Friday, June 23, 2023

The Effectiveness of Violence

Some of the storybooks read in Montgomery County Public Schools have gay and transgender characters in them. That isn't very shocking, I know, but some want to make a big deal out of it. The complaint is that MCPS isn't letting students "opt out" of readings on the basis of religous objections.

There was a moderate-sized, peaceful protest a couple of weeks ago, mainly organized by a group of Muslims. County Council member Kristin Mink told the group who organized the event that she knew them as good people but they had put themselves "on the same side of an issue as white supremacists and outright bigots." Certain people have tried to pretend she was calling them bigots but it was the opposite of that.

This next Tuesday, the 27th, we will be hearing from the certified, professional bigots. Florida-based extremists Moms for Liberty are planning a protest at MCPS headquarters that will probably be pretty big. The group has been promoting disruptive events all over the country and now they're coming to Rockville.

And by the way, our local Muslims might think it's smart to form an alliance with the Moms for Liberty (hear one of their leaders being coy about it in this podcast interview; start at 22:00), they will soon find out that Moms for Liberty have no fondness for immigrants, especially Muslims. It's not called "Christian nationalism" for nothing.

The Moms for Liberty flyer for the 2PM Carver Building protest says: "Montgomery County Public Schools has removed opt-out for instruction related to family life and human sexuality and we want it restored immediately. Bring your family to support us as we testify in front to the BOE."

This is a clever sleight-of-hand, using that phrase "related to." There is a family life and human sexuality curriculum in MCPS, a series of health classes including sex ed, and it has an opt-out feature which is almost never invoked. Opt-out for other classes is generally called "truancy." There is no opt-out policy for storybooks. Families and sexuality are part of almost all fiction and do not make a storybook part of the "family life and human sexuality" curriculum. Think for instance of Tom Sawyer's attempted seduction of Becky. (And don't forget where Huck Finn presents himself as a girl.)

Moms for Liberty, now formally recognized as a hate group by SPLC, started out opposing mask mandates, but these things seem to all go together; they moved on to Critical Race Theory, and now they are crusading against LGBT+ topics in schools. They have been disrupting school board meetings, harassing officials at their homes and workplaces, making false accusations of child abuse. Moms for Liberty presents itself as a grassroots coalition of concerned parents, but leaders are well-connected rightwing partisans, manufacturing outrage to stir up local communities all over the country.

The chairman of the Florida Republican Party has said he expects Moms for Liberty to become foot soldiers for Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ reelection campaign, according to the Washington Post. Publicity about a recent Moms for Liberty newsletter quoting Hitler in its masthead has caused them to do some quick backpedaling, at least as far as their public image goes.

From VICE (an article well worth reading, by the way):

A VICE News investigation has uncovered links between numerous Moms for Liberty chapters and extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Three Percenterssovereign citizen groupsQAnon conspiracistsChristian nationalists, and in one case, with the founder of the AK-47-worshiping Rod of Iron Ministries church in Pennsylvania. Around the country, Moms for Liberty has formed links with extremist groups and militias, which are joining forces with the “parental rights” group at protests and school board meetings, and in turn pushing the already far-right organization toward even more extreme ideology.

The benign-sounding group puts the innocuous faces of snow-white upper-middle-class moms -- picture a room full of Sarah Palins -- on a coalition of rightwing terrorists, as violence has more and more become the far right's signature in imposing their narrow worldview on the country. Moms for Liberty member and featured speaker Kaylee Campbell Layton recently tweeted about Joe Biden: "I'm calling for the public execution of this old man and you can't change my mind." When I was a kid it was against the law to talk like that.

Local Montgomery County supporters of LGBT+ rights have decided not to hold a counterprotest this Tuesday, out of fear of violence. Some advocates may make public comments at the board meeting, but there might not be anybody on the sidewalk raising their voices in support of our gay and trans neighbors while the bigots wave their signs and talk to reporters.

The problem with violence is that it works. It will keep people away who disagree but don't want to be shot or beaten. Violence does not persuade people, it only stops them from expressing their opinions. But the TV-watching, Facebook-scrolling, newspaper-reading public will only learn that a lot of people oppose LGBT+ stories, and there will be no way to know that the great majority of people in our county support diversity in educational materials and oppose an option to leave the classroom when gay and trans topics come up. When you see us on the news, Montgomery County, Maryland, is going to look just like some place in Florida.

Because of the effectiveness of violence, the news cameras will record a crowd of protesters who will establish the narrative and call themselves "concerned parents," with no visible opposition. They will call the storybooks "pornography" and insist that stories with LGBT+ characters threaten their children. They will claim to have some made-up right to determine what their children learn in public schools. They will say that their religion requires them to be intolerant of LGBT+ people -- they "hate the sin, not the sinner," uh huh; they will be saying their religious freedom is violated by mention of LGBT+ characters in storybooks. They will claim there is an official opt-out policy where there is not. No reporter will challenge these things, and there will be no voice of reason to challenge the falsehoods. They will put some nicely dressed moms in pearls and barrettes out in front to cheerfully and likeably recite their talking-points to the cameras. As events are canceled and honest public servants all over the country resign quietly from their positions out of fear of violence, fascist protests like the one to be held at Carver Tuesday provide a one-sided display of a point of view that is held by a tiny minority of Americans.

There is a lawsuit over the storybook opt-out matter, and I hope MCPS has their legal ducks in a row. We know from experience that school district bureaucrats tend to shrink from intimidation and that they fear controversy; on Tuesday they will be hearing from only one side of the matter, and it may seem to administrators that appeasing the mob will solve their problem. They can choose to change their policy if they can be fooled into believing that's what the public wants, but they should fight a good fight in court first.