Sunday, November 12, 2023

Sunday Reading

Sorry, Moms — Amanda Marcotte in Salon on the poor showing the ironically-named Moms for Liberty had last week.

“We have more people. That’s a huge part.”

Jane Cramer, a mother from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, explained to Salon earlier this year that she felt good about the ragtag team she’d helped assemble to boot Moms for Liberty, the well-funded conservative parents’ rights group, off of her local school board. “We’re not organized in the best ways necessarily, but it kind of all fell into place,” Cramer told me. “And we’re all obsessed a little bit.”

Last month, I published an investigative report about how Moms for Liberty, a group dedicated to rewiring American education toward the far right, had taken over the board of education in the Pennridge School District, about half an hour outside Philadelphia. Moms for Liberty, a heavily funded astroturf organization linked to GOP leadership, wasn’t especially subtle in its strategies, pinpointing a handful of swing districts in purple states, like Virginia and Pennsylvania, and targeting school board elections, which are usually low turnout and easy to win. Once installed, Moms for Liberty members started banning books and Pride flags, as well as protesting that teachers were “grooming” kids with “smut,” which usually meant either a history book or acclaimed, age-appropriate fiction. The idea was to create moral panics around sex and race that could tip national elections towards Republicans.

Well, it backfired.

As I reported, parents in the Pennridge district eager to fight back against right-wing radicals formed the Ridge Network and got the word out, arguing to voters that the group was degrading the quality of the public schools. This week, those efforts paid off: Democrats won all five of the open school board seats in the district, wresting control away from Moms for Liberty.

By the time this election rolled around, Moms for Liberty seemed to have already realized their brand had become poisonous. As the Daily Beast reported, “In 2021, Moms for Liberty claimed credit for 33 seats in Bucks County,” but in this election cycle, the group “endorsed only a single candidate in the county.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that some Republican candidates wanted the group to keep its distance, fearful of the taint. And that was my sense of things in the Pennridge district this fall. School board members who had links to Moms for Liberty tried to downplay it and ended up getting outed by investigators from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The school board election is the latest in an escalating series of victories for the Ridge Network and other resistance efforts in Pennsylvania. Last month, the Democratic-controlled state legislature held hearings about the threat of book banning, allowing parents and educators to speak out. One of those parents, Darren Laustsen, told Salon about his attempts to expose backdoor book banning at Pennridge, which involved books mysteriously being “checked out” so that students couldn’t read them all year. In late October, he won a lawsuit against the school district over what the judge called a “cover-up” of such secretive book bans.

But Laustsen isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s still out there raising awareness of the radicalism of Moms for Liberty. He recently tweeted a story about Moms for Liberty activists demanding the arrests of librarians for letting kids read young adult novels, adding, “I am so tired of these psychos.”

It’s remarkable how swiftly Moms for Liberty became such an albatross organization. As many Pennridge parents complained to Salon, much of the initial media coverage of the group was credulous, buying into the false narrative that it’s a grassroots group of normal parents who are simply “concerned” about liberal “excesses.” In reality, the group was founded in 2021 by the wife of the chair of the Florida Republican Party and was immediately so well-resourced and fully staffed that it could only be they were propped up by secretive, wealthy donors.

The suspicious aura of money around the group was interesting to journalists, but what really damaged Moms for Liberty was that they underestimated the intelligence of the people in the communities they were targeting. The parents of Pennridge were not fooled by attempts to characterize literary fiction as “pornography.” Local residents also feared that rewriting history classes to adhere to right-wing mythologies would ultimately harm the school’s reputation, which could hurt both their property values and the ability of their kids to get into good colleges. Above all, multiple parents expressed a belief that schools should be preparing kids for the real world. They worried that right-wing whitewashing of history, social studies and other courses would leave kids without the basic skills necessary to thrive in a diverse, dynamic society.

Moms for Liberty was started, in a fairly obvious manner, to help boost the national prospects of Republicans. So it’s a delicious irony that, in two short years, the organization is mostly known as a symbol of the MAGA extremism that is driving down the overall popularity of the GOP, leading to yet another election cycle where Democrats overperformed expectations. The group was meant to put a family-friendly gloss on right-wing extremism. Instead, they got parents and teachers, many who barely have time to work and care for their families, to become political organizers. Messing with people’s schools was not, it turned out, a genius political strategy.

Doonesbury — It’s only a game.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Happy Friday

Florida leads in book-banning.  Via the Miami Herald comes this report from the PEN Foundation.

The freedom to read is under assault in the United States—particularly in public schools—curtailing students’ freedom to explore words, ideas, and books. In the 2022–23 school year, from July 1, 2022, to June 31, 2023, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of book bans in US public school classrooms and libraries. These bans removed student access to 1,557 unique book titles, the works of over 1,480 authors, illustrators, and translators. Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals. Amid a growing climate of censorship, school book bans continue to spread through coordinated campaigns by a vocal minority of groups and individual actors and, increasingly, as a result of pressure from state legislation.

  • Book bans in public K–12 schools continue to intensify. In the 2022–23 school year, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books banned, an increase of 33 percent from the 2021–22 school year.
  • Over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida. Across 33 school districts, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida, followed by 625 bans in Texas, 333 bans in Missouri, 281 bans in Utah, and 186 bans in Pennsylvania.
  • Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about “porn in schools” and “sexually explicit,” “harmful,” and “age inappropriate” materials led to the removal of thousands of books covering a range of topics and themes for young audiences. Overwhelmingly, book bans target books on race or racism or featuring characters of color, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters. And this year, banned books also include books on physical abuse, health and well-being, and themes of grief and death. Notably, most instances of book bans affect young adult books, middle grade books, chapter books, or picture books—books specifically written and selected for younger audiences.
  • Punitive state laws, coupled with pressure from vocal citizens and local and national groups, have created difficult dilemmas for school districts, forcing them to either restrict access to books or risk penalties for educators and librarians. Eighty-seven percent of all book bans were recorded in school districts with a nearby chapter or local affiliate of a national advocacy group known to advocate for book censorship. Sixty-three percent of all book bans occurred in eight states with legislation that has either directly facilitated book bans or created the conditions for local groups to pressure and intimidate educators and librarians into removing books.

Over the past two and a half years, PEN America has been at the forefront of tracking an evolving movement to exert ideological control over public education across the United States. This campaign—which PEN America has dubbed the “Ed Scare”—is penetrating public libraries, higher education institutions, and public schools, using state legislation and intimidation tactics to suppress teaching and learning about certain stories, identities, and histories.

Efforts to suppress free expression are particularly pervasive in public schools, where coordinated campaigns to restrict the freedom to read, learn, and think are affecting students nationwide. PEN America has tracked the spread of explicit prohibitions to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities in K–12 and higher education—which we have dubbed “educational gag orders”—as well as legislative mandates that require intrusive forms of inspection or monitoring of teachers and librarians, which we have dubbed “educational intimidation bills.” These legislative efforts work in tandem with coordinated campaigns locally, enabling local groups and individuals to challenge curricula, movies, songs, art, plays, and thousands and thousands of books.

Public schools have long been deemed essential to American democracy. Identified by John Adams as “necessary for the preservation of rights and liberties,” public schools facilitate information sharing, knowledge building, and the ongoing unification that undergirds a pluralistic society. Public schools do this, in part, through robust library programs. School libraries play a critical role in making information and knowledge accessible to students while also fostering lifelong learning, student achievement, and literacy. Over the past two years, coordinated and ideologically driven threats, challenges, and legislation directed at public school classrooms and libraries have spurred a wave of book bans unlike any in recent memory, diminishing students’ access to books and directly impacting their constitutional rights.

Note item 2: “Over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida. Across 33 school districts, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida…”  Since Florida establishes school districts by county, not by city or township, that means that nearly half of the 67 counties in the state have bans in place.  This is no doubt the work of ignorant tight-asses, led by the head Fred of that particular lumber shed, Gov. Rod DeSantis and his fascist “anti-woke” campaign followed by the ironically-named “Moms for Liberty,” which has the same relationship to liberty as the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

Lawsuits against DeSantis’s authoritarian edicts are working their way through the courts and will be decided long after his moribund presidential campaign goes Hindenburg.  And that’s an appropriate analogy because he’s a flaming Nazi gasbag.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Sunday Reading

Reading Is Not Available — Charles Bethea in The New Yorker on the book-banning in Florida schools.

In late January, at Greenland Pines Elementary, kids attended a party for an annual event called Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! There was an escape room and food trucks. Brian Covey, an entrepreneur in his late thirties, came to pick up his daughter, who’s in second grade, and his son, who’s in fifth. His kids looked confused. “Did you hear what happened at school today?” his daughter asked. “They took all the books out of the classrooms.” Covey asked which books. “All the books,” she said. Covey’s son had been reading “Measuring Up,” a coming-of-age story about an immigrant to the United States from Taiwan. Students who read from a list of pre-selected books, including this one, were rewarded with an ice-cream party. “They even took that book,” Covey said.

Covey went into the school classrooms to see what his children were talking about and found bookshelves papered over to hide the books. (He also went to another local school and later uploaded a video to Twitter showing that its shelves were bare.) “This has never been an issue before,” Covey told me, noting that he’d grown up in the same public-school system, in Duval County, which includes Jacksonville. “But I read books about the consequences of this kind of thing when I was in school.” He was thinking of “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984,” he said. His kids, he added, seemed confused about what would make a book inappropriate for school. “The only way I could get them to understand was to ask what happens if a book in the library or classroom had the F-word in it a bunch of times,” he told me. “My son said, ‘We’d bring it to the teacher or the librarian.’ ” Covey couldn’t think of any books at their library that he would keep from them. (Communications officials for the public schools in Duval County insisted that some approved books remained available to students, including those on the list that Covey’s son was reading from.)

Farther south, in Manatee County, on the Gulf Coast, Nicole Harlow has recently begun to see local social-media posts about teachers having to remove or cover up their classroom libraries. Harlow, a veterinary nurse in her early forties, has three children in county schools. Her two youngest are in charter schools; so far, the libraries there seem to have remained largely untouched. But her oldest, Emma, is a tenth grader at Parrish Community High School, where bookcases have been covered with signs reading, “Books Are NOT for Student Use!!”

Harlow pointed me to the Web site of a local group called Community Patriots Manatee. The site features a call to action under the heading “Woke Buster’s Wanted.” The call reads, in part, “Whether your a Tax Payer, Parent, Grandparent, or Community Member, the society that is trying to be created by this deranged wokeness is nothing more than Mental Abuse for Children which WILL ultimately lead into Physical Abuse!” It informs prospective Woke Busters, “We may be in the process of removing books, reviewing curriculum, and making our case with the administrators and school board but this is only the tip of the iceberg. We have to STAY involved and vigilant!” Harlow believes that members of the group may have pressured the school to remove its books. (The group did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.)

“They seem to be opposed to books that represent all kids,” Harlow said, referring to conservative government officials and advocacy groups in the state. She noted that two of the books that had been challenged or pulled from high-school libraries in previous purges—according to a 2022 PEN America report, Florida has the second-highest number of book bans in the U.S., trailing only Texas—were “The 57 Bus,” a nonfiction Y.A. book about an agender teen-ager whose skirt gets set on fire by another teen, and “The Hate U Give,” the popular fictional story about the aftermath of the shooting of a young Black man by a white police officer. “The books they’ve pulled make their political agenda so clear,” Harlow said. “Excuse me, but it’s total bullshit.”

Harlow put her daughter Emma on the phone. “I’m scared they’re going to take my one history book away,” Emma said. “Our teacher has recently been teaching things that were supposed to come later in the year, closer to the A.P. exam, like slavery and, like, Native Americans.” She went on, “It felt like she’s rushing it towards us, like she’s scared it’s going to be taken away and she wants us to learn about it before they do. It’s, like, if these things don’t get taught, then we end up forgetting.” She added, “It’s kind of scary to think about.”

A spokesperson for the Manatee County Schools sent me a statement: “In regards to books in school media centers or classrooms, the School District of Manatee County is abiding by all applicable laws and statutes of the state of Florida, and adhering to the guidance of the Florida Department of Education.” The district communications officials in Duval County directed me to a January 23rd statement, which notes that the Florida D.O.E. “has trained all Florida schools districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use” and that Duval schools are working “to ensure compliance with all recent legislation regarding books and materials available to children through school media centers and classroom libraries.”

The most recent legislation in question is House Bill 1467, enacted last July, which mandates that books in Florida’s public schools be free of pornography and suited to “student needs,” as determined by a librarian or school media specialist. Those specialists had been waiting for retraining guidelines, which only became available in January, according to Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association. In a video shared in late January on a YouTube channel with public-school officials in Duval County, the system’s chief academic officer offered new guidance. “Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by a certificated media specialist need to be covered or stored and paused for student use,” she said. According to the Washington Post, Manatee’s superintendent told a teacher, in an e-mail, that violating the law could lead to “a felony of the third degree.” (The bill itself does not outline penalties for educators, but school officials have nonetheless suggested that felony charges are possible under a preëxisting law prohibiting the distribution of pornography to minors.)

Spar estimated that public-school teachers in a third of the state’s counties have been instructed to box or cover up books until they’ve been reviewed for compliance with the new law. In Palm Beach County, two books were removed last spring in anticipation of the law, according to PEN America, and Brevard County’s classroom libraries were “taking a pause” by the summer. But this sort of thing has been happening much more in rural and conservative parts of the state, Spar said. “It’s just not getting out as much from there,” he added, noting that places like Manatee and Duval are bigger media markets. When Florida’s D.O.E. finally released its compliance training for media specialists, Manatee and Duval “arguably overreacted,” Spar said.

“Most teachers I know are in disbelief,” Covey, who has worked as a substitute teacher, told me. “I can only imagine how heartbreaking it is for career educators to have to take kids’ books away and what kinds of threats would have to be passed down to them so they’d feel they had no choice.” The new law also seemed like a logistical nightmare, the burden of which would likely fall on modestly paid school employees. “It’s like a capital investment that they’re not funding,” Covey said, of the hours it would take for specialists to review thousands of books for appropriateness. In the video for Duval school officials, the county’s superintendent notes that the review required “an incredible lift” and has been a “tremendous task.” Covey added, “If I weren’t living through it, I wouldn’t believe it’s happening.”

Both Covey and Harlow see the law as a reflection of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s Presidential ambitions. DeSantis previously pushed for the passage of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which disallows the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade, and another bill, known as the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits teaching that someone “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” on account of their race or sex. (In November, a judge temporarily blocked the bill from being enforced at the college level.) DeSantis has proposed mandating Western Civilization courses and banning diversity-equity-and-inclusion programs; his administration recently halted the introduction of advanced-placement classes in African American history, which the College Board had been developing for more than a decade. The College Board subsequently announced revisions to the curriculum, eliminating readings on such topics as critical race theory and Black feminism.

Covey, who describes himself as an independent, said, “I’ll never support a politician that’s using my kids as pawns.” His son, he told me, was still puzzling over the logic of the book removals. “They couldn’t have done permission slips or something?” he asked his father, suggesting that books at least be made available on a parent-by-parent basis. It’s unclear to Covey how exactly book access will be restored, or what timeline and process authorities will use. “Will it be a comprehensive banned list or a school-by-school thing?” he wondered. “I have no idea when my kids will be able to check out books.” (The Duval district officials told me, “The list of approved books grows every day.”) He’s been encouraged, at least, by the way his daughter has grappled with the problem. “She started writing a list of her thoughts, and she decided to make a book out of them,” he said. “It’s right here on the table.” He read the working title to me: “The One Who Took All the Books.”

In Manatee, at Parrish Community High School, there have been other traumatic events in recent days, including alarms that have led to two lockdowns. “Kids jumping fences, running to cars,” Harlow said. Emma texted her from school in a panic during one of them. “I’m so scared,” she wrote. “I love you.” (Both alarms turned out to have been triggered by medical emergencies rather than active shooters.) Harlow said, “Instead of talking about guns, we’re banning books! I’d be lying if I said we’re not looking for a way out of this state.”

Doonesbury — Light duty.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Sunday Reading

Cancel This — Charlie Pierce on what’s on and off.

The New York Times has a problem, so therefore, of course, we have a problem, because when the New York Times has a problem, America has a problem, and that’s just the way things go in this country. I do not make the rules here, people. Having engaged the oracular voice—run Anthony Hopkins’ voice through one of those old Star Trek computers until it sounds both deep and bloodless, and you’ve pretty much got it—the Times then lays the problem out for us. But first, it engages one of those miraculous characters that the Times never fails to unearth.

Emily Leonard, a 93-year-old from Hartford, Conn., who described herself as a liberal. She said she was alarmed about reports of speakers getting shouted down on college campuses. “We need to hear what people think even though we disagree with them. It is the basis of our democracy. And it’s absolutely essential to a continuing democracy,” Ms. Leonard said. “Liberal as I am — a little to the left of Lenin — I think these kids and this whole cancel culture, and so called ‘woke,’ is doing us so much harm. They’re undermining the Constitution. That’s what it comes down to.”

All due respect to Ms. Leonard, but she’s as full of stuff as the Christmas goose. Let’s start with the easy bits. “Cancel culture” and “woke” are two different things. Even accepting the NYT’s broad definition of “woke,” all it means is the sudden revelation that there is much in American society that is racist, and sexist, and other things that make a lie out of the Declaration of Independence. “Cancel culture,” even accepting the NYT’s ludicrously broad definition of it, is almost completely a matter of oxen being gored, and the “woke” citizen will hasten to point out that certain people’s oxen seem more worthy of protection than others. The latter can proceed from the former. That’s why there are far fewer memorials to 19th-century treason fouling the landscape these days.

But beyond all that, the whole threat-or-menace narrative that the Times is selling presumes a staggering lack of agency on the part of its alleged “victims.”  If you’re worried about expressing your non-woke opinion over dinner, or around the quad, express it anyway. It’s not like there isn’t a market for unpopular non-woke opinions, especially if you can cast yourself as the victim of oppression. The Times seems to be running one of them a week these days. I mean, read this bushwah.

In the course of their fight for tolerance, many progressives have become intolerant of those who disagree with them or express other opinions, and take on a kind of self-righteousness and censoriousness that the right long displayed and the left long abhorred. It has made people uncertain about the contours of speech: Many know they shouldn’t utter racist things, but they don’t understand what they can say about race or can say to a person of a different race than they are. Attacking people in the workplace, on campus, on social media and elsewhere who express unpopular views from a place of good faith is the practice of a closed society.

Otherwise, like so much of the other writing on this moonshine, the Times is dreadfully short on specifics. It hides behind some poll numbers that could mean almost anything. Certainly, when you read this…

At the same time, a full 84 percent of Black people polled shared the concern of this editorial, that it was a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem that some Americans do not exercise their freedom of speech out of fear of retaliation or harsh criticism. Another 45 percent of Black people and nearly 60 percent of Latinos and white people polled reported that they’d held their tongues in the past year out of fear of retaliation or harsh criticism.

You’d have to be completely ignorant of this country’s history on race—and we’re getting back to that now, too, as we shall see—to believe that the concerns of black citizens about the consequences of unpopular speech are remotely the same as those of, say, undergraduates at elite universities, or present (and former) NYT columnists. And is it all that bad that people might be less likely to express hurtful and/or ignorant opinions than they used to be? Is personal discretion, which is often a sign of personal growth, a genuine threat to free speech in this country? Are you all drunk?

Answer the second question first.

On March 13, the former President* of the United States held yet another of his wankfest rallies, this one in Florence, South Carolina. He had some thoughts to share about education. He shared them.

“We have no choice. The fate of any nation ultimately depends on the willingness of its citizens to lay down and they must do this—lay down their very lives to defend their country,” he said. “If we allow the Marxists and commies and socialists to teach our children to hate America, there will be no one left to defend our flag or to protect our great country or its freedom.”

Let us stipulate that, if you asked him to define Critical Race Theory, he’d probably babble something incoherent about windmills. But this is the same man whose call-to-arms led to the first invasion of the U.S. Capitol since the Royal Marines torched the place, so attention must be paid. He was calling on his supporters to take action, just as they did on January 6, although this time, he chose as their target the public schools, and the teachers and administrators therein. And, in doing so, he added his voice to a rising chorus calling for nothing less than vigilante justice directed at those same people. We have had threats of violence towards school boards and teachers needing police protection, and all that was before the former president*, the country’s pre-eminent political accelerant, chimed in.

Books are being pulled from libraries. Librarians are fighting against it, and, because of that, now they’ve become targets of opportunity. Teachers are leaving the profession, and at the worst possible time, when schools are still feeling their way around the ongoing pandemic. That is the genuine cancel culture. That is the real threat to free speech. That is the real danger to republican values.

Down later in the piece, way below the results of the poll and a blizzard of generalities, the Times does get around to these recent events, but in that strange NYT way in which there’s always a reason why things happen. Although the newspaper does admit that mean people on Twitter over here is not equivalent to being tossed out a window in St. Petersburg, free speech-wise. We are not, as yet, Russia, the Times assures us. However…

How has this happened? In large part, it’s because the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination around cancel culture. Many on the left refuse to acknowledge that cancel culture exists at all, believing that those who complain about it are offering cover for bigots to peddle hate speech. Many on the right, for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms…

…Liberals — and anyone concerned with protecting free speech — are right to fight against these pernicious laws. But legal limits are not the only constraints on Americans’ freedom of speech. On college campuses and in many workplaces, speech that others find harmful or offensive can result not only in online shaming but also in the loss of livelihood. Some progressives believe this has provided a necessary, and even welcome, check on those in power. But when social norms around acceptable speech are constantly shifting and when there is no clear definition of harm, these constraints on speech can turn into arbitrary rules with disproportionate consequences.

Holy mother of god, is this a deluge of fatuous codswallop. There is actual book-burning going on in America and the country’s pre-eminent newspaper equates it with “online shaming” and equates “online shaming” with “loss of livelihood.” Again, both specificity and agency are lacking. If you censor yourself, you censor yourself. The reason doesn’t matter. And if something as ephemeral as a Twitter mob costs you a job, then the onus is on your chickenshit employer. And that’s not even touching on the fact that what you said in the first place might have been racist garbage, for which there is a bull market these days, and for which this particular dust cloud casts an ennobling shadow. You’re not a bigot. You’re free speech warrior. Just ask the New York Times, yet another major institution that seems fundamentally incapable of assessing the real threat to liberal democracy in America, let alone doing anything about it.

Doonesbury — Read the room…

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Reading

Words Matter — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on the garbled language of politics.

One function of the testimony that Robert Mueller, the special counsel who oversaw the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, delivered before two House committees last week was to illustrate how various factions in Washington have come to speak different languages. The words may be the same, but the meanings are not. “Un-American,” in the lexicon of Representative Denny Heck, Democrat of Washington, describes people in Donald Trump’s orbit who seek to cash in on their positions when dealing with Russians. For Representative Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania, “un-American” means Mueller’s decision to include in his investigation’s report so much negative information about a man “who happens to be the President of the United States.” It’s hardly a wonder that Mueller occasionally appeared confused. Each time the questioning swung between the Democrats and the Republicans, he had to switch vernaculars.

More than that, Mueller had to navigate two different narrative realms. In the one more grounded in his report, Democrat after Democrat argued that, if Trump were not the President, he would have been charged with obstruction of justice. In an exchange with Representative Ted Lieu, of California, Mueller briefly appeared to agree that a Justice Department legal opinion that precludes charging a sitting President was all that had stopped him from doing so—but later clarified that, because of that opinion, he never got to the point of deciding whether an indictment was merited.

Meanwhile, the excitable Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, demanded to know why Mueller had charged “thirteen Russians no one’s ever heard of” but not “the guy who puts the country through this whole saga!” He meant not Donald Trump but Joseph Mifsud, whom he identified as a “mysterious professor who works in Rome and London,” and a key figure in the theory, popular on Fox News, that the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia contacts were actually just a cleverly engineered setup. As Jordan berated Mueller, he proclaimed what he called “the good news”: Attorney General William Barr is on the case. This was a reference to Barr’s commitment to an inquiry by Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice’s inspector general, of the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign that the F.B.I. opened in 2016, and Barr’s appointment of John Durham, the Connecticut U.S. Attorney, to review the whole affair. The Wall Street Journal said that “Barr will never have a more important assignment” than pursuing the matter. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also pledged to hold hearings.

Among other things, Horowitz’s investigation concerns how officials handled a dossier assembled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent with experience in Russia, who was working for a company called Fusion GPS, which had been retained by a law firm hired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The dossier relates some wild claims—for instance, that “knowledgeable sources” said the Russians had compromising sexual material on Trump—which have never been substantiated. The thesis on the Trump side is that the dossier was a Russian disinformation operation, in which Clinton was complicit; in other words, that’s the real collusion.

Mueller, citing the Justice Department’s continuing inquiries, said that the dossier was “beyond my purview,” which only further incensed his questioners. So central has the dossier become to the Republican narrative of Trump’s victimhood that, when Mueller appeared slow to recognize the name Fusion GPS, some Fox News figures were left slack-jawed. (“What does that say about Robert Mueller?” Tucker Carlson asked. “This isn’t a medical program, so we’re not going to speculate.”) Trump retweeted the clip.

There are questions worth exploring about the Steele dossier, having to do with, say, the transparency of campaign spending. But they are not the questions congressional Republicans are asking. As in their prolonged hearings into the attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, they are likely to twist any useful threads into an unedifying tangle. This time, though, the Republicans are engaging in an even more dangerous delusion. The pretense is that, as long as they keep talking about mysterious professors and British spies, they aren’t ignoring the threat that Russia and other foreign powers continue to pose to the integrity of American elections. Hillary Clinton is, once again, their excuse for inaction.

The urgency of focussing on election security was one of Mueller’s key messages. It was underscored a day later, when the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report indicating that, in 2016, the Russian government likely probed American voting systems in all fifty states. (Many of the state systems are known to be vulnerable.) The attempts appear to have been mostly exploratory. They may go further, though, in 2020, and Russia might not be the only perpetrator. And yet, that same day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell killed legislation aimed at bolstering election security, saying that Democrats were just looking for a “political benefit.”

It’s not clear that the Republican Party can still conceive of a definition of the country’s interests—or of itself—that does not include support for Trump. It was thus all the more striking, during Mueller’s testimony, when certain Democrats seemed to be speaking his language—that of a straightforward officer of the law. One such moment came when Val Demings, of Florida, previously Orlando’s chief of police, asked about the written responses that Trump had submitted to Mueller, in lieu of sitting for an interview with his investigators. Was it true that Trump “simply didn’t answer” many questions? Mueller: “True.” Did he give answers that “contradicted other evidence?” Mueller: “Yes.” Could Mueller say that “the President was credible?” Mueller: “I can’t answer that question.”

Was it fair to say, Demings continued, that the President’s answers were not only inadequate but “showed that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Mueller: “I would say, generally.” That exchange is almost a catechism for keeping one’s bearings amid the tumult of a truth-mocking Presidency. Such a task won’t be easy in what is bound to be a bitter election, when the contested terms will include not only “un-American” but a more essential one: “American.”

Culture Of Fear — Will E. Young on censorship at Liberty University.

In my first week as editor in chief of the Champion, Liberty University’s student-run weekly, our faculty adviser, Deborah Huff, ordered me to apologize. I’d noticed that our evangelical school’s police department didn’t publish its daily crime log online, as many other private university forces do, so I searched elsewhere for crime information I might use in an article. I called the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators to find out what the law required Liberty to disclose. But the public affairs worker there told the Liberty University Police Department, which complained to Huff. She called to upbraid me: Apparently, I had endangered our newspaper’s relationship with the LUPD. Huff and Chief Richard Hinkley convened a meeting inside a police department conference room, and Huff sat next to me while I proffered the forced apology to Hinkley — for asking questions. Huff, too, was contrite, assuring the police chief that it wouldn’t happen again, because she’d keep a better eye on me.

This wasn’t exactly a rude awakening. I’d spent the previous three years watching the university administration, led by President Jerry Falwell Jr. (who took a very micromanaging interest), meddle in our coverage, revise controversial op-eds and protect its image by stripping damning facts from our stories. Still, I stuck around. I thought that if I wrote with discretion and kept my head down, I could one day win enough trust from the university to protect the integrity of our journalism. I even dreamed we could eventually persuade the administration to let the Champion go independent from its supervision. I was naive.

Instead, when my team took over that fall of 2017, we encountered an “oversight” system — read: a censorship regime — that required us to send every story to Falwell’s assistant for review. Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally, as he had a year earlier when, weeks before the 2016 election, he read a draft of my column defending mainstream news outlets and ordered me to say whom I planned to vote for. I refused on ethical grounds, so Falwell told me to insert “The author refused to reveal which candidate he is supporting for president” at the bottom of the column. I complied. (Huff and the police department declined to comment on the contents of this essay. Falwell and the university did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Eventually I quit, and the School of Communication decided not to replace me, turning the paper into a faculty-run, student-written organ and seizing complete control of its content. Student journalists must now sign a nondisclosure agreement that forbids them from talking publicly about “editorial or managerial direction, oversight decisions or information designated as privileged or confidential.” The form also states that the students understand they are “privileged” to receive “thoughts, opinions, and other statements” from university administrators.

What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life. Faculty, staff and students on the Lynchburg, Va., campus have learned that it’s a sin to challenge the sacrosanct status of the school or its leaders, who mete out punishments for dissenting opinions (from stripping people of their positions to banning them from the school). This “culture of fear,” as it was described by several of the dozen Liberty denizens who talked to me for this story — most of them anonymously, to protect their jobs or their standing — worsened during my four years on campus because of the 2016 presidential election.

By 2016, Liberty’s efforts to limit free expression were already well-established. (“The big victory was finding a way to tame the faculty,” Falwell told the New York Times last year for a story about privileging Liberty’s financial growth over its academics.) But the school’s methods became even more aggressive after Falwell endorsed Donald Trump early that year, according to multiple current and former faculty members. “The closer you get to the president’s office,” says former history professor Brian Melton, discussing a chilling effect on campus, “the worse it becomes.” Falwell’s staff now operates masterfully to squash challenges to his views and his rise in national political influence.

The dissent that did exist — from off-message campus speakers, insufficiently sycophantic board members, student activists and our newspaper staff — was ruthlessly neutralized. Liberty, founded on principles of fundamental Christianity, is now a place that has zero tolerance for new questions and ideas. Those who harbor them must remain silent, or leave.

Falwell, 57, possesses a certain Orwellian gift for painting Liberty as a bastion of tolerance where alternate viewpoints are not just permitted but encouraged. In March, he attended the signing of Trump’s executive order on college free speech and later claimed on “PBS NewsHour” that Liberty was inclusive of all ideas because it had invited Jimmy Carter to deliver its 2018 commencement address and Bernie Sanders to speak in 2015 at the assembly that students are required to attend twice a week. After Falwell learned last month that I was writing this essay, he posted a column on Liberty’s site disputing “sensational stories . . . that we do not allow opposing views.” He wrote, “If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that there will be a strong and critical response to this article by a few former students and a handful of national media determined to paint Liberty in a completely different light on these issues.”

His Twitter account is a much better reflection of his approach to dissent. Falwell’s profile announces that “Haters will be blocked,” and several students who have disagreed or argued with him on Twitter have met this fate. Falwell outright lied on the platform to Sojourners Web editor Sandi Villarreal — who is now my colleague — when he said he’d removed a Champion op-ed criticizing Trump’s “locker room talk” defense because there was simply not enough room on the page. (The piece was already laid out on the page when he pulled it.) In fact, much of Falwell’s message control has to do with safeguarding Trump.

Mark DeMoss was something like Liberty royalty. His late father, Arthur S. DeMoss, gave $20 million to build DeMoss Hall, the school’s main academic building. Mark was also an alumnus, a former chief of staff to university founder Jerry Falwell Sr. and eventually a public relations executive who counted Liberty among his clients. He won a seat on the school’s board of trustees in 1991 after serving as Liberty’s spokesman and became the board’s executive committee chairman in 2008.

In January 2016, days before Trump was scheduled to speak at Liberty, Falwell emailed DeMoss asking whether he should endorse Trump for president. DeMoss says he recommended against endorsing anyone, and Falwell thanked him for the “great advice.” Falwell, at the speech, held back his imprimatur. But a week later, he anointed the billionaire with his support. DeMoss was horrified. “The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense — and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ,” he told The Washington Post at the time. Falwell seemed to take the rebuke in stride, saying he was “disappointed” in DeMoss but understood “that all the administrators and faculty have their own personal political views.”

Within a few months, though, DeMoss would be gone. The night before a Liberty board meeting that April, the executive committee, including Falwell, convened without DeMoss to vote on a motion to oust him from his role as chairman. DeMoss says that his criticism of the endorsement was the cause. (Before the meeting, Falwell had called him a pawn of rival campaigns.) DeMoss resigned as a trustee days later, on April 25, 2016, citing “a lack of trust.”

A week after that, Liberty changed the sign on DeMoss Hall to “Arthur S. DeMoss Hall,” making clear that the structure honored the father and not the wayward son. The message to faculty and students was clear: If you challenge Falwell, you will be not only removed but erased.

The culture of Liberty is governed by lists of principles. According to the Faculty Handbook, for instance, professors are expected to “promote . . . free market processes” and “affirm . . . that the Bible is inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters.” One cause of perpetual insecurity at Liberty is the school’s militant refusal to award tenure to any faculty member (outside the law school, which must offer it for accreditation). Instructors are instead hired on year-to-year contracts; during the spring semester, they find out whether they will be coming back the next fall.

The result is constant, erratic faculty turnover. One recently fired teacher describes the spring as a cycle of stressed-out, fearful professors wandering into each other’s offices to ask if they had their contracts renewed yet. “If you’re a conservative Christian in the academic world, the chances of you getting a job are nil in many areas,” says Melton, who worked at Liberty as an associate professor for 15 years before resigning because of what he described as the school’s surveillance and fear tactics. “The administration knows that, and . . . they wield that very effectively, keeping people quiet.”

Late-notice faculty removals have also become more commonplace, according to Melton, stemming in part from Falwell’s stated desire to tame the teaching corps. “He considers the faculty to be disposable beasts of burden,” Melton says. Last summer, 14 professors at Liberty’s School of Education were suddenly told that their contracts would not be renewed as part of what former Liberty spokesman Len Stevens called a “reorganization.” This June, a dozen faculty members at Liberty’s School of Divinity were notified that their contracts would not be renewed. By that late in the year, it is too late to find another job in higher education for the fall.

For former faculty members, Liberty’s culture of fear can live on. The school often requires terminated professors to sign a nondisclosure agreement if they want their severance packages, several told me — a practice that is extremely uncommon in higher education, according to Robert Bezemek, a California lawyer who represents labor unions at universities. (As Melton puts it, “They force this NDA on you by leveraging the ability to feed your family against you.”) Even former teachers who hadn’t signed NDAs told me they feared that talking to me on the record would somehow get them blacklisted from jobs elsewhere or imperil their friends who still work at Liberty. One thought my request to speak with him was a trap, calling my previous connection with the school “fishy.” When I contacted another for an interview, she warned me, “The university is on to you.” I confess I harbor a certain paranoia, too, from years of being watched at the Champion. Melton and several other current and former members of the faculty told me that they believe the administration surveils everything they do on Liberty’s server, tracking when instructors complete a task late and searching for evidence of “disloyalty,” as a former professor put it. Another onetime instructor declined to use his university-issued laptop because he thought Liberty had equipped it with spyware.

One cause for alarm came just before Trump’s inauguration, when then-Provost Ronald Hawkins ordered all campus faculty members to fill out an anonymous survey rating how politically and socially liberal they were on a scale of 1 to 5. “We are interested in how we compare with other institutions on political and social views,” Hawkins’s office said in a follow-up email to faculty members. But, according to a former professor who talked with others in her department, many initially refused to take the survey out of fear that if a department had too many left-leaning professors, the administration might target it for more oversight or even firings. There is no evidence of Liberty firing a faculty member explicitly for his or her political beliefs, but everyone I spoke to believed that the school could easily manufacture some other pretense. “There is zero trust between the administration and faculty,” Melton says. FIRE, a nonprofit that fights for free speech on campus, put Liberty on its 2019 list of the 10 worst colleges for freedom of speech.

Things aren’t much better for the 15,000 students on campus. In 2009, Liberty withdrew funding and recognition for its College Democrats chapter because, as Mark Hine, the senior vice president of student affairs, put it, the national party defends abortion, opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, supported “the ‘LGBT’ agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc.” A.J. Strom, who graduated in May, tells me that several students wanted to revive the College Democrats but no faculty members were willing to advise them, without which Liberty will not recognize a student club. “They said they would love to sign on but that if Jerry saw their name on the club application, they would be fired,” Strom says.

Student leaders have consistently helped administrators enforce the culture. After the Charlottesville rally in August 2017, members of Liberty’s Student Government Association drafted a statement expressing solidarity with Heather Heyer, the protester murdered by a neo-Nazi, and all people demonstrating against white nationalism. Then-SGA President Caleb Johnson refused to release the message and send it to university administrators for fear of what Falwell might think. (Johnson said in an email this past week that the statement’s author was “a self-described ‘Never-Trumper’ ” and that “we would not allow the platform of Liberty Student Government to be improperly used by a political activist with obvious ulterior motives.”) “There’s 100 percent an atmosphere of fear at Liberty,” says Caleb Fitzpatrick, who was then the student government’s speaker of the House and helped draft the statement. “There was a need to avoid being seen as a liberal or progressive, or even being different.”

In September 2018, nearly a year into the #MeToo movement, Liberty invited conservative provocateur Candace Owens to speak at an assembly. A few days before her visit, Owens tweeted that the women accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault were “making it up.” In response, Addyson Garner, then president of a libertarian club on campus, organized a rally to support victims of sexual assault, called #LUforMeToo, which would occur right after the Owens speech. The day before, Jacob Page, then the student body president, summoned her to his office, where he and Vice President Derek Rockey pressured her to cancel the event, Garner says. She left the office in tears, but she and her fellow organizers decided to protest anyway. About 25 students attended, a rare show of defiance on a campus that discourages political dissent. (In an email this past week, Rockey said he thought students should attend a public dialogue on these topics rather than stage a protest. Page said he and Rockey “support bringing awareness to victims of sexual assault” but “felt it was unproductive to engage in partisan protests.”)

Guests at the school who deviate from the prescribed philosophy can be targeted, too. In October 2017, the anti-Trump pastor and writer Jonathan Martin arrived at the invitation of the Christian musical duo Johnnyswim, who were performing on campus that night; Martin also announced on Twitter that he would lead a prayer meeting with students the next morning. Falwell took it as an unauthorized protest, and the LUPD sent three armed officers to remove Martin from campus, telling him he’d be arrested if he returned. Martin tweeted that it was “evidently in response to my strong criticism of @JerryFallwellJr’s alignment not only with the darkest contours of Trumpism, but expressly with Steve Bannon & the alt-right he represents.” Falwell told the Champion that Martin’s forcible removal was “a matter of safety.”

A similar episode unfolded in 2015 when Jonathan Merritt, a Liberty alumnus and Christian writer, was disinvited to speak on campus after authoring an article critical of Hobby Lobby, the company permitted by the Supreme Court in 2014 to deny its employees contraceptive health-care coverage. The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is close with Falwell. “You don’t seem to remember who your friends are,” Merritt remembers Falwell saying over the phone.

One afternoon in April 2016, when I was still a cub reporter in my sophomore year, I received a one-sentence email from Deborah Huff, our adviser: “need to talk to you about SG,” the subject line read; I should call her that night. She copied the editor in chief, a senior. I was clearly in trouble.

“SG” stood for Scott Garrett, a traditionalist conservative who represents Lynchburg in the state legislature. According to records I had found through the Virginia Public Access Project, he owned millions of dollars in stock, some from companies that lobby lawmakers in Richmond. A few days earlier, I interviewed him for the Champion about possible conflicts of interest stemming from his assets.

After dinner, I called Huff. She sounded annoyed. When I described my reporting to her, she told me the Champion would not run my story, because Garrett was afraid that the article would hurt his reputation. The message was clear: I had no business heckling Liberty’s friends and allies. (“I don’t remember the incident in question,” Garrett emailed me this week when I asked him for a comment. “And I don’t understand why I would say the article would hurt my reputation because there was no conflict of interest.”)

Out of fear that arguing with her would end my career at the paper — she selected which students would advance to editorships — I apologized for looking into Garrett’s finances and assured her that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen again. I understood that her job, and by extension mine, was to protect our righteous, evangelical university. Before becoming a Liberty teacher and then supervisor of the Champion, Huff worked for the Fundamentalist Journal, a now-defunct Falwell-owned periodical. I didn’t see defending the faith or protecting Liberty as the main purpose of journalism. But in the face of a mentor I trusted, I believed I must have been in the wrong.

Looking back on the emails from that episode three years later, I’m embarrassed by my naivete — and my willingness to abandon a scoop with obvious journalistic merit. The scales began to fall from my eyes as, over the next 18 months, I saw how in every issue of the Champion the administration strategically manipulated or erased stories. Huff discouraged us from following leads that might disrupt the image of Liberty as a prestigious, respectable evangelical institution. In pitch meetings, she made it clear that the Champion would not cover Liberty scandals, even those that appeared in mainstream news outlets (such as the Falwells’ secret business relationships or the wave of Liberty alumni who sent back their diplomas after Falwell defended Trump’s comment that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the white-nationalist Charlottesville rally).

By the time I became the Champion’s editor, the censorship I hoped to stop was already shameless. In February 2017, I wrote an article on a higher-education task force that Trump had asked Falwell to lead. Falwell emailed me his personal edits, removing every quote from an expert concerning possible conflicts of interest that Falwell created by accepting the position (in the end, the task force was never formed). Months later, Huff ordered that my story about Martin’s expulsion from campus include lines about how Liberty is inclusive of different political beliefs, in the face of obvious counterevidence. An administrator spiked a news report about an on-campus swing dancing club that was temporarily banned. When film students drafted a petition in early 2018 objecting to “The Trump Prophecy” — a hagiographic tale about a firefighter who said he had prophesized Trump’s election, which Liberty students were compelled to produce in order to receive their degrees — faculty at the film school crafted our coverage into a fluffy bit of PR highlighting students who looked forward to working on set. Champion reporter Jack Panyard was so disgusted, he removed his byline from the piece. Then there was sports editor Joel Schmieg’s column about “locker room talk” after the “Access Hollywood” video came out; Falwell blocked it from publication.

This interference frequently caused shouting matches with, and passive aggressive emails from, administrators. “Too bad the editor and chief of The Champion penned this editorial for the homecoming edition without any effort to learn all that is being done at Liberty to prevent and react appropriately to sexual assault,” Liberty General Counsel David Corry wrote to Falwell and Huff about my column on campus sexual assault. Instead of sticking up for the journalists she supervised, Huff emailed me to complain that I did not “make sure Liberty was separated from the conversation or address what Liberty does that is different than other schools.” Later that day, the piece was removed from the website without my consent. (In his preemptive statement last month, Falwell seemed to address these episodes. “In the past few years, some students screamed ‘censorship’ when they didn’t get their every word published in our campus newspaper,” he wrote. “But that standard isn’t even attained within the newsroom of commercial newspapers.”)

In the wake of these run-ins, members of our staff often gathered in my office to daydream about taking the paper independent or grouse about Huff, whom we felt was gaslighting us. What kind of newspaper adviser would denounce our attempts to keep Liberty accountable and make us repeatedly apologize to administrators for trying? By this point, it was clear that the principles of investigative journalism I was learning in class were verboten when it came to Liberty itself. The Champion could never be an avatar of press freedom or truth-telling.

I grew up in a politically conservative household and was active in my denomination; my values changed at Liberty as I embraced a more inclusive and open vision of the church. My views of Liberty, and of the values I saw Falwell profess on a daily basis, changed as well. I considered transferring schools or resigning from the paper. The weekly fight for the right to publish was exhausting. Still, I decided to stay because I saw that, on the occasions we won — when we either persuaded administrators to leave an article alone or worked around their objections — we sparked dialogue among students on Twitter and in classrooms that challenged Liberty’s status quo. But ultimately, our fraught relationship with our overlords was untenable, and something had to give.

The end finally came for the Champion when a left-leaning faith group, the Red Letter Christians, organized a “Lynchburg Revival” in April 2018 to protest Falwell’s support of Trump and what the group called “toxic evangelicalism.” Two days beforehand, Liberty’s police department notified RLC leader Shane Claiborne that he would be arrested if he set foot on campus. The Champion had already decided to cover the event, but the stakes were higher now. Huff told us it would be too controversial for print, but the other editors and I didn’t think we could ignore it.

The day before the gathering, Falwell sent an email to Erin Covey, our assistant news editor: “Let’s not run any articles about the event. That’s all these folks are here for — publicity. Best to ignore them.” When we explained our dilemma to RLC organizers, they tipped off a reporter at the Religion News Service, which ran a piece detailing Falwell’s censorship. Covey gave on-the-record quotes. Panyard, who was set to succeed me as editor in chief in a few weeks, briefed the reporter on background, as did I. (Vox also picked up the story and amplified it, and I imagine it galled Falwell to be depicted as an insecure tyrant in a liberal publication.)

The school’s response was swift. Falwell convened a tele-meeting with Bruce Kirk, who was then dean of the School of Communication, and our entire staff. They reprimanded us for talking to the press, and Falwell justified his censorship by arguing that the Red Letter Christians were “not keeping with the values of the university.” Then he spoke candidly for the first time about, as he saw it, the virtues of censoring us: “That’s what you kids are going to run into when you get into the real world and start working for for-profit newspapers. That’s what they’re going to expect of you, and I want you to learn that while you’re here.” Kirk, who was sitting with us for the meeting, chimed in, agreeing with Falwell. Being censored by a higher-up in the media industry is “just a part of life,” he said. (Before he began at Liberty, he worked for a local news station operated by Sinclair Broadcasting.)

After the meeting, I felt sick. I hadn’t said a word while Falwell flayed us for trying to practice basic journalism and act with integrity. I went into my office, closed the door and waited until most of the staff had left the newsroom. Then I sat down at my desk and wept.

A week and a half later, Kirk called Panyard and Covey into his office and told them they were being let go as part of a “reorganization.” Nobody else was affected; they’d been fired. It was the most aggressive and direct action the administration had ever taken to silence the Champion. I was not fired — I was a lame duck anyway — but I resigned and refused to take part in the production of the year’s final edition. I cleaned out my office that same day. Soon after, I learned I would be the last student editor in chief of the Champion and that from now on the paper would be run directly by the school. (Kirk did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story.)

Even at Liberty, there are still those who publicly reject Falwell’s diktats. A petition supporting Mark DeMoss won more than 70 student signatures when Falwell ousted him in 2016. During the presidential election, free speech lived a little when Liberty United Against Trump, a student group, scored national media attention for its stance that the school did not uniformly approve of Falwell’s endorsement. It said it accumulated more than 2,000 student signatures for its statement.

Panyard, the deposed editor, launched a new independent newspaper, the Lynchburg Torch, with the help of other refugees from the campus weekly. In the past year, it has published stories that the Champion’s overseers would have blocked, such as a report on LGBTQ students who oppose Liberty’s position on same-sex relationships. Addyson Garner put on another rally this year to support queer Liberty students after transphobic comments from Falwell and his wife, Becki. (“We’re raising her as a girl,” Becki Falwell said of their granddaughter Reagan, as her husband looked on. “We’re not letting her have a choice.”) Dozens of students participated, according to Garner and posts on social media. It was the first time I had ever seen the rainbow pride flag flown openly on Liberty’s campus. The school is changing.

But in significant ways, it is not more tolerant, and it certainly does not celebrate “the open exchange of competing ideas” that Falwell described in his column. In a discussion with the incoming Champion staffers after I left, Kirk said, “Your job is to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is.” The students who recall a more open time at Liberty, before Trump, have now graduated. All those who remain chose to go to Falwell’s school after he endorsed Trump, forming a much more compliant student body that generally accepts and even supports Falwell’s crackdown culture.

I graduated last year. Since then, I’ve tried to put Liberty — and the stress and self-doubt that officials there saddled me with — behind me. But I still fume when Falwell spews dumbfounding conspiracies online or retweets a bigoted rant from Trump, and I still become uneasy when I see my diploma, which is sitting in a cluttered drawer at my parents’ house. I made amazing friends and memories on campus, but I’m realizing the extent to which I internalized the fear tactics; I still sometimes self-censor my thoughts and writing. How can a college education stifle your freedom of thought? When people ask me if I regret going to Liberty, as many do, I usually pause. I don’t know.

Doonesbury — Tweeterdum.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

School Daze

Via ThinkProgress:

An elementary school student was suspended from school last week for making a ‘terroristic threat’ against another student — he told the student that he had a magic ring that would make the boy disappear.

Kermit Elementary School suspended 9-year-old Aiden Steward after he allegedly threatened to make a classmate disappear by placing a ring on top of his head. The weekend prior to the incident, Steward’s family watched the third and final installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, in which Bilbo Baggins wears a ring to become invisible.

[…]

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, schools in Texas also bans numerous books about magical creatures, including wizards, witches, and vampires.

But they want children be taught about two naked people and a talking snake, virgin births, and zombie Jesus.

Sheesh.  I think it’s time for a pint at the Green Dragon.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

GOP Censorship

From the folks who want someone else’s kid to die for their freedoms…

The official website for House Republicans has posted on YouTube a version of President Obama’s State of the Union address which cuts out comments where the President was critical of Republican rhetoric on climate change, ThinkProgress has learned.

In the website’s “enhanced webcast” of the State of the Union speech, President Obama’s comments criticizing Republicans for saying they are “not scientists” when it comes to climate change are erased.

At the 43:25 minute mark, President Obama is supposed to say “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”

Instead, the entire section is skipped. Obama’s comments resume with “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

They can’t handle the truth.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Going Dark — Ctd

Apparently yesterday’s message from the internet got through to some people.

More than 4.5 million people signed their names to the Google petition and 300,000 people emailed or called their lawmakers, according to the protest organizers. In New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas, protesters held rallies to draw attention to the bills. The Library of Congress said late Wednesday that it had been hit with a denial of service attack by “a group opposed to the online piracy legislation.”

By the evening, a number of lawmakers had done an about-face on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill lost four of its co-sponsors, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“It is simply not ready for prime time and both sides must continue working together to find a better path forward,” Hatch said in a statement about the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Rubio (R-Fla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also released statements Wednesday saying that they had reservations and would not vote for the bill if it came up for a floor vote.

Way to go, people. Good job.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Going Dark

A lot of prominent internet sites such as Wikipedia and Google — along with a number of blogs as well — are going dark or changing their home page today in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) that are under consideration by the Senate.

“Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” a Google spokesperson told TPM in an emailed statement. “So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page.”

If you like, you can lend your voice to the protest here, and if you’re in the U.S., you can contact your representative.

Bark Bark Woof Woof will observe the blackout today from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. See you tonight.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Short Takes

Day 2 for Elena Kagan in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The financial overhaul bill gets an overhaul.

Gen. David Petraeus was confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee as the new head of the Afghanistan operation.

Google caves to China’s demands.

Good grades: Miami-Dade school students did well on the FCAT, the state’s standardized tests.

Bill McCollum is going after Rick Scott in more ways than one.

Tropical update: It’s now Hurricane Alex and heading west into Mexico.

Fun while it lasted; the Tigers lost in Minnesota, giving up their lead in the division that they held for about 24 hours.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Christian Taliban

Having just spent five days celebrating theatre and artistic expression, it’s really disheartening to read this:

A Fort Worth theater that had agreed to show a student-directed play with a gay Jesus character has withdrawn its offer. The board of directors of Artes de la Rosa, which runs The Rose Marine Theater on North Main Street, decided Thursday against offering the venue for the production of Corpus Christi, just one day after saying it would. A March performance set for a directing class at Tarleton State University in Stephenville was abruptly canceled after the school received threatening emails.

That’s from a larger article by Glenn Greenwald in which he counters Ross Douthat’s argument that it is only Muslims who get outraged over the depiction of their holy figures in a satirical or unflattering light.

The various forms of religious-based, intimidation-driven censorship and taboo ideas in the U.S. — what Douthat claims are non-existent except when it involves Muslims — are too numerous to chronicle. One has to be deeply ignorant, deeply dishonest or consumed with petulant self-victimization and anti-Muslim bigotry to pretend they don’t exist. I opt (primarily) for the latter explanation in Douthat’s case.

As Balloon-Juice’s DougJ notes, everyone from Phil Donahue and Ashliegh Banfield to Bill Maher and Sinead O’Connor can tell you about that first-hand. As can the cable television news reporters who were banned by their corporate executives from running stories that reflected negatively on Bush and the war. When he was Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani was fixated on using the power of his office to censor art that offended his Catholic sensibilities. The Bush administration banned mainstream Muslim scholars even from entering the U.S. to teach. The Dixie Chicks were deluged with death threats for daring to criticize the Leader, forcing them to apologize out of fear for their lives. Campaigns to deny tenure to academicians, or appointments to politicial [sic] officials, who deviate from Israel orthodoxy are common and effective. Responding to religious outrage, a Congressional investigation was formally launched and huge fines issued all because Janet Jackson’s breast was displayed for a couple of seconds on television.

This is par for the course and part of the Culture of Victimhood that has been perfected largely by the bullies of the majority: anyone who criticizes them or mocks them is treating them horribly unfairly and they demand that they stop it at once. Hence the cries of “anti-Christian bigotry!” when a court rules against a city paying for a nativity scene in a public park to the exclusion of other faiths. It also informs the mentality of some of the Tea Party people who are basically saying this was a much nicer country before all those other people started to vote.

Perhaps if the defenders of the faith weren’t such reactionary horses asses, people might not come away with the impression that they’re just a bunch of sniveling bigots in the first place.