protesters believe they’ve made it harder for the library to put up future “Pride Month” displays, book LGBTQ performers or stock other sex education titles for teen readers.
But the staff and trustees of the Campbell County Public Library are likely more committed than ever to providing services to the entire community, not just a fringe group of extreme-right activists.
Parents have the right to decide what material is appropriate for their child. But no one has the right to make that decision for every other family. If these zealots are allowed to censor librarians and determine what information people can access in Gillette, rest assured their dangerous crusade won’t stop at the Campbell County line.