It’s sad but true.
Mine lied to me.
Yours lies to you.”
So begins the song “Parents Lie” from the 2016 Disney musical version of “Freaky Friday.”
And it is true. All parents lie. They may say there are no more cookies when there really are. They may pretend that Santa or the Tooth Fairy are real. They may even give their kids a book filled with tales of “incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide,” and tell them it’s the literal word of God.
Traditionally, America’s parents have been given broad latitude to tell their own children whatever lies they wanted to tell them.
In the new age of Christo-Fascism, the power to lie to your own children is no longer enough
Dark-money-funded, anti-American book-banning groups are now literally demanding the power to control everything your children are allowed to learn at school.
This week (like most weeks in recent memory) was filled with more examples of how the most rabid right-wing moms and their boosters are using the mantra of “parents’ rights” to accelerate the GOP’s ugly, extremist white supremacist agenda.
These hate-powered astroturf groups have innocent-sounding names like “Moms 4 Liberty” and “Parents Defending Education.” They are being endorsed by prominent GOP leaders such as Trump and DeSantis. And they are being amplified by the worst racists and bigots in the extremist right-wing media and social media ecosystem, including Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder.
These “parents’ rights” groups have inflamed many parents across the country by sharing “pornographic” images from obscure books not being taught in any schools—ensuring the images are seen widely on TV screens and across social media. Their vicious political operatives have even gone so far as to print their own versions of “porn magazines” so they can hand them out to the very kinds of unsuspecting young children they claim they are trying to protect.
Their ultimate goal: Give one parent the power to control all the books at an entire school or in a whole school district.
Nazi tactics, Nazi lies
I’m not the only one who sees the forces of fascism at work here.
At a school board meeting in Martin County, Florida on 21 March, 2023, 100-year-old Grace Linn—a true “Mom For Liberty”—told the 500 people assembled:
I’m here to protest our school district’s book-banning policy.
My husband Robert Nichol was killed in action in World War II at a very young age. He was only 26, defending our democracy, constitution and freedoms.
Here’s her full speech:
Grace Linn concluded:
Banned books and burning books are the same.
Both are done for the same reason: Fear of knowledge.
Fear is not freedom.
Fear is not liberty.
Fear is control.
My husband died as a father of freedom. I am a mother of liberty. Banned books need to be proudly displayed and protected from school boards like this one.
Martin County in the “Free State of Florida” also got the attention of Joy Behar this week, who was also alarmed that students in DeSantistan were being denied acccess to dozens of books including 2013’s bestelling novel “The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult, “about the grandaughter of a Holocaust survivor who learns that her neighbor is a former Nazi officer.”
Behar also noted that a 2020 study found that Americans’ “knowledge of the Holocaust is declining,” even as “anti-Semitic incidents in the US are their highest levels since the 1970s.”
Enter Jim Jordan and “The New Liz Cheney”
The Christo-Fascist lies that Moms 4 Liberty and Parents Defending Education are hoping to tell all children mostly involving canceling American history (lest it cause a single snowflake any “discomfort”) and erasing LGBTQ identities.
But telling the truth about their intentions wouldn’t get them very far, so instead they’ve made their propaganda focus very simple: pornography.
This week, the thug Jim Jordan (who failed to protect the hundreds of students raped on his watch at Ohio State) allowed the House Judiciary Committe he chairs to become a showcase for the lies and weak arguments being put forward by political operatives like Nicole Neily, “an established political operative with Koch-affiliated non-profit interest groups,” who is now the president of Parents Defending Education and Tiffany Justice, a co-founder of the dubiously named Moms for Liberty.
Also invited was Nadine Farid Johnson, the managing director of PEN America’s Washington DC office who, in addition to affirming the rights of parents to have a role in their own child’s reading choices and a voice at school board meetings, also spoke eloquently about the First Amendment rights of students, the professionalism of teachers and librarians, and the need to prepare America’s children “for life in a participatory democracy, one that requires us to debate, to understand, and to discuss.”
The “Penthouse Magazine and First Graders” lie
Republicans at the hearing were not interested in hearing about the educational priorities most parents and students care about. They weren’t interested in listening to Grace Linn’s call to stand up to the fascists who would trample our First Amendment freedoms. They weren’t even willing to consider the fact that students are citizens with Supreme Court-mandated rights that exist independently of their parents.
They wanted soundbites for their social media trolls. And when they couldn’t get any, they simply made one up.
Here’s how it went down: Halfway through the hearing, Harriet Hageman, Liz Cheney’s kooky Congressional replacement, used her time at the mic to ask PEN America’s Johnson: “Do you believe it is censorship to prohibit teachers from exposing First Graders to Penthouse Magazine?”
Johnson, reasonably, pushed back at the ridiculous—literally WTF?—premise of the question: “I don’t know of any incidents in which the—”
After a little more back-and-forth, during which Johnson remained admirably calm in the face of Hageman’s nonsensical, purely-for-the-cameras hostility, Johnson told Hageman it is “of course not” appropriate to show Penthouse Magazine to First Graders, to which Hageman replied, “Thank you.”
Here’s the tape:
That, however, was not enough of a “gotcha” for Moms 4 Liberty and the right-wing lie machine, who immediately began promoting the easily disprovable lie that Johnson had refused to answer the question altogether.
In a sane world, that dishonest tweet would have been the end of the story. But fascists don’t work that way.
A selectively edited version of the exchange was pushed out on social media, claiming that Johnson had refused to answer the question.
Two hours later, the Daily Caller (6.2M Facebook followers, 1M Twitter followers) had published an article headlined: “GOP Rep Grills Witness On Whether Banning Pornographic Magazines For First Graders Is ‘Censorship’.”
On Rumble, where the Daily Caller has 279,000 followers, the Tucker-Carlson-founded fake news site posted the video with the headline: “Witness Won’t Say If Penthouse Is Inappropriate For First Graders.” (If you actually watch the video to the end, you will discover—as noted above—that the witness does indeed say it is “of course not” appropriate. But as the Daily Caller knows, only a tiny percentage of people viewing online videos watch until the end.)
By March 24, the day after the hearing, the Louder with Crowder fake news website (“Horrific racist” Steven Crowder has 3M followers on Facebook, 2M on Twitter) was framing it as: “GOP congresswoman corners anti-parental rights activist: ‘Do you support showing Penthouse Magazine to first graders?’”
And the same day, Ben Shapiro (8.9M Facebook followers, 5.5M Twitter followers) pushed the lie hardest of all, stating categorically on his podcast that Johnson refused to answer the question.
The impossibility of honest debate
This particular lie may be small in the overall scheme of things. But it highlights the fundamental dishonesty of right-wing extremists and offers further proof that Moms 4 Liberty, the Republican Party and the vicious operatives and seedy right-wing grifters who support them have no interest in an honest debate about what’s best for America’s children.
The idea that teachers and librarians are “groomers” is becoming a central tenet of the anti-woke, pro-bigotry movement.
But that idea has been dismantled time and again. Here’s a tweet from a lengthy Twitter thread by PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel earlier this month:
The sad reality, as PEN America’s Nadine Farid Johnson stated in her testimony this week, is that, “today, we are in the midst of the broadest attack on First Amendment rights in schools and universities this country has seen in generations.”
We all need to fight against the Nazi lies and the Nazi tactics used by astroturf groups and the extremist right-wing propaganda machine.
Grace Linn was 7-months pregnant when her husband was shot down by the Nazis in 1944. As she reminded us in Martin County, Florida this week: “One of the freedoms that the Nazis crushed was the freedom to read the books they banned.”
If 100-year-old Grace Linn can keep pushing back against the steamroller of fascism, we can too.
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