Missouri parents wanted 'naughty books' removed from libraries — school officials voted to keep them

A group of seven Cameron, Missouri residents are demanding that the local school board removes a list of "naughty books" from school library shelves, The Christian Post reports.

"Three of the group's members, Dan Landi, Heath Gilbert and Colleen Hardy, spoke with The Christian Post," according to the report, about their efforts and the roadblocks they encountered," noting that "Gilbert is the only one with a child attending school in the district."

Per The Christian Post, the residents allege that the Cameron R-1 School District, which is located in the Kansas City Metropolitan area, of "misleading them about the presence of what they say are sexually explicit books in school libraries and keeping them in the dark about the process it undertakes to review such materials."

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Gilbert told the news outlet, "I went to the school district twice, asking how I could get into the library because I was concerned about the books I was seeing in the news, and they stonewalled me and wouldn't give me an answer."

The parents "discussed the most concerning aspects of the books as 'very graphic depictions that read like a textbook of acts of deviant sex, the normalization of sex outside of marriage, pedophilia' as well as 'bestiality' and 'the normalization of drugs' and 'abortion,'" claiming "that there are rape, graphic depictions of violence and 'promotion of racist ideas'" and "grooming" in some of the books.

Cameron R-1 School District Superintendent Matt Robinson said in a statement to The Christian Post, "The district has been in the process of reviewing books via our internal selection and reconsideration process set forth in board policy, in light of the concerns of patrons, bearing in mind not only the criteria in our policy but also the restrictions set forth under RSMo 573.550."

The statement continued, "The district has also utilized its book review committee process under Board of Education policy with regard to specific submitted concerns, but has temporarily suspended that process in order for the board to determine the best course of action for moving forward to ensure first, that parents and guardians have authority to determine what library materials are accessible to their own students, and second, how to ensure that the district is providing appropriate access for students whose parents desire a broader selection of materials."

READ MORE: Missouri Dem. lawmaker blasts state GOP for 'dystopian future' proposal to defund public libraries

According to the report, "The committee in charge of the book reviews, which consists of the high school principal, assistant principal, librarian, an English teacher and a parent from the district, has only reviewed five books in the Cameron High School library so far. Another five are currently under review."

"The committee," The Christian Post reports, "voted 3-2 to retain all five books in the high school library with no restrictions. The committee also voted to allow the library at Cameron Veterans Middle School to retrain three books without restrictions while letting it retain one book with restrictions."

Christian Post reports:

The way each member of the committee voted remains unknown to the public. Gilbert described the secrecy of the committee's vote as a 'violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law,' stressing that 'this should be an open record and the vote should be public record.'

While the concerned citizens have submitted Sunshine Law requests, the school district has insisted that 'the official committee's vote is not subject to our Sunshine Law,' an assertion he characterized as 'not true.' The district later reversed course and promised that committee votes would be 'public record' going forward.

READ MORE: 'Simply stupid': State and local Republicans slammed for shuttering public libraries

The Christian Post's full report is available at this link.

'Keep removing them': Arkansas GOP rep’s wife shredded for 'swapping' library books with Bibles

Arkansas Republican State Representative Stephen Meeks' wife Jennifer Meeks is receiving backlash after setting out to replace free neighborhood books with Bibles, Newsweek reports.

Faulkner County Coalition for Social Justice (FCCSJ) recently called out the congressman's wife via Facebook, saying "she has been busy posting about the little free libraries across Faulkner County and the 'group of leftist[s], who are very active in keeping little libraries stocked.'"

Per Newsweek, Meeks took to Facebook to write, "I have been swapping out books in little free libraries for awhile. Recently I have been picking up free Bibles at flea markets and thrift stores. Sometimes I find good devotion books or kids' Bible stories at a good price to add. Or just great books, and a gospel tract is a nice idea too. From what I have seen, a lot of these books and other things don't align with our Christian values. Today I saw a bunch of Pride stuff in one."

READ MORE: 'Get this porn out of our schools': Parent challenges Utah book ban by requesting the Bible be removed

According to the report, "Little Free Library is a nonprofit that promotes neighborhood book exchanges and American literacy through public bookcases that have a 'take a book, share a book' honor system, where people are encouraged to borrow and donate books as they choose."

The GOP leader ran to his wife's defense claiming "her words were being taken out of context and clarified that she did not take out any LGBTQ-related materials in exchange for the bibles she has added to the libraries, nor would she advocate for others to do something similar."

He told Newsweek, "Somebody on the left took that and interpreted it as my wife going all over central Arkansas, pulling Pride books out of these little libraries and replacing them with bibles and nothing is further from the truth. My wife would not do that. She would not advocate for that. She would be opposed to that."

Facebook users slammed Jennifer's efforts under FCCSJ's post, writing, "So conservatives are essentially stealing books they don't like and destroying them. Isn't one of the ten commandments, 'Thou shalt not steal?'"

READ MORE: 'Just absurd': Shakespeare is latest casualty of Florida’s book ban law

Another user wrote, "This upsets me. Why is it so hard for some people to understand that freedom means letting others be free. The hubris and arrogance of assuming your way is 'the right way' is appalling."

Little Free Library Executive Director Greig Metzger told the news outlet, "When an individual removes books from a Little Free Library that don't match up with their personal beliefs, they silence critical voices that deserve to be heard. Sadly, this kind of behavior overwhelmingly targets BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors. We encourage Little Free Library stewards to curate their book-sharing boxes in a way that best serves their community. We applaud the Little Free Library stewards who offer books that enlighten readers, nurture empathy, and open up a world of diverse perspectives."

Additionally, FCCSJ emphasized in its post, "Keep removing them, Jennifer. We won't stop. We've received $1,000+ to supply our community with food, toiletries, reproductive care items, and naloxone. These materials are saving lives. The lives of queer kids who aren't out to their parents, to the teen that needs Plan B to avoid having a forced pregnancy, to the good neighbor preventing an overdose. The Meeks' voting records and actions speak for themselves. They can remove as many books as they want but we will never stop coming right back there and showing them that love and decency will always win."

READ MORE: 'Restore a biblical standard': Texas mom demands mandating the Ten Commandments in classrooms

Newsweek's full report is available at this link.

How to 'reverse the spread of extremist narratives' pushing global 'conspiracy thinking': author

Julia Ebner, author of Going Mainstream: How Extremists Are Taking Over, argues in a recent op-ed published by The Guardian that "as segments of the public have headed towards extremes, so has our politics" across the world.

In her op-ed, Ebner — who is based in London, United Kingdom — references the evident rise of far-right extremism within the United States, Germany, Austria and Sweden. However, when it comes to the question she often receives of "why the UK doesn't have a successful far-right populist party," the author replies "because it doesn't need to."

The author points to the fact that "A few years ago, the far-right Britain First claimed that 5,000 of its members had joined the Tory party," which has "increasingly departed from moderate conservative thinking and" turned "more towards radicalism," and that "Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski was asked to apologise for attending the National Conservatism conference in Rome," which "is well known for attracting international far-right figures such as Italy's Giorgia Meloni, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and the hard-right US presidential candidate Ron DeSantis."

READ MORE: How Republicans are engineering 'a flood of conspiracy theories' ahead of 2024: report

Despite this, Ebner suggests that we do not "simply have to accept the 'new normal'" of "democracies being taken over by far-right ideologies and conspiracy thinking" and that it is possible "to prevent and reverse the spread of extremist narratives" in a few ways.

The author of The Rage: The Vicious Circle of Islamist and Far-Right Extremism argues, "Ultimately, the next generation will vote conspiracy theorists in or out of power. Only they can reverse our journey towards the digital middle ages."


Young people should be helped to become good digital citizens with rights and responsibilities online, so that they can develop into critical consumers of information. National school curricula should include a new subject at the intersection of psychology and internet studies to help digital natives understand the forces that their parents have struggled to grasp: the psychological processes that drive digital group dynamics, online engagement and the rise of conspiracy thinking.

The author also suggests "Companies can play an important role in the fight for democratic values," considering, "for example, the Business Council for Democracy tests and develops training courses that firms can offer to employees to help them identify and counter conspiracy myths and targeted disinformation."

READ MORE: 'Imagine being not extreme enough': Far-right House group votes to expel 'RINO' MTG

A researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Ebner reflects on the time when she once laughed at the "absurdity of" talk about "QAnon, the emerging internet conspiracy movement whose adherents believe that a cabal of Satan-worshipping elites runs a global paedophile network," but now, she notes:

In the US, dozens of congressional candidates, including the successfully elected Lauren Boebert, have been supportive of QAnon. The German far-right populist party Alternative für Deutschland is at an all-time high in terms of both its radicalism and its popularity, while Austria's xenophobic Freedom party is topping the polls. The recent rise to power of far-right parties such as Fratelli d’Italia and the populist Sweden Democrats bolster this trend.

Still, Ebner argues it is both possible and "essential to expose extremist manipulation tactics, call out politicians when they normalise conspiracy thinking and regulate algorithm design by the big technology companies that still amplify harmful content," narratives and ideologies.

READ MORE: Legal experts lay out the parallels between 'mercurial authoritarian' DeSantis and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán

Julia Ebner's full op-ed is available at this link (subscription required).

'Extremist' Moms for Liberty group hit with IRS complaint probing nonprofit status: report

Right-wing group Moms for Liberty was recently hit with an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) complaint probing "whether Moms for Liberty is a political educational organization," The Guardian reports.

Per The Guardian, the eight-page complaint filed against the "extremist" group by a Michigan attorney "alleges that the rightwing organization is in violation of its 501(c)4 non-profit status," and also questions "if Moms for Liberty is an action organization, raising questions about its participation in political campaigns and active recruitment of school board candidates."

University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor of Law Phillip Hackney told the news outlet he doesn't believe the complaint will go far, but "said he does think the complaint is correct in bringing up the group's intervention in political campaigns."

READ MORE: Top Democrats ignorant of 'extremist' Moms for Liberty despite warnings the group is dangerous

The Guardian reports:

IRS investigations into a 501(c)4 like Moms for Liberty would be 'heavily fact intensive', Hackney said, with an agent reviewing materials and going back and forth with attorneys for 18 months. The IRS has a statute of limitations to complete an investigation within three years, he said. If the group's status is revoked after that time, it probably would not owe back taxes but would reorganize as a taxable, private organization with even less transparency and no prohibitions on political campaigning.

The complaint obtained by the news outlet states, "The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity."

The document also emphasizes, "It would be a permissible educational purpose if there were advocating to remove gender discussions from classrooms and schools if there was a balanced presentation of benefits and drawbacks of using a person's preferred pronouns, supporting LGBTQ youth, impacts on children of being 'exposed' to LGBTQ supportive environments. There is not."

During a segment of MSNBC's Inside with Jen Psaki earlier this month, Psaki exposed the group in a scathing report, noting, "As for their claim that they are just a group of concerned, nonpartisan moms who happen to care about liberty, consider this: One of the founders, who's name is notably emitted from its website, is a current Republican school board member, who is married to the now-chairman of the Florida Republican Party. In 2021, he told The Washington Post, "I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year old females involved with the Republican Party. But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me."

READ MORE: 'May not be what you think': Jen Psaki exposes 'unapologetically extreme' Moms for Liberty group

The Guardian's full report is available at this link (subscription required).

Ex-Trump attorney John Eastman advised author on anti-abortion SCOTUS fiction novel: report

Former President Donald Trump lawyer John Eastman is credited for advising author James Scott Bell's 2022 "anti-abortion legal thriller," Deadlock, The Daily Beast exclusively reports.

Known for his role in supporting Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Eastman is also the former dean of Los Angeles-based Chapman University Law school.

The Beast reports:

The heart of the legal drama in the book—what Eastman is credited with advising—centers on what goes on behind the Supreme Court’s white marble columns.

At an oral argument, the justices take turns posing questions about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from making laws 'respecting an establishment of religion.'

READ MORE: 'Under close scrutiny': DOJ investigators zero in on ex-Trump lawyer Eastman over fake electors scheme

Furthermore, The Beast notes, "Eastman's role in the book first came to" the news outlet's "attention when Bell last month donated $100 to the disgraced attorney's legal defense fund, which has raised nearly half a million dollars since its inception two years ago."

The author wrote, "Praying for you, John. You helped me with my novel about the Supreme Court years ago. Godspeed."

The Daily Beast contacted Bell, who according to the report "was reluctant to respond to questions about Eastman's role in the book," before later saying "he came up with the plot and legal angles on his own, noting that he's a retired lawyer."

He insisted, "That all came from me."

READ MORE: Donald Trump and John Eastman likely to be on the January 6th panel's criminal referral list

Regarding the plot, The Beast reports "the novel's protagonist is Associate Justice Millicent Mannings Hollander, the Supreme Court's powerful swing vote who gets her life turned upside down when she nearly dies, sees a brief vision of hell, and is forced to confront her new reality while recovering back home in rural California with her Bible-thumping mom."

Additionally, "Capitol Hill is alive with corruption as the president and a powerful senator are scheming to make her chief justice—but only on the condition that she’ll remain a liberal bulwark."

The judge, who goes by Millie, "starts to fall for a Christian preacher in jeans and a leather toolbelt whose 'tanned arms, glistening with perspiration, were strong,' and "She just sits around while he tells her, 'I think our country has fallen into spiritual darkness over the last fifty years. A large part of that has to do with our courts.'

The Beast notes, "This preacher also served time in federal prison for terrorizing abortion providers."

READ MORE: Why disbarment could be the least of MAGA lawyer John Eastman’' problems

According to the report, the former Trump attorney "is the first person whom author James Scott Bell thanks in his acknowledgments," writing, "Professor John Eastman of Chapman University School of Law, former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, walked me through much of the Supreme Court's day-to-day operations as well as many of the legal aspects of the novel. One of the 'smart guys,' he is a credit to his students, his school, and the enterprise of American law."

Eastman told The Beast during a phone call that "he doesn't remember reading the book, but said he advised Bell on 'internal workings of the court,' like how cases make their way up the chain and how justices debate issues behind closed doors."

He said, "The plot line seemed interesting,” though "he'd just read a summary of the book on Amazon before the phone call, which he recorded."

According to The Beast, Eastman is "currently on trial against the California bar, which is trying to take away his professional credentials for threatening the nation’s democracy."

READ MORE: Judge slaps down MAGA lawyer John Eastman’s attempt to call 'expert' witness at disbarment hearing

The Daily Beast's full report is available at this link (subscription required).

'Shocking': Scholars condemn Philadelphia Museum for hosting Moms for Liberty event

Conservative group, Moms for Liberty, is set to rent space in Philadelphia's Museum of the American Revolution for an event later this week, and several prominent historical organizations are making their disapproval known, The New York Times reports.

This comes just days after the right-wing organization, known for pushing book bans in schools, issued an apology after including a quote from Adolf Hitler in a newsletter that read, "He alone, who OWNS the youth, GAINS the future," according to the Indianapolis Star.

After receiving significant backlash, NBC reports an Indiana chapter chairwoman, Paige Miller offered a statement, saying, "We condemn Adolf Hitler's actions and his dark place in human history. We should not have quoted him in our newsletter and express our deepest apology."

READ MORE: Indiana Moms for Liberty chapter scrambles to explain why it quoted Hitler in very first newsletter

Per the Times, earlier this month, "dozens of museum employees were calling on the museum to cancel the rental to Moms for Liberty, on the grounds that it undermined the museum's reputation and mission."

The Committee on L.G.B.T.Q. History, according to the report, urged the museum to renege on the rental, calling it "shocking that an organization dedicated to documenting and preserving American history would enter into any relationship with an organization that is so intent upon distorting the American experience."

Additionally, the American Historical Association wrote a letter earlier this week, urging the museum to reconsider hosting the upcoming event, saying, "Moms for Liberty is an organization that has vigorously advocated censorship and harassment of history teachers, banning history books from libraries and classrooms, and legislation that renders it impossible for historians to teach with professional integrity without risking job loss and other penalties."

Referring to the museum, the Organization of American Historians emphasized, "This work and gains that have been made in this space are in many respects fragile, and must be vigorously defended."

READ MORE: Foot soldiers for Ron DeSantis: The right-wing money and influence behind Moms for Liberty

The museum responded to all criticism, according to the report, with a statement that "acknowledged the legitimacy of the employees' concerns, but said it could not discriminate on the basis of a group’s political beliefs, which it called 'antithetical to our purpose.'"

It read: "The Museum of the American Revolution strives to create an inclusive and accessible museum experience for visitors with a wide range of viewpoints and beliefs. Consistent with this mission, we make available after-hours and private rentals to groups that organize legally and safely, including federally recognized 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations."

Deemed an "extremist" organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier this month, the group rejects criticism from the historians, writing, "We expect our national summit in Philadelphia to be a time of training and empowerment for parents to be more active in their child’s school system. We stand for the rights of parents and against anyone trying to silent [sic] parents who want to speak up on behalf of their child's needs."

Per the Times, the National Council on Public History, and the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians also denounced the event.

READ MORE: School district’s book ban under investigation for potential civil rights violations

The New York Times' full report is available at this link (subscription required). NBC's report is here.

'And Tango Makes Three' authors sue Florida over law suggesting book 'deserved to be banned'

The authors of a beloved children’s book about gay penguin parents, And Tango Makes Three, are suing a Florida school board as well as members of the Florida Board of Education. One of the arguments is that the book, based on a true story, is implied to be obscene by the fact that it’s banned.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the two authors of And Tango Makes Three, along with six children who wish to read the book and their parents. It challenges Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law bans education on sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade. Many Florida school districts ban students up to that grade from checking out books with LGBTQ themes from school libraries.

The suit alleges is that the law in question is “vague and overbroad,” thus running afoul of the First Amendment. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that removing And Tango Makes Three from public school libraries was illegitimate because the libraries do not follow a specific curriculum.

READ MORE: Drag Queen Story Hour Interrupted by Neo-Nazis Seen in Terrifying Video

“Books in school libraries are, by nature, optional reading. Even if library shelves constituted curriculum, Lake County had no legitimate pedagogical purpose for barring students’ access to Tango,” the lawsuit reads.

And Tango Makes Three tells the true story of Roy and Silo, male penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. The penguins were seen performing mating rituals, and had even attempted to hatch a rock. Zookeepers gave the penguins an egg from a different pair of penguins who were unable to hatch it. With Roy and Silo’s help, the egg hatched into a female penguin chick, Tango.

The suit says that the book “contains no obscenity or vulgarity; and it is factually accurate,” and thus it’s appropriate for schoolchildren in the 4- to 8-year-old age range suggested by the publisher. By keeping it out of the hands of children, the school district is violating the First Amendment rights of the authors based on their viewpoint, the suit says.

“By censoring Tango and barring students below the fourth grade from accessing the book in Lake County public school libraries, Defendants have stripped the Authors’ book of an essential aspect of its communicative value. They have also injured the reputation of the Authors and Tango by implicitly and falsely suggesting that the book contains obscene, vulgar, sexual, or age-inappropriate material that deserved to be banned—contrary to the wholesome, positive and family-friendly content of the book—and have thereby deprived the Authors of more of their target audience and speech rights,” the suit continues.

The students are part of the suit because their “right to receive information” has also been infringed, lawyers argue. The six children, identified only by their initials, all wanted to check out the book from their library at the beginning of the school year, but are prohibited by the law. They would check it out, the suit says, if it were available.

Ironically, this is not the only penguin-related lawsuit over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In May, the publisher Penguin Random House—no relation to And Tango Makes Three—sued Florida’s Escambia County School District in Pensacola for removing books “based on ideological objections to their contents or disagreement with their messages or themes.”

'A little uncomfortableness from Jodi Picoult': Ex-Navy officer denounces 'fascist' Florida book bans

Thanks to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, book bans have taken over schools across the Sunshine State in the name of protecting students from a "woke agenda."

For months, educators both in and out of state have spoken out against the governor's attempt to control what kids read. Now, retired Navy officer Wes Rexrode, a 54-year-old single father of a 14-year-old son, is doing the same.

Rexrode, who was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on September 11, 2001, voiced his opposition to book bans during a Martin County, Florida school board meeting earlier this week. He explained to The Daily Beast why speaking out matters to him.

READ MORE: 'Drunk with power': Author Judy Blume shreds Ron DeSantis over draconian book bans

This comes after GOP billionaire Thomas Peterffy recently stopped donating to DeSantis specifically in response to the right-wing governor's move to ban books.

Per The Daily Beast, Rexrode told the school board meeting attendees that "I want my son exposed to different ideas and different viewpoints so that he can learn to think critically and not be force-fed somebody else's opinion. We've all been exposed to different opinions. It makes us better, makes us stronger."

He went on to ask the audience, "Remember the Little Rock 9? If those kids could endure a year of people spitting on them and hating them just to go to school, just to get an education, our kids can deal with a little uncomfortableness from Jodi Picoult or Toni Morrison.”

While speaking to The Daily Beast about what led him to publicly oppose DeSantis' book bans, he said, "I started remembering what books meant to me and how they helped me."

READ MORE: GOP donor stops funding DeSantis over book-banning crusade

The retired Navy officer recalled growing up in rural South Carolina, noting, "books got me out of the trailer parks," and that his "parents trusted those educators and the librarians to let me read what I needed to read."

He told The Daily Beast, "And the whole notion of deciding what other people's kids can and cannot read seemed a manifestation of domestic fascism that is too much like what he had spent a decade combating. My philosophy is, 'If something goes against my beliefs, I can't do that.' But increasingly we've seen a lot of, 'If that goes against my beliefs, YOU can't do that. And I'm sorry, but that's not America.'"

Rexrode insisted, "I don't need anyone else telling my son what he can and cannot read. I'm perfectly capable of doing that myself."

Recognizing the importance of allowing his son to "follow his own path," Rexrode added, "I look at my job as a parent as putting up the guardrails. You can't protect him from everything."

Rexrode also reflected on his time in service, recalling, "Religious fanatics, who wouldn't even let women be educated, flew planes into the World Trade Center and my Pentagon. I spent the last decade of my naval career fighting religious fascism abroad. I never thought I'd have to fight it right here in the United States of America."

He noted that "diversity made me stronger" and emphasized that "I didn't sacrifice 21 years of my life to stand idly by while religious fanatics and other fanatics try to impose fascism on my country."

READ MORE: How books can be used to build up America or to divide it

The Daily Beast's full report is available at this link (subscription required).

GOP donor stops funding DeSantis over book-banning crusade

A billionaire who contributes to Republican campaigns is reportedly halting contributions to Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis in response to the governor's positions on book bans and abortion.

Thomas Peterffy, the founder Interactive Brokers Group Inc., previously said, while he would vote for former President Donald Trump if he's the GOP nominee in 2024, he would do what he can to make sure the party nominates a different candidate. Peterffy reportedly contributed to Trump in the run-up to Trump's 2020 loss.

Now, Peterffy said he and other donors are holding back from supporting DeSantis, who hasn't formally announced his campaign. Peterffy added that they will be withholding all funding for candidates until it's more clear which one could win the general election, Financial Times reported. That report was first picked up by Bloomberg.

"We are waiting to see who among the primary candidates is most likely to be able to win the general, and then put all of our firepower behind them," Peterffy reportedly told the Financial Times.

The report comes one day after Trump brutally mocked DeSantis for getting "outplayed, outsmarted, and embarrassed by Mickey Mouse" and Disney in a tax dispute.

Missouri Dem. lawmaker blasts state GOP for 'dystopian future' proposal to defund public libraries

Missouri Republicans want to defund public libraries.

Per Truthout, this comes after librarians challenged a recently proposed GOP-backed law banning "sexually explicit" books from schools and libraries, which has resulted in the elimination of "hundreds of" reads with"LGBTQ characters or racial justice themes," as well as "Holocaust history and human anatomy."

Heartland Signal tweeted a clip of Merideth's speech, writing, "MO State Rep. Peter Merideth (D) on a just-passed GOP budget defunding libraries: 'They actually took out all state aid for public libraries explicitly because librarians are suing over their First Amendment rights ... We are starting to live in a dystopian future from 1984.'"

READ MORE: Openly gay Missouri Republican masterfully stumps anti-LGBTQ bill author

The state congressman is referring to State GOP Rep. Cody Smith's proposed bill, which would cut all funding for public libraries in the state, according to Truthout. The legislation was introduced "after a lawsuit was filed by the Missouri Libraries Association (MLA) in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against a state law that bans certain materials from schools and libraries."

Merideth said, "Often when we tell the public about the things that are getting voted on in here, they think when we, we tell them what happened just today, that's gotta be partisan rhetoric and hyperbole."

He continued, "It's not, these are the things actually passing."

READ MORE: Missouri Supreme Court refuses to disbar lawyer who sexually assaulted his clients

If the legislation is passed next week, Truthout reports:

School officials, including librarians, who are found in violation of the law are subject to fines of up to $2,000 and jail sentences of up to a year.

Merideth emphasized, "we're talking about book bans from the government and then the government being mad at librarians as the threat to our kids and defunding public libraries. That's the real world here today in Republica- led Missouri."

Watch the video below or at this link.

READ MORE: 'Scoring cheap political points': Missouri Democrats rip Republican proposal to tax groceries but not guns

Truthout's full report is available at this link.

'Pertaining to Rethuglicans': TN Sen. slammed for projecting GOP 'ban' policies onto Democrats

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) took the act of projecting to a new level by suggesting Democrats recently discovered the words "ban" and "control," and complaining the party tends to overuse the terms.

The senator tweeted, "The Democrats simply can't help themselves; the words "ban" and "control" have entered their daily vocabulary."

Blackburn's comment comes just days after House Republicans passed the "Parents' Bill of Rights," which will likely lead to "book bans and targeting of LGBTQ children."

READ MORE: Senate Republicans to introduce nationwide abortion ban

Additionally, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has led the charge among GOPers when it comes to banning rights — passing the "Don't Say Gay" bill, and "by banning an advance placement course on Black studies from Florida high schools."

The right-wing senator's assertion led to a wave of responses, encouraging the lawmaker to, perhaps, look in the mirror.

Anita Creamer: "You and your GOP friends want to ban books, vaccines, abortion, LGBTQ rights and on and on."

@techandtrading: "How about them books that the FL gov is banning? Are you now saying he's a dem? I'm so confused by you GOP'ers."

READ MORE: Attorney behind Texas vigilante abortion ban drafting similar book ban bill to sue librarians

@GrampAntifa: "Like how you want to 'ban' TikTok?"

@Gardendelightfu: "Who is the one banning books, banning what words can't even be used in schools, banning what private businesses can do? Not Democrats."

@u_rocks4: Unbelievable projection! The sheer audacity and gall!"

@TJWbrk: "What in the world are you talking about!? Republicans are banning books & drag shows left & right. Republicans are controlling women's bodies & the healthcare of our trans brothers & sisters. You’re being so divisive by spreading these lies & false narratives to stay in power."

READ MORE: 'We need more politicians reading books': Jamie Raskin blasts GOP for claiming book bans keep kids safe

Pamela Castellana: "Perhaps you should visit the Republican controlled Florida legislative session @MarshaBlackburn University tenure? Banned. Open primaries? Banned. Uni majors like Women's studies? Banned. Non partisan elections? Banned. All Rep. All overreach."

@debestridge: "Usually pertaining to Rethuglicans………"

Rights'@camannwordsmith: "Every accusation is a confession"

READ MORE: 'Reprehensible' and 'disgraceful': House Democrat scorches GOP book bans and 'Parental Bill of Rights

'Libraries saved my life': Internet archive to appeal 'chilling' federal ruling against digital books

Internet Archive vowed to appeal after a U.S. district court judge on Friday sided with four major publishers who sued the nonprofit for copyright infringement.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Internet Archives operated a controlled digital lending system, allowing users to digitally check out scanned copies of purchased or donated books on a one-to-one basis. As the public health crises forced school and library closures, the nonprofit launched the National Emergency Library, making 1.4 million digital books available without waitlists.

Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House sued Internet Archive over its lending policies in June 2020. Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York on Friday found in Hachette v. Internet Archive that the nonprofit "creates derivative e-books that, when lent to the public, compete with those authorized by the publishers."

"In a chilling ruling, a lower court judge in New York has completely disregarded the traditional rights of libraries to own and preserve books in favor of maximizing the profits of Big Media conglomerates," declared Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at the digital rights group Fight for the Future.

"We applaud the Internet Archive's appeal announcement, as well as their steadfast commitment to preserving the rights of all libraries and their patrons in the digital age," they said. "And our admiration is shared—over 14,000 people having signed our pledge to defend libraries' digital rights at this week alone."

Holland continued:

From a basic human rights perspective, it is patently absurd to equate an e-book license issued through a surveillance-ridden Big Tech company with a digital book file that is owned and preserved by a privacy-defending nonprofit library. Currently, publishers offer no option for libraries to own and preserve digital books—leaving digital books vulnerable to unauthorized edits, censorship, or downright erasure, and leaving library patrons vulnerable to surveillance and punishment for what they read.

In a world where libraries cannot own, preserve, or control the digital books in their collections, only the most popular, bestselling authors stand to benefit—at the expense of the vast majority of authors, whose books are preserved and purchased by libraries well after publishers have stopped promoting them. Further, today a disproportionate number of traditionally marginalized and local voices are being published in digital-only format, redoubling the need for a robust regime of library preservation to ensure that these stories survive for generations to come.

A future in which libraries are just a shell for Big Tech's licensing software and Big Media's most popular titles would be awful—but that's where we're headed if this decision stands. No book-lover who wants an equitable and trustworthy written world could find such a future desirable. Accordingly, we plan to organize an in-person action to demand robust ownership and preservation standards for digital books and libraries. For updates on when and where, check

More than 300 authors last September signed an open letter led by Fight for the Future calling out publishers and trade associations for their actions against digital libraries, including the lawsuit targeting Internet Archive.

"Libraries saved my life as a young reader, and I've seen them do as much and more for so many others," said signatory Jeff Sharlet. "At a time when libraries are at the frontlines of fascism's assault on democracy, it is of greater importance than ever for writers to stand in solidarity with librarians in defense of the right to share stories. Democracy won't survive without it."

Fellow signatory Erin Taylor asserted that "the Internet Archive is a public good. Libraries are a public good. Only the most intellectually deprived soul would value profit over mass access to literature and knowledge."

Koeltl's ruling came just two days after the American Library Association released a report revealing that in 2022, a record-breaking 2,571 titles were challenged by pro-censorship groups pushing book bans, a 38% increase from the previous year.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the so-called Parents Bill of Rights Act, which education advocates and progressive lawmakers argue is intended to ban books and further ostracize marginalized communities.

'Get this porn out of our schools': Parent challenges Utah book ban by requesting the Bible be removed

A Utah parent is asking for the Bible to be eliminated from classrooms, after a GOP lawmaker backed a bill ordering the removal of "pornographic" books from schools, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Per Newsweek, the parent's petition was submitted anonymously following the bill's passing in May of 2022.

"Get this PORN out of our schools," the parent wrote in their request, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

READ MORE: 'We need more politicians reading books': Jamie Raskin blasts GOP for claiming book bans keep kids safe

Hailing the Bible as "one of the most sex-ridden books around," the petition continued, "If the books that have been banned so far are any indication for way lesser offenses, this should be a slam dunk."

The parent also wrote, "Incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide," referring to issues included in the Bible. "You’ll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has 'no serious values for minors' because it's pornographic by our new definition."

Local Christian leaders and groups disagree with the parent, along with Republican Rep. Ken Ivory, who according to The Salt Lake Tribune, sponsored the legislation "to remove pornographic books from school libraries."

The lawmaker referred to the parent's ask to nix the Bible from school bookshelves as "antics that drain school resources."

READ MORE: 'Reprehensible' and 'disgraceful': House Democrat scorches GOP book bans and 'Parental Bill of Rights'

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

The parent points to action by Utah Parents United, a right-leaning group that has led the efforts to challenge books here for being inappropriate. It has largely centered on texts written by and about the LGBTQ community and people of color.

Based on the new Utah law, something is indecent if it includes explicit sexual arousal, stimulation, masturbation, intercourse, sodomy or fondling. According to state attorneys, material doesn’t have to be 'taken as a whole' in those situations or left on the shelf during a review. If there is a scene involving any of those acts, it should be immediately removed.

According to Newsweek, a local youth pastor said, "I've seen pornography and I've read the Bible—and they are different."

READ MORE: 'Fear is not freedom': Centenarian shreds Florida book bans as Nazi behavior

The Salt Lake Tribune's full report is available at this link (subscription required). Newsweek's report is here.

'We need more politicians reading books': Jamie Raskin blasts GOP for claiming book bans keep kids safe

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) called out the irony of Republicans' efforts to ban books during a recent House floor debate over parental oversight of K-12 schools.

@Acyn shared a clip of the congressman's speech via Twitter, writing, "Raskin is very good at this," referring to his ability to point out the hypocrisy his GOP colleagues are clearly displaying.

The video begins with Raskin saying, "Two years ago, more than 1600 books were banned in the United States of America. Here are three of the key books that the right-wingers have been going after."

READ MORE: Jamie Raskin blasts the GOP's 'moral agnosticism'

The congressman proceeds to hold up a copy of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, which he said is "about the dangerous fanaticism, authoritarianism, and abuse of the Taliban. A right wing religious fundamentalist movement, all about censorship and repressing women's control over their own bodies and their own fertility."

Next, Raskin shows a copy of The Handmaid's Tale, describing it as "Margaret Atwood's extraordinary dystopian novel about a right wing misogynist movement, which uses high technology and depraved religious ideology to control not only the minds of their followers, but the private and public lives and the fertility of women."

Lastly, "because they have no sense of irony" — he says about the Republican lawmakers — George Orwell's 1984. Raskin continued, "They're always trying to censor this one."

In 2019, George Packer wrote about the sustained "influence" of 1984 for The Atlantic, saying, "It's almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984."

READ MORE: 'Fear is not freedom': Centenarian shreds Florida book bans as Nazi behavior

Raskin emphasized, "We need more politicians reading books in America, and fewer politicians trying to censor books in America."

He continued, "It's amazing to me, to see politicians who oppose a universal violent criminal background check and who defend assault weapons after the massacres at Columbine — after Parkland, Florida; after Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut; after Uvalde; after Santa Fe, Texas; that they are now going to keep America's children safe by banning The Handmaid's Tale and 1984. We can do better for the children of America."

Watch the video below or at this link.

READ MORE: 'Reprehensible' and 'disgraceful': House Democrat scorches GOP book bans and 'Parental Bill of Rights'

The Atlantic's full report is available here.

'I identify with the rustics': DeSantis ridiculed for pretending he was 'culturally raised' in the midwest

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is being ridiculed for pretending in his book that he was raised in "the midwest," particularly swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay," the book says, according to excerpts. "But culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio — from weekly church attendance to the expectation that one would earn his keep. This made me God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving."

Some attacked DeSantis for implying that only people in western PA and NE Ohio went to church weekly. In fact, in many Protestant Christian churches, particularly in the southern states, it's not unusual to go to church twice a week, on Sunday and again on Wednesday, for fellowship gatherings, particularly among youth groups. Choir practice was usually at least one night a week as well.

Writer Sarah Rumpf noted that having grown up in Florida, she knew a lot of hard-working and God-fearing people, despite not growing up in Pennsylvania or Ohio.

The Lincoln Project's Rick Wilson had fun with the claim, but he also agreed with Rumpf that it was shocking for the governor to imply that his own state wasn't hard-working or God-fearing.

"The values I learned in Levy County — poaching, meth, and guiding dope planes into isolated logging roads — shaped me," he joked of the north-central Florida county.

"I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay, but culturally my upbringing reflected the royal court at Versailles, with outstanding wigs, elegant discourse, and utter disregard for the seething class oppression necessary to sustain it," Wilson also posted.

"I may have attended both Harvard and Yale, but culturally I identify with the rustics who eat chocolate pudding with their hands," mocked Helen Kennedy, referring to reports that DeSantis has atrocious table manners and ate with his fingers.

Another said something similar: “I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay, but culturally my upbringing reflected a raccoon’s scavenges, where I ate pudding with my fingers and licked out the cup.”

Paul Rudnick explained that the Tampa folks he knows aren't exactly fans of DeSantis.

"I was geographically raised in New Jersey but culturally my upbringing reflected Tampa Bay where everyone calls Ron DeSantis 'that bigoted asshole who eats pudding with his fingers,'" he tweeted.

Matt Johnson cited the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," saying, 'I was geographically raised in Tampa, but culturally my upbringing reflected West Philadelphia. On the playground is where I used to play, Maxing and relaxing all cool, and shootin some b-ball outside of the school..."

Another follower of Wilson's he retweeted pulled in DeSantis' hate of transgender people.

"So… he was raised one place but identifies as something else…. Hmmmm," said Ryan Sublett

Rep. Anna V. Eskamani explained, "I was geographically raised in Orlando with a cultural perspective that allows me to easily detect BS when I see it."

"I was geographically raised on Coruscant, but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class water farmers on Tatooine—from toiling long hours under the twin suns to fighting Tusken Raiders. This made me the Force-fearing, rugged individual that I am today," joked Mark Strauss.

"Where'd you grow up?" Everytown's Max Steel asked, going straight to politics. "I was geographically raised in Plurality-of-the-Caucuses, Iowa but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada."

'Important victory' for Florida higher education as court upholds block on DeSantis censorship law

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday kept in place a preliminary injunction against Florida GOP policymakers' school censorship law in what rights advocates celebrated as "an important victory for professors, other educators, and students."

The appellate court denied a request from Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration and higher education officials to block a district judge's injunction that is currently preventing enforcement of the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act—rebranded by its supporters as the Individual Freedom Act—in the state's public colleges and universities.

DeSantis' Stop WOKE Act "limits the ways concepts related to systemic racism and sex discrimination can be discussed in teaching or conducting training in workplaces or schools," parroting a Trump administration executive order that was ultimately rescinded by President Joe Biden, the ACLU explained last year.

The plaintiffs in one of the relevant cases, Pernell v. Florida Board of Governors, are represented by the national and state ACLU along with the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and Ballard Spahr, who first filed the federal suit last August—the same day U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a separate injunction against the law related to employers.

The new appeals court order upholds the injunction Walker issued in November, which began by quoting George Orwell's novel 1984. Calling the controversial law "positively dystopian," the judge wrote at the time that "the powers in charge of Florida's public university system have declared the state has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of 'freedom.'"

Leah Watson, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, said Thursday that "the court's decision to leave in place the preliminary injunction is a recognition of the serious injury posed to educators and students by the Stop WOKE Act."

"All students and educators deserve to have a free and open exchange about issues related to race in our classrooms," Watson argued, rather than censored discussions that erase "the history of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals."

LDF assistant counsel Alexsis Johnson similarly stressed that "institutions of higher education in Florida should have the ability to provide a quality education, which simply cannot happen when students and educators, including Black students and educators, feel they cannot speak freely about their lived experiences, or when they feel that they may incur a politician's wrath for engaging in a fact-based discussion of our history."

The order also pertains to a challenge filed by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) in September.

"Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal," FIRE said Thursday. "Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion."

The Stop WOKE Act is part of a nationwide effort by Republican state lawmakers and governors—especially DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate—to curtail what content can be shared and discussed in classrooms and workplaces.

"Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism," according to an Education Week analysis updated on Monday. "Eighteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues."

ACLU of Florida staff attorney Jerry Edwards warned Thursday that "lawmakers continue to threaten our democracy by attempting to curtail important discussions about our collective history and treatment of Black and Brown communities."

"This is an important step in preserving the truth, civil liberties, and a better future," Edwards said of the 11th Circuit's decision.

Though legal groups welcomed the order, the battle over the law is ongoing. The court will eventually rule on the merits of the case—which DeSantis' press secretary Bryan Griffin highlighted Thursday, adding, "We remain confident that the law is constitutional."

Opponents of the law are also undeterred, as Ballard Spahr litigation department chair Jason Leckerman made clear.

"The movement to restrict academic freedom and curtail the rights of marginalized communities is as pervasive as it is pernicious," he said. "We are proud of the work we have done so far with our partners, the ACLU and Legal Defense Fund, but the fight is far from over. Today, we'll take a moment to savor this result—and then we'll keep working."

This post has been updated with comment from FIRE and Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary.

Christian book banning activist says gay 'lifestyles' shouldn’t be 'forced down throats of families'

Leigh Wambsganss, Patriot Mobile’s Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and Executive Director of Patriot Mobile Action, the far-right wing political action committee of the Christian conservative mobile phone service provider, has spent decades in the conservative media echo chamber, and now she’s getting even more attention, from The New York Times.

Wambsganss was included in a Times article Monday on anti-LGBTQ book banning. The paper, soft-pedaling the extremism presented by Wambsganss, notes “11 school board candidates backed by Patriot Mobile Action, the political action committee formed by the cellphone company, won in four districts this year.”

“The committee’s aim is to eliminate ‘critical race theory’ and ‘L.G.B.T.Q. indoctrination’ from schools, Leigh Wambsganss, its executive director, said on Steve Bannon’s show, ‘War Room.'”

READ MORE: ‘ChristoFascism in a Nutshell’: DeSantis Mocked for Banning Nearly Half of All Math Books Claiming CRT Indoctrination

The Times does report that for extremists like Wambsganss, “Even books without sexual content can be problematic if they include L.G.B.T.Q. characters, because they are ‘sexualizing children,’ she said: ‘It is normalizing a lifestyle that is a sexual choice.'”

“’Those kinds of lifestyles,’ she added, shouldn’t ‘be forced down the throats of families who don’t agree.’”

Being LGBTQ is not a “lifestyle” nor is it a “sexual choice,” nor is having an LGBTQ character in a book “sexualizing children,” nor did The Times push back against or fact-check Wambsganss’ statements.

Wambsganss’ employer, Patriot Mobile Action, has a list of 10 “We Believe” statements, including “In supporting candidates that stand for Christian conservative values,” “Our United States Constitution was founded on Judeo Christian principles” and “Critical Race Theory and Marxist policies have no place in schools or government.”

Not a word about LGBTQ issues, people, or equality or civil rights, despite that clearly being a major focus for Patriot Mobile Action.

READ MORE: GOP Lawmaker Pushes Bill to Ban Books ‘Normalizing’ LGBTQ ‘Lifestyles’ From Schools to Not Offend Christians

“Leigh has been featured on Fox News, John Solomons ‘Just the News’ talk radio, Mark Davis 660AM, The Christian Perspective podcast, in the National Review, the Texas Values Report, a speaker at Turning Point USA and the Center for National Policy and quoted in multiple news media stories,” her bio at Patriot Mobile Action reads. “Leigh is a speaker and trainer on how to identify and defeat socialist Marxism in schools and government.”

Patriot Mobile, NBC News reported in August, gave Patriot Mobil Action $600,000 to spend on school board races in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Some parents are not happy. One, Rachel Wall, told NBC News that Patriot Mobile Action “bought four school boards, and now they’re pulling the strings.”

Wall is “the mother of a Grapevine-Colleyville student and vice president of the Texas Bipartisan Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting school board candidates who do not have partisan agendas.”

“I’m a Christian by faith,” she said, “but if I wanted my son to be in a religious school, I would pay for him to go to a private school.”

Wambsganss and Patriot Mobile Action appear to have a different idea.

In June, at an event hosted by far right wing activist group Turning Point USA, she introduced herself to the audience by saying, “I’m Leigh Wambsganss and my pronouns are bible believer, Jesus lover, gun carrier, and Momma Bear.”

Watch the video below or at this link.

How to read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy during Russia’s war against Ukraine: scholar

Ani Kokobobo, University of Kansas

As someone who teaches Russian literature, I can’t help but process the world through the country’s novels, stories, poems and plays, even at a time when Russian cultural productions are being canceled around the world.

With the Russian army perpetrating devastating violence in Ukraine – which includes the slaughter of civilians in Bucha – the discussion of what to do with Russian literature has naturally arisen.

I’m not worried that truly valuable art can ever be canceled. Enduring works of literature are enduring, in part, because they are capacious enough to be read critically against the vicissitudes of the present.

You could make this argument about any great work of Russian literature, but as a scholar of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, I will stick with Russia’s most famous literary exports.

After World War II, German critic Theodore Adorno described the Holocaust as a profound blow to Western culture and philosophy, even going so far as to question the very ability of human beings to “live after Auschwitz.”

This idea, born of the very specific context of the Holocaust, shouldn’t be haphazardly applied to the present moment. But following Adorno’s moral lead, I wonder whether – after the brutal shelling of the city of Mariupol, after the horrors on the streets of Bucha, along with atrocities committed in Kharkiv, Mykolaev, Kyiv and many more – the indiscriminate violence ought to change how readers approach Russia’s great authors.

Confronting suffering with clear eyes

Upon learning that Russian writer Ivan Turgenev had looked away at the last minute when witnessing the execution of a man, Dostoevsky made his own position clear: “[A] human being living on the surface of the earth has no right to turn away and ignore what is happening on earth, and there are higher moral imperatives for this.”

Seeing the rubble of a theater in Mariupol, hearing of Mariupol citizens starving because of Russian airstrikes, I wonder what Dostoevsky – who specifically focused his piercing moral eye on the question of the suffering of children in his 1880 novel “The Brothers Karamazov” – would say in response to the Russian army’s bombing a theater where children were sheltering. The word “children” was spelled out on the pavement outside the theater in large type so it could be seen from the sky. There was no misunderstanding of who was there.

Ivan Karamazov, the central protagonist in “The Brothers Karamazov,” is far more focused on questions of moral accountability than Christian acceptance or forgiveness and reconciliation. In conversation, Ivan routinely brings up examples of children’s being harmed, imploring the other characters to recognize the atrocities in their midst. He is determined to seek retribution.

Surely the intentional shelling of children in Mariupol is something Dostoevsky couldn’t possibly look away from either. Could he possibly defend a vision of Russian morality while seeing innocent civilians – men, women and children – lying on the streets of Bucha?

At the same time, nor should readers look away from the unseemliness of Dostoevsky and his sense of Russian exceptionalism. These dogmatic ideas about Russian greatness and Russia’s messianic mission are connected to the broader ideology that has fueled Russia’s past colonial mission, and current Russian foreign politics on violent display in Ukraine.

Yet Dostoevsky was also a great humanist thinker who tied this vision of Russian greatness to Russian suffering and faith. Seeing the spiritual value of human suffering was perhaps a natural outcome for a man sent to a labor camp in Siberia for five years for simply participating in a glorified socialist book club. Dostoevsky grew out of his suffering, but, arguably, not to a place where he could accept state-sponsored terror.

Would an author who, in his 1866 novel “Crime and Punishment,” explains in excruciating detail the toll of murder on the murderer – who explains that when someone takes a life, they kill part of themselves – possibly accept Putin’s vision of Russia? Warts and all, would Russia’s greatest metaphysical rebel have recoiled and rebelled against Russian violence in Ukraine?

I hope that he would, as many contemporary Russian writers have. But the dogmas of the Kremlin are pervasive, and many Russians accept them. Many Russians look away.

Tolstoy’s path to pacifism

No writer captures warfare in Russia more poignantly than Tolstoy, a former soldier turned Russia’s most famous pacifist. In his last work, “Hadji Murat,” which scrutinizes Russia’s colonial exploits in North Caucasus, Tolstoy showed how senseless Russian violence toward a Chechen village caused instant hatred of Russians.

Tolstoy’s greatest work about Russian warfare, “War and Peace,” is a novel that Russians have traditionally read during great wars, including World War II. In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy contends that the morale of the Russian military is the key to victory. The battles most likely to succeed are defensive ones, in which soldiers understand why they are fighting and what they are fighting to protect: their home.

Even then, he’s able to convey the harrowing experiences of young Russian soldiers coming into direct confrontation with the instruments of death and destruction on the battlefield. They disappear into the crowd of their battalion, but even a single loss is devastating for the families awaiting their safe return.

After publishing “War and Peace,” Tolstoy publicly denounced many Russian military campaigns. The last part of his 1878 novel “Anna Karenina” originally wasn’t published because it criticized Russia’s actions in the Russo-Turkish war. Tolstoy’s alter ego in that novel, Konstantin Levin, calls the Russian intervention in the war “murder” and thinks it is inappropriate that Russian people are dragged into it.

“The people sacrifice and are always prepared to sacrifice themselves for their soul, not for murder,” he says.

In 1904, Tolstoy penned a public letter denouncing the Russo-Japanese War, which has sometimes been compared with Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Again war,” he wrote. “Again sufferings, necessary to nobody, utterly uncalled for; again fraud, again the universal stupefaction and brutalization of men.” One can almost hear him shouting “Bethink Yourselves,” the title of that essay, to his countrymen now.

In one of his most famous pacifist writings, 1900’s “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” Tolstoy presciently diagnosed the problem of today’s Russia.

“The misery of nations is caused not by particular persons, but by the particular order of Society under which the people are so bound up together that they find themselves all in the power of a few men, or more often in the power of one single man: a man so perverted by his unnatural position as arbiter of the fate and lives of millions, that he is always in an unhealthy state, and always suffers more or less from a mania of self-aggrandizement.”

The importance of action

If Dostoevsky would insist that one not look away, it is fair to say that Tolstoy would contend that people must act upon what they see.

During the Russian famine of 1891 to 1892, he started soup kitchens to help his countrymen who were starving and had been abandoned by the Russian government. He worked to help Russian soldiers evade the draft in the Russian empire, visiting and supporting jailed soldiers who did not wish to fight. In 1899 he sold his last novel, “Resurrection,” to help a Russian Christian sect, the Doukhobors, emigrate to Canada so they would not need to fight in the Russian army.

These writers have little to do with the current war. They cannot expunge or mitigate the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine. But they’re embedded on some level within the Russian cultural fabric, and how their books are still read matters. Not because Russian literature can explain any of what is happening, because it cannot. But because, as Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan wrote in March 2022, Russia’s war in Ukraine marked a defeat for Russia’s great humanist tradition.

As this culture copes with a Russian army that has indiscriminately bombed and massacred Ukrainians, Russia’s great authors can and should be read critically, with one urgent question in mind: how to stop the violence. Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny noted during his March 2022 trial that Tolstoy urged his countrymen to fight both despotism and war because one enables the other.

And Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze cited “War and Peace” in a February 2022 entry in her graphic diary.

“I’ve read your f—ing literature,” she wrote. “But looks like Putin did not, and you have forgotten.”The Conversation

Ani Kokobobo, Associate Professor of Russian Literature, University of Kansas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is the doom of humanity really inevitable? Maybe not

Evidence reveals our remote ancestors were neither brutes nor innocents, but complex beings whose experiments in living have much to teach us. Welcome news as disaster looms in every direction.

David Graeber, the electrifying social thinker who helped spark the Occupy Movement and challenged our acceptance of crippling debt and bullshit jobs, died at the age of fifty-nine in 2020. Lucky for us, he left a parting gift completed just three weeks before his death — something as expansive, fresh, and invigorating as his mind.

Thought-provoking and even thrilling, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, co-authored with archaeologist David Wengrow, weaves a tale of human history unlike anything you’ve read before. Erudite, witty, and rigorous, the book complicates, if not outright smashes, what we thought we knew about homo sapiens’ 200,000-year journey on Earth so far. This is a book that playfully spins us around with new insights until we are dizzy with possibilities.

As we hunger for something — anything — to lift us from the grim suspicion that humanity is destined to burn, crash, or fade away in lonely desolation, Graeber has laid out a sumptuous feast for thought. Let’s dive in.

Past, Revisited

First consideration: We don’t see others as they are, but load them up with our own assumptions, fantasies, and biases. We do it to our neighbors, and we do it to our remote human ancestors who aren’t around to argue with us – those funny-looking people in western civ textbooks who supposedly march through orderly stages of development, finally arriving at what we call “civilization.” During the Enlightenment, this history-in-stages approach grew popular with intellectuals like Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose fanciful armchair speculations about how we got to where we are soon became taken as facts.

You were meant to pick a team – either Team Hobbes (all was brutish and nasty until kings and cops beat us into submission) or Team Rousseau (we were happy innocents until the Agricultural Revolution saddled us with sad but inevitable property and inequality). Thence you could assemble the kind of social science narrative that has dominated our thinking in one form or another ever since, most recently in Noah Harari’s smash-hit “Sapiens” (Team Rousseau).

Like all origin stories, these tales lodged in our collective psyches explain us to ourselves. And like all origin stories, they conceal as much as they reveal.

Napoleon Bonaparte asked, “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” Graeber and Wengrow come in to shake off the spell of prevailing fables — not as armchair theorists snatching ideas from thin air but as reviewers and synthesizers of a plethora of tantalizing recent discoveries, along with the work of neglected thinkers who (hello, feminist scholars) who drew ire for their attention to glaring inconsistencies in the established narratives. In doing so, they recover frameworks for the way ancient peoples experienced their world that help us to see that we could be organizing ourselves – socially, economically, politically — on principles much different from those that seem inevitable today. This is heartening.

Among the propositions of Graeber and Wengrow are these:

  • We barely have the language to express what our remote ancestors were up to 95% of the time.
  • The Agricultural Revolution wasn’t a revolution at all. The real story is much more complex – and interesting.
  • Ancient peoples lived with a rich variety of social and political structures, even varying according to the season. (Very flexible, those folks).
  • Humans aren’t just pawns on a chessboard of material conditions. We’ve been actively experimenting from the get-go.
  • Inequality in large-scale human communities isn’t inevitable, nor is it a product of farming. Ditto, patriarchy.
  • Past societies that valued women were happier places to live. (Duh).
  • We can do better. We have done better.

The authors begin by pointing out that eighteenth-century theories of human history were partly a reaction to critiques of European society offered by indigenous observers. Consider Kandiaronk, a Wendat chief so skilled in debate he could easily shut down a Jesuit, who blew the minds of listeners with penetrating insights on authority, decency, social responsibility, and above all, freedom. Kandiaronk’s critiques, presented in a dialogue form by the Baron de Lahontan in 1703, sparked a whole genre of books voicing criticisms from a “primitive” outsider. Graeber and Wengrow illuminate how profoundly these products influenced Enlightenment thought and helped give rise to social and political experiments (including the U.S. Constitution), as well as defensive strategies to discount such perspectives (also including the U.S. Constitution).

Madame de Graffigny’s epistolary novel of 1747, “Letters from a Peruvian Woman” (1747) tells the story of an Incan princess who rails against the inequality she observes in French society – particularly the ill-treatment of women. This volume, in turn, helped shape the thinking of the economist A.R.J. Turgot, who responded by insisting that inequality was inevitable. He outlined a theory of social evolution posited as progress from hunters to pastoralism to farming to urban commercial civilization that placed anybody not at the final stage as a vestigial life form that had better get with the program. Turgot’s scheme of social evolution started popping up in lectures of his buddy Adam Smith over in Glasgow, and eventually worked its way into general theories of human history proposed by several of Smith’s influential colleagues such as Adam Ferguson.

The new default paradigm formed the lens through which Europeans viewed Indigenous peoples the world over; namely as childish innocents or brutal savages living in deplorable static conditions. Everybody was to be sorted according to how they acquired food, with egalitarian foraging societies banished to the bottom of the ladder. The Kandiaronks causing anxiety by pointing out the grotesque conditions of so-called civilization — from the large numbers of starving people to the need for two hours for a Frenchman to dress himself — could now be dismissed. This mindset became prevalent in the emerging field of archaeology, where practitioners churned out biased interpretations of ancient societies that rendered them non-threatening to the modern, capitalist way of life.

Teleological history was the name of the game, and scholars played it endlessly.

Archaeologists fixated on what looked “civilized” to them — mainly large, stratified societies like Pharaonic Egypt, Imperial Rome, Aztec Mexico, Han China, or ancient Greece – the kinds of places where you get big monuments (archaeologists can easily study these), authoritarian rulers, and plenty of violence, usually accompanied by the subordination of women. This construct of civilization rests on the idea of sacrifice: we must give up basic freedoms, like the freedom to object to nonsensical orders, if we want the touted benefits. Maybe we should even give up life itself if the gods or the rulers say it must be so. We can see this today in our own society, with low-wage workers expected to sacrifice themselves for the gods of the market. (Females are deemed especially suitable offerings).

There is definitely something wrong with this picture. Whether you’re a young girl snatched up to serve an Aztec emperor or a woman used as a breeding machine by Texan politicians, “civilization” is not really working for you.

Graeber and Wengrow try to shed the bad habits of their colleagues by presenting multi-dimensional portraits of ancient peoples, going all the way back to the Stone Age, that make them appear less exotic and truer to life. We see them playing, preening, working, and arguing with one another. They build and blunder. They try new things, then toss them aside. Some create societies that are fair-minded and generous, others that are domineering and violent. All are trying to figure out how to live better, and often screwing up. The new narrative that emerges shows that flexibility, experimentation, and a drive to live with dignity and joy are a bigger part of our human heritage than we ever realized.

Graeber and Wengrow posit that certain basic freedoms, like the freedom to move away from a society that doesn’t suit you, or to disobey orders, were seen as precious in many ancient societies—particularly the ones that archaeologists haven’t known quite how to categorize. And these values didn’t disappear the first time somebody planted a crop. The authors provide copious evidence that just because a society feeds itself one way doesn’t mean that a particular social organization or orientation automatically follows.

The familiar story of human social evolution holds that foraging societies were little more than the prelude to the Agricultural Revolution, which purportedly changed everything. The picture was supposed to look like this: Foragers were mobile; farmers were sedentary. Foragers collected food; farmers produced it. Foragers didn’t have private property; farmers did. Foragers were innately egalitarian; farmers stratified. If social scientists found evidence of people who didn’t live by agriculture behaving differently from this formula, they were described as “emergent” or “deviant.”

But Graeber and Wengrow make a strong case that none of this is actually supported by the evidence. They highlight how in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, for example, there was never any “switch” from Paleolithic forager to Neolithic farmer. The transition from living mainly on wild resources to a life based on food production actually took place over 3,000 years – hardly a revolutionary timeframe. And while the authors acknowledge that agriculture allowed for the possibility of more unequal concentrations of wealth, in most cases this only began to happen millennia after farming got going. In the centuries before, people were effectively trying farming out, switching between modes of production, hunting a bit here, growing a bit there. Changing things up as new conditions emerged. Concentrations of wealth sometimes occurred, but other times they didn’t.

What looked like a static picture of the past starts to shift into a colorful kaleidoscope.

The authors argue that instead of an Agricultural Revolution, our ancestors engaged in a lengthy and complex process that didn’t lead to neat categories of social and political structures. They point out that in the Fertile Crescent, some people who were not dependent on agriculture could be quite stratified and violent, while others in neighboring farming areas look much more egalitarian, with women enjoying pronounced social and economic visibility.

There’s no reason, say the authors, to assume that agriculture in remote periods meant private land ownership, territoriality, or a no-return passage to hierarchical arrangements.

They point to Amazonia during the Holocene period, where a “playful tradition” of farming meant that people spent the rainy season in villages growing stuff in a rather haphazard way and living communally, and then abandoned their homes during the dry season to hunt and fish under an autocratic structure, only to start it all over somewhere else the next year. There was no clear line between domestic and non-domestic animals, but something more like traveling zoos of tamed forest creatures that went along with humans for the ride. Instead of a refuge of solitary peoples, Amazonia emerges as home to people with wide, intricate networks over vast distances and flexible arrangements that are difficult to study because they didn’t leave behind tax records and monuments. Amazonians didn’t do agriculture the way the standard narrative says they should for a simple reason: they didn’t have to. Food was abundant enough, and strategies to access it smart enough, that there wasn’t any reason to pick up a hoe or confine yourself to one place.

“Farming,” argue Graeber and Wengrow, “often started out as an economy of deprivation; which is why it tended to happen first in areas where wild resources were thinnest on the ground.” In other words, agriculture was the odd-person-out strategy for survival for much of human history. Its practitioners seem much more prevalent in the past because they built mud houses and stayed in place, thus leaving behind more visible signs.

Graeber and Wengrow point out that it has taken a long time for scholars – let’s face it, mostly white, male, western scholars — to understand evidence under their noses because they couldn’t help projecting themselves backward in time. They looked at a Mayan wall mural and saw a jumble of fantastic creatures rather than a storytelling device that provided detailed information in lieu of writing. They gazed on curvy female figurines and imagined that such bodies could only be valued for their fertility, rather than understanding that those curves were sagging breasts and rolls of fat representing the bodies of elder women in high political positions. Because “writing” in fantastic painted beasts and valuing older women with authority were alien concepts, scholars just made stuff up to fit with their own biases.

Blindness to the contributions of women has been a particular blight on our ability to see human history clearly. As the authors note (and many a feminist scholar could have told you), social scientists analyzing early cities and “mega-sites” have tended to concentrate particular types of cultural development, like the easily-visible knowledge of building pyramids or collecting taxes. But the knowledge of cooking and healing, far less visible, (though much more critical to survival), associated with the activities of women, got demoted far beneath the knowledge of things like how to wage war on somebody. More peaceful societies that emphasized the former were misunderstood and ignored.

Graeber and Wengrow show that if we look with fresh eyes, we can see ancient cities where even the most autocratic rulers are answerable to town councils and assemblies, many of them affording women equal status. Democracy, in their narrative, isn’t something that sprung up out of ancient Greece fully formed like Athena, but part of a heritage of ideas of governance along egalitarian lines that appeared over and over among ancient peoples. Some ancient cities developed an aristocratic ethos and favored charismatic authority figures, but others didn’t, even quite large ones. Interestingly, what they refer to the “heroic” type of settlements that organized around powerful and charismatic rulers appear to come after, and in reaction to, the more egalitarian cities. The authors discuss a theory of how settlements with entirely different social and political structures often arise in close proximity, suggesting the influence of “schismogenesis” – a sort of competitive relationship between groups of people that drive them to identify as opposite of each other (think Sparta and Athens).

Graeber and Wengrow suggest that it was by this process of schismogenesis that we got cities ruled by kings instead of councils: “Aristocracies, perhaps monarchy itself, first emerged in opposition to the egalitarian cities of the Mesopotamian plans,” they write.

The case Teotihuacan is one of their most vivid examples of how different things look when scholars put can put old habits aside. The largest urban center of Mesoamerica before the Aztecs, which peaked at about 100,000 people, Teotihuacan had autocratic overlords — but then got rid of them. What looked first to scholars like a static city dominated by monumental buildings and human sacrifice (an indication of powerful rulers and stratification) turns out to have abandoned this structure to focus on shared governance and top-quality public housing, possibly after some kind of revolution. At first, archaeologists took the fancy apartments of Teotihuacan to be palaces, but now it’s clear that most of the city’s residents lived in digs with drainage facilities, beautifully plastered floors and walls, and attractive communal spaces decorated with murals. Evidence of diets indicates that most everyone was eating well. But since the Teotihuacans didn’t leave written evidence, it has taken a long time for scholars to imagine a city likely organized by local assemblies answerable to a governing council — one in which everybody expected to live well.

OK, so what?

If we’re really honest, what passes for civilization today is frequently a system of dominance and deprivation for most people, and one that would have repelled many of our ancestors. Far from living in conditions that maximize our freedom and wellbeing, we struggle with inequality, distrust, powerlessness, and disillusionment. In the world’s richest country, a lot of us can’t even afford a doctor when we’re sick.

Graeber and Wengrow define the modern state, which most of us live in, as a political structure that combines at least two common forms of domination: control of violence, control of information, and dominance via personal charisma (see: American elections). They are societies where power is not widely shared, and where the values of caring and cooperation are emphasized far less than those of competition and possessing more than your neighbor.

The many forms of freedom and enjoyment that early humans obviously deemed essential to life are not accessible to the vast majority. Who can travel about freely with minimal vacation time and insufficient funds? Who can freely reject conditions that don’t suit them? Who can refuse the arbitrary commands that bombard us daily (pay for this crappy service, take this shitty job, do what this racist cop tells you to do)? No one but the very affluent.

It’s really hard to imagine it can be any other way because for the last couple thousand years, most of us have lived under kings or emperors, or, where those didn’t exist, patriarchy or other forms of violent domination. Graeber and Wengrow acknowledge that once established, these structures are hard to get rid of – especially in our mental habits.

But a close look at the diversity and richness of our human history ought to help us to gather the courage to reimagine how life can be better and to put these visions into action. Hints of social possibilities dropped in from the remote past can inspire us with the knowledge that we do not have to accept being bullied by tyrants or plutocrats. By bringing the there and then into the here and now, we can consider that unequal, warlike, patriarchal societies are not the human norm, and are far from normal. Just like our forebearers, we can make choices.

Author, activist and scholar bell hooks has died at 69

Author, cultural critic, and scholar bell hooks has died, her family announced in a statement. hooks died Dec. 15 at home in Berea, Kentucky. She was 69.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks was one of seven children. As a child, she attended segregated schools. She went on to Stanford University, where she earned a bachelor's degree; the University of Wisconsin, where she received a master's degree; and the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she earned a doctorate in English Literature.

bells hooks was a pseudonym, intended to honor her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, a name which she first adopted in 1978 upon the publication of her poetry collection "And There We Wept," according to her family's statement. hooks utilized lower-case letters in her pseudonym because she wanted readers to center on the "substance of books, not who I am."

In 1981, hooks published "Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism." That was followed by the publication of over three dozen books from collections of essays to poetry to children's books, often focused on issues and stories of love, race, gender, socioeconomics, culture, and her native Appalachia. As the BBC wrote, "In particular, hooks wrote about how a person's race, gender and social class were interconnected."

In a 2000 interview with the NPR program "All Things Considered," hooks said, "I'm so moved often when I think of the civil rights movement, because I see it as a great movement for social justice that was rooted in love…I tell this to young people, you know, that we can love in a deep and profound way that transforms the political world in which we live in."

The bell hooks Institute at Berea College, where hooks taught since 2004, opened in 2010. In 2018, hooks was inducted into the Kentucky Writers' Hall of Fame.

The red flags of a religious cult — and what it's like to escape one

"I own me." This sentence, comprised of three short words, seems inarguable. But when attorney and author Faith Jones says them aloud, as she does in her 2019 TED Talk and in her new book, "Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult," they symbolize a lifetime of experience, learning and healing.

Jones was born into and raised within the powerful Children of God, later known as the Family, a religious group founded by her grandfather David Berg. She, like her parents and everyone else in their peripatetic community, was expected to be obedient and to distrust outsiders. It was, perhaps inevitably, a climate rife with abuse and exploitation. That Jones struck out on her own, attending Georgetown University and eventually becoming an attorney, is a testament to her internal strength and resolve. That she has since made it her mission to empower other women to similarly claim ownership of their lives is remarkable.

Salon spoke to Jones recently about her memoir, and her lessons in creating healthy boundaries and recovering from the unimaginable.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I want to start with this mantra of yours, this mission of yours, that you discuss in the book. What does it mean when you say, "I own me?"

"I own me" is recognizing that I have a property right in my body. My body is my sole property, which means like other property, nobody gets to tell me what to do with it. Without my express permission, nobody gets to access it. Nobody gets to enforce their will on me without my willing, free, unpressured permission. To me, that was such a revolutionary concept because I had grown up being told directly my whole life that my body was not my own. That it belonged to God, but really they meant it belonged to the group, and they got to tell me what to do with it. When I figured this out, that was the key for me to understand what had gone wrong in this group and in so many of these organizations, whether religious or family or governmental, where they try to take away our right of ownership in our body.

The way that you discuss the difference between what you were told but what your gut was telling you is something that not just people who grew up in cults can relate to. Being told that what you feel is not right. "Don't trust yourself, we're going to tell you what you feel." Talk to me about how you came to that understanding, and the people along the way who helped you trust yourself.

Learning to trust yourself is a continuing journey for all of us, especially for people who've experienced abuse and exploitation. That's one of the hardest lessons that we have to come to terms with, trusting ourselves. That is one of the reasons why this framework is so powerful because I believe it gives us the tools to understand and to trust that, if I'm feeling pressured, if I'm feeling a certain way, then I already know that's a red flag, that this is a violation. Something is happening here.

That's critical, because we're so used to being told that what we feel isn't true. So we try to keep trying to dismiss it instead of accepting it. One of the biggest issues we have is creating healthy boundaries when you've grown up without having boundaries, or when those boundaries have been violated. That's really what this framework is about — helping us who are recovering, but helping society in general, because these are the foundational principles of all society.

Later on in the book, you step back and look at your parents to get clarity on where they were coming from — because of what they brought to their parenting experience in this really, really strange environment. To see these patterns and where they come from, and to know that they don't come out of nowhere is important. How do you get to that place, though? Particularly for those who are survivors — to distinguish between understanding and distancing — because you've had to set those boundaries.

I've been on this journey of healing for many years, and there were certain things that were key turning points for me in that. One of the things that I read was Alice Miller. She's a psychologist, and she wrote a great book called "The Drama of The Gifted Child" and other work like that, where she looks at the effects of this type of abuse and where it comes from and how it persists generationally. Oftentimes abusers are people who have also been abused. That enabled me to take a step back and look at that, and say, "I can see where they're coming from, but I don't want to continue that pattern." That is the key responsibility of each of us, to step up and say, "Okay, I see what happened. I see my parents and the maybe abusive patterns that they had. It probably came from their parents and so on, but I am my own person and I get to step forward and say, it stops here. I get to work on the change in myself."

Writing this book, I spent hours interviewing my parents and other people to make sure my memories were accurate and details were correct. That was one of the interesting things I learned writing this book, just hearing more of the background stories to some of these things that happened. It gave me an even clearer understanding of things that I didn't really understand about them, their past experiences, what it was like for them in the moment they were going through. For instance, with my mother had basically left me for two months when I was a baby.

I was like, "How could you do that? How could anyone do that to their baby?" Understanding what had happened to her and how she had been threatened she could lose me if she didn't submit to this helped shift my mindset. Oftentimes, we're trapped in the narrative we know. Taking that time to explore it more can also bring us a kind of release because our reality is our story, the story we tell ourselves.

Your story is so unique, and yet, the scale was shocking to me. The number of people involved, the global scope of it, was huge.

Yes. Something like over 10,000 members, but thousands more moved in and out of the group over forty, fifty years. But it's much bigger than that. I talked to so many of my friends, men and women, who grew up in normal society and many, many have experienced child sexual abuse. Many have experienced some form of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, control. So many have experienced abusive beatings from their fathers or father figures.

The cult didn't start this. The cult took things that existed in society and it created a microcosm and an isolation and a validation that allow people to take it more to an extreme. But this stuff exists throughout society, which is why I'm so passionate about saying these are the principles we need to get really clear on and understand. That's the only way we can kind of inoculate people against these type of cults and anywhere in society where we say, "Hey, are they trying to get you to give over your body, your free will? Are they using manipulation? Are they trying to get you to give over your creations and saying you don't own this? Are they violating these principles?" Red flag, right?

People involved in these cults at the higher levels, or involved in these power dynamics in abusive relationships as the antagonists, don't see themselves as villains. The question that a lot of people reflexively ask of the victims or of the survivors is, "Well, why did you stay?" without understanding the escalation. Without understanding, "This was also the person who was caring for me. This is also the person who I was dependent upon." That's a crucial element, whether it's a cult or a marriage or a job.

You said something really important. These people don't see themselves as that. In fact, they see themselves as very, very good. "I am this great, good person. I am this prophet. I am hearing from God." They have this vision of themselves. Most people in the world, they don't see themselves as bad or evil, even murderers and serial killers have this vision of somehow, "I'm doing this for a greater, a better, higher purpose." Which is why you need a standard and principles. Because when you can take it, you can say, "Hey, I'm hearing from God, and God tells me to do this thing." If it's a violation of one of these principles, you already know, I'm in the wrong boat right away.

What happened to my mother, for instance. She joined this group. It wasn't a sex cult when she joined. It was this biblical missionary group that was out to save the world. It demanded extreme sacrifice and loyalty from its followers. But the sex stuff came in quite a few years later. It was seeded in slowly into the indoctrination of the people by my grandfather. He didn't just change overnight. He presented all of these letters, preparing his followers' minds over a year to get them into a place, prepping them for this.

I interviewed cult survivor Daniel Barban Levin recently, and he said, "Nobody joins a cult. They join a group of friends." Nobody signs up for an abusive relationship either. Nobody says, "I'm going to start a relationship with this person because this seems like someone who will really, really hurt me."

So let's talk about those principles. Whether you are in a group or in a one-on-one relationship, there are some of these red flags that you need to be thinking about and have top of mind.

It's first stating, "I own my body. It's my sole property." Therefore I own what I create with it, whether it's my services or products or invention. And then once I create something — and this is a constitutional right — I have the right to contract. I have the right to make a deal to exchange.

I think one of the main things that gets violated is there are five elements of any good exchange or contract. One of the main elements of this is something called no undue pressure. Because what is blackmail? It's blackmail when you apply undue pressure to somebody. For instance, in the group, I was subjected to pressure to have to have sex with other members where I really didn't want to, but I was told that I had to for God, or to avoid punishment basically.

When you coerce somebody into doing something through either implicit or direct threats, that is not a free choice. That is not a free exchange. You violated one of those principles. In that particular case that could even be considered rape. And then the final element is the effect. What is the impact? How much responsibility do I bear for impact beyond my direct control? My grandfather, how much responsibility does he bear, not just for the children that he molested himself, but for espousing those ideas in such a way that other people did that as well.

So that principles, and the red flags are: They put it always in very noble terms, that your body is for service or instead of saying, "You own you. You get to choose. You have free choice, and as long as your choice is not violating other people's rights, that's fine." Nobody gets to tell you who you are and what you need to do. That is your choice.

There's another thing, how vulnerable you make yourself in this story and your realization that, "What happened to me, that's called rape." For a lot of people, when they have that dawning, it's not necessarily because someone has jumped out of a bush in a dark alley. It's well after the fact. It's so important for someone reading that to understand that's often what it's like.

I think that's true. I think people who experienced child abuse are the same, they don't realize it until much later what happened to them and what was taken from them. As to how I get through it, there's a few resilience techniques which really helped me to come through it in a different way, that I used without realizing what I was doing. But also I didn't just sit around. I went after healing and happiness like a bulldog.

I was like, "I'm not going to suffer. This is not what life is for. Life is to grow." So yeah, bad stuff happened to me and I'm going to figure out how to heal in myself. That's what I did. I talk about some of the most powerful techniques that I used to heal and to recover. I wrote a guide for women called, "I Own Me." Talking about those experiences, talking about this framework and how learning to see ourselves and our bodies in a different way, really helps. There are certain psychological techniques that I used. I was helped with therapy to do certain healing processes that really helped to clear out I think some of the residual trauma locks that were in there.

Even after recognizing what had happened to me, I did not think of myself as a victim. That wasn't the role I wanted. That wasn't the part I wanted to play. I could say, "This bad thing happened to me, but here I am taking control of my life. This is my life now." I wasn't going to live in that story. I didn't talk about it all the time. In a healing process, it's one thing to bring it up and go through it, which you need to do, to access it. Some people don't do the healing because they're too afraid to access it, but you don't have to keep living in that story. You get to write a new story. And that's what I decided.

Going back and writing this book was tough, because you don't only have to write your most painful experiences once. You go over them a hundred times because you edit them and then edit them again and then edit them again. Every time I was like, "Oh no, I do not want to read that chapter again." I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't that I had a bigger purpose in this. This is really just a vehicle to express what happens when we, as a society, as a group, as individuals don't have clarity on what are these fundamental principles of human integrity.

What's the phrase you used? "Twenty-three years of in indoctrination doesn't disappear in an instance." I love that line, because it's true. Tell me a little bit about what it looks like now that you're doing this work and you're living within your own identity now.

The thing is, I think we get to change identities. I've done it a number of times in my life. We get to write our own story and our identity. When I initially thought about writing the story, I had thought, "We just had such a crazy life, it would be kind of interesting to write the story." I was more thinking of it from a perspective of wanting to show people who didn't have much that they could still achieve and do well. I became a lawyer and I work for some of the top law firms, and I wanted them to show them that path didn't have to be their story.

But as I grew and developed and healed and learned, I created the framework and began this journey of writing this book. All of these stories that I didn't think I was going to tell or write, especially not in such detail, were really the story that needed to be told. Even now, it's daunting because I've always been a very private person. But I think if it can help people to reconcile some of their own experiences, then it's worth it to me.

At the end, you make it clear that the other members of your family have made different choices and gone on very different paths. There isn't just one story from an experience like this, you can go in so many different directions from it.

That was why I tried to really stick to my story and my experiences, because each person who goes through this is affected differently. Each person has their own journey, their own story. My own family members, fortunately are all in their own stages of recovery from this, but they have learned and grown. My parents have as well. My mother, when I taught her this framework, had a lot of really good conversations. It gave her a lot more clarity on what had happened to her in the family. what some of those practices were, clearly defining what was wrong with them. When you don't have that framework in your mind, it's going to be hard to define exactly what was wrong.

Until you have the language to really articulate your experience, it is very, very hard to identify it. That's what this book is about. It's a very personal story, but it is also a guide for other people who are looking at their experiences and going, what is the word for this? What is the language for it?

This is why I want to get these principles taught in schools and to young people and in colleges and to people who've experienced abuse, because it does give them the language to express themselves. To say, "No, this is not what I want." To have a conviction that they are right. And also to say, "Well, this happened to me and it was wrong because..." It gives us the language to communicate about these topics and even gives us the language between men and women to communicate about these topics in a way that men appreciate. It allows us to talk about it. I think that's very important, whether it's in the corporate environment, talking about sexual harassment, but also in our schools, to teach children these principles so that they have the words.

What do you hope now for this book? Where do you want to see this book go in terms of who's going to read it and who's going to learn from it?

I hope that each person who reads it, if there's somebody who suffered some kind of abuse like this, that it can give them strength and insight. And if they haven't, that it will give them insight into what other people go through and then understanding perhaps things that have happened to friends or relatives. I hope that this is a door and a gateway to helping us to have bigger conversations about this stuff, particularly things like child abuse.

I think women and sexual harassment, while this is not solved, it's been brought much more to the forefront of human consciousness. But still a lot of stuff about children and how they are treated as property is not really discussed I think in the way it could be. My own personal work I'm doing now is both to help people achieve emotional independence and freedom through understanding these principles and other types of techniques.

A big part of what I am teaching now as well is, how do we create economic stability and freedom? My mother left the group for a while when I was a child and we were basically homeless for some time. She couldn't support us. So often the reason that people stay in bad environments, relationships, controlling groups, is they don't have a way economically to care for themselves outside. You both need to have the emotional freedom and understanding of what is true, and then you need to have the economic tools to be able to take care of yourself. Those are the two pillars that I'm working on, helping to share with people who are coming out of experiences like this.

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