At a July public library board meeting in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, middle school librarian Amanda Jones spoke out against book censorship. Conservatives in a neighboring town had been successful in taking away some resources for school libraries, and Jones didn’t want to see something similar happen in her town.
“While book challenges are often done with the best intentions, and in the name of age appropriateness, they often target marginalized communities such as BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] and the LBGTQ community. They also target books on sexual health and reproduction,” Jones said at the meeting, according to her own transcription.
“Once you start relocating and banning one topic, it becomes a slippery slope and where does it end?”
By the next day, conservatives had decided that her quest to keep books with LGBTQ themes in the library meant that she was trying to provide sexually explicit materials to children.
Michael Lunsford, the executive director of right-wing nonprofit Citizens for a New Louisiana, and Ryan Thames, who runs a politically conservative Facebook page called Bayou State of Mind, each spoke out against Jones on Facebook. They claimed in a series of posts that Jones was advocating for libraries to contain pornography and books that teach kids how to perform sexual acts, according to court documents.
Public school educators have long faced disagreement from parents and other community members. But this type of vitriol was new to Jones, who has been a teacher for two decades and is the president of the state’s public school librarian association.
“I’ve had some books questioned and challenged at my school, maybe once or twice in the 22 years I’ve been teaching,” she told HuffPost this week. “But this is personal. These people are posting online that I’m advocating for teaching anal sex to children.”
Like many other librarians across the country, Jones also received an explicit death threat via email, and her friends and family have received harassing messages as well. The email, which was sent by a man in Texas about a month after the library meeting, accused her of indoctrinating children and being a pedophile, and it stated that the writer knew where Jones lived and worked. Jones said it ended with words meant to imitate a gun: “Click, click see you soon.” Police are trying to extradite the person who wrote the email.
In August, Jones filed a lawsuit against Lunsford and Thames, seeking damages and asking a judge to bar them from posting about her on Facebook.
“Nobody stands up to these people,” she told NBC News at the time. “They just say what they want and there are no repercussions and they ruin people’s reputations and there’s no consequences.”
But last week, Judge Erika Sledge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Jones was a limited public figure and that the bar to meet the definition of defamation was higher. Sledge also ruled that Lunsford and Thames were merely stating their opinion.
“It’s a dangerous ruling,” Jones’ lawyer, Ellyn Clevenger, told Louisiana newspaper The Advocate. “It sets a dangerous precedent.”
The posts attacking Jones and insisting that she had a secret harmful agenda are straight out of the right-wing playbook. For the past year, conservatives have used the same rhetoric in an attempt to defund and dismantle both school and public libraries.
“This time last year it was CRT,” Jones said, referring to critical race theory, the college-level academic framework that conservatives have insisted educators are teaching children in public schools. “Now, they’re insisting there’s porn in the library.”
Right-wing extremists have protested libraries over Drag Queen Story Hour events, where drag queens read to children, and parents have moved to censor LGBTQ authors. A record number of books have been challenged this year. Libraries around the country have received bomb threats, which so far have turned out to be hoaxes.
And school librarians are not the only ones facing this kind of backlash. A nationwide teacher shortage — approximately 300,000 jobs are open for educators and support staff — is partly fueled by the right’s culture war. Gay teachers have resigned, and others have retired earlier than planned.
“This is a disservice to educators everywhere,” Jones said.
Despite the threats and the dismissal of the lawsuit, Jones has found some room for optimism. After all, no books have been removed from her library. “Technically, I feel like I won,” she said.
Jones also said that she is lucky to have received an overwhelming amount of support, with hundreds of people reaching out to tell her to keep fighting and that she’s doing the right thing. But the attacks have taken a toll on her.
“I started therapy, I had to start taking anxiety medication and my hair is falling out,” Jones said. And she’s still worried about what the lawsuit dismissal means for the future — and for other librarians who face the same kind of harassment.
“I’ve lost all faith in the judicial system,” Jones said. “The judge’s ruling has opened the door. People are definitely going to feel more empowered to harass educators online.”
CORRECTION: A prior version of this story mischaracterized the July meeting where Jones spoke as a school board meeting when it was a public library board meeting.