Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer
Libraries

There Have Been Several Public Library Bomb Threats This Week

Kelly Jensen

Editor

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Stochastic terrorism continues this week, following the numerous bomb threats made in Chicago-area libraries over the past month. Last week’s book censorship news roundup included a look at six different libraries in the Chicago suburbs which received bomb threats, followed by two more bomb threats at an Oklahoma school district and a Davis, California, public library. Several of those libraries received not just one bomb threat, but several over the course of the week.

What used to make headline news, though, now hardly gets a blip on the radar.

This week, there have been numerous bomb threats called into public libraries across the country. These threats are, no doubt, connected to the right-wing rhetoric around libraries and librarians. The rise of stochastic terrorism is what emerges when a political movement chooses to label a group “groomers” or “indoctrinators,” and through these bomb threats, they create terror for library workers and users alike.

So what’s happened this week?

First, the Iowa City Public Library (IA) shut down Tuesday, August 29, for a bomb threat. The threat came in at 3:30, hours ahead of a scheduled event at the library with Democratic State Senator Janice Weiner, the focus of which was legislation implemented that would impact education throughout the state. The threat also came 30 minutes after the library’s social media posted about the apparel available to honor their summer reading program, which features an open book and a rainbow. We know the mere existence of rainbows has caused right-wing Christian nationalists trouble over the last three years.

In Lincolnshire, Illinois, the Vernon Area Public Library received a bomb threat Tuesday, August 29. The library is in the northern Chicago suburbs, not far from the spate of libraries which had bomb threats over the last month. It came via the internet and was fashioned similar to the previous threats to libraries across the area. Both Wilmette Public Library and the Park Ridge Public Library reported this week they were targets of second bomb threats in the previous week as well.

The FBI is opening an investigation now in Davis, California, after the public library received its third bomb threat in a week. Police believe the incidents to be related, as the individual who submitted the threats did so to local news organizations. The threats included anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and began when the library determined that because a Moms for Liberty chapter would not comply with the library’s code of conduct, they would not be allowed to use the library’s facilities for a speaker program. In Oakland, California, an elementary school received a bomb threat on Tuesday in response to the school’s equity and inclusion group; it was instigated by right-wing social media.

And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an elementary school has been targeted twice with bomb threats over the last week. These emerged in response to a humorous TikTok video made by Ellen Ochoa Elementary librarian Kirby Mackenzie about book bans. That video was picked up by a right-wing group on Twitter known for instigating stochastic terrorism and creating chaos for educators and librarians over the last several years. The threats not only targeted the school but Mackenzie’s own home.

None of these threats are normal, and each of them is a federal crime.

Library workers and educators have been under attack for nearly three years, and while it is unfortunate to note that bomb threats aren’t new, their escalation over the last month demands attention and action. These should nationwide headlines, but they are hardly making a blip in their own local media. This stochastic terrorism is not only shutting down public institutions, but surrounding the few public goods in terror for workers and for users–this is, of course, the point, and yet, it should absolutely enrage every taxpayer who helps fund these institutions.

Post-threat, libraries are seeing themselves targeted in other ways, too. Right-wing christofascists are submitting FOIA requests to acquire information about those who work in the library, demanding information such as their qualifications to be working in those facilities. It would be smart for any educator or librarian to lock down their personal social media to stay safe; even if a FOIA request does not turn up anything much, bad actors can get enough information to do a Google search and pull out anything that aligns with their agenda and make innocent people right-wing targets.

The educators aren’t okay. The library workers aren’t okay.

And the kids aren’t okay, either.

If this is about protecting the children, then why target two of the places that are among the safest for children to be?

(We know the answer).

It’s time to write to your representatives and to your local media and demand protections for these people being targeted by a well-connected, wealthy vocal minority. It’s been time for years, but with the lack of alarms being set off right now with actual bomb threats, it’s crucial. It won’t be long before a library worker is killed for simply doing their job.

Whether or not you’re ready to believe it, it’s your backyard.