Who Is Behind The Massive Book Banning Movement?

Moms of Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, and Mass Resistance are believed to be leading the efforts of mass book bans in schools across America.

By Kari Apted | Published

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With nearly 1,700 books being challenged in U.S. school libraries this year alone, book bans have become a major concern for educators, librarians, and activists. These groups were alarmed in August when Missouri’s book ban law went into effect, leaving educators facing up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine for offering students access to banned books. Now, a free speech advocacy organization says it has found the culprit behind the widespread book bans.

A new report published by Pen America says that a handful of right-wing activist groups and Republican lawmakers are pushing districts to ban books, particularly titles authored by or focusing on LGBTQ people and people of color. They found a wide range of groups behind the efforts, from local Facebook groups to huge national advocacy organizations with hundreds of chapters across the country. Some of the 50 groups named in the report include Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, and MassResistance.

Together, the groups meld into a right-wing force responsible for at least half of all book bans. Pen America said most of the groups launched during the 2021-22 school year, when the current trend of rejecting books with race-related or LGBTQ themes began. Opponents of the bans feel that it’s part of a larger movement to eliminate classroom conversations about sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and racism.

Johnathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at Pen America, wrote the revealing report. He said, “These groups probably do not necessarily represent a range of beliefs from our democracy, so they’re having an outsized impact in a lot of places on what it is that everybody gets to read. And that, I think, is what’s most concerning.”

Conservative group MassResistance’s executive director Brian Camenker disagrees. He believes that Pen America and similar groups are on the wrong side of history for wanting children to have easy access to pornographic books in classrooms and libraries. He said, “The question isn’t really, who would want to ban these books, but the question is, who would want them?”

Friedman said that once a book is challenged, administrators usually quietly remove it instead of asking librarians and educators for their opinions. Camenker said that did not reflect his experience, stating that district policies make it extremely hard to remove books from schools and libraries even after parents formally complain at public meetings. Librarians seem rather united on the issue regarding book bans, saying they wish they had the opportunity to explain why it might be better to keep controversial titles on bookshelves.

According to Pen America, 41% of banned titles explicitly address LBGTQ themes or have prominent LGBTQ characters. Around 40% have primary or secondary characters of color, and another 21% of book bans are on titles that directly focus on race and racism. The top three banned books are Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez.

book bans

Left-leaning leaders have become quite vocal about opposing the book bans, with California governor Gavin Newsome at the forefront. Earlier this year, the Democrat leader tweeted a photo of himself posed with a copy of Beloved, the controversial novel written by late poet laureate Toni Morrison. On the desk in front of him lies a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, another frequently banned title due to its discussion of rape and use of the n-word.