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The Big Lie in Florida
Amid an epidemic of book banning, DeSantis pretends it's all a "nasty hoax."
On March 8, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis released a porn video.
Like the astroturf group Moms 4 Liberty before him, DeSantis was nominally getting into the pornography business to try to “protect children” from porn.
But unlike the dark-money-funded “Moms” group, DeSantis wasn’t content to simply put his porn in a pamphlet and hand it out to kids.
He wanted it broadcast on free TV in the middle of the day. Or at least to create headlines that his foray into making porn videos was too shocking for TV.
Using selectively chosen content from four book-length works (not including the Bible) that are not being taught in any curriculum, DeSantis tried to make the case that claims he was banning books were a “nasty hoax.” In his telling, all he truly wanted to do with all his new laws and fascist intimidation tactics against teachers and librarians was stop those who wish to “pollute and sexualize our children.”
He wasn’t banning books at all, he said. But DeSantis picked the wrong week to attempt a lie so big.
1.6 million books were banned in Duval County alone
Unfortunately for DeSantis, his plan to fight “porn” in books you’ve never heard of by creating porn videos for free TV—and call book banning a bigger “hoax” than Covid—blew up in his face immediately.
As scandal enveloped the Duval Schools district covering Jacksonville, Florida, it emerged that 1.6 million books owned in the district had been removed from circulation to allow a lengthy review process.
Of the 1.6 million books, the district admitted only 10,000 had been put back on shelves.
0.625% of the books owned by Duval County schools are currently available to students
Even worse for the DeSantis narrative, it also emerged that the reason for all of these books being banned was that the woman in charge—Michelle DiBias—didn’t just have bias in her name, but in her heart as well.
She was on record calling lesbianism “morally damning” and “a lifestyle contrary to the design of humanity.”
Until DiBias resigned in shame this week, she was the person in charge of overseeing what books all 129,000 students in the Jacksonville area were allowed to read in school.
Meanwhile in Martin County…
DeSantis’ case wasn’t helped when news emerged that Martin County, Florida had banned 20 books by best-selling author Jodi Picoult—including one about the grand-daughter of a Holocaust survivor, causing Picoult to speak out on Twitter and to The Washington Post.
“Banning ‘The Storyteller’ is shocking, as it is about the Holocaust and has never been banned before,” Picoult told the Post in an email.
Meanwhile, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel thoroughly dismantled all of DeSantis’s false claims in a Twitter thread that, among other things, pointed out that:
Florida has passed vague laws limiting what books can be in schools and libraries with stiff penalties. Every book in a school must be reviewed by a “media specialist” and schools were told to “err on the side of caution.” Thus the empty shelves
Books banned include Booker Prize winner The God of Small Things, books by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, bestselling novelist @jodipicoult and many others. Biographies of Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente were kept off shelves in one district for almost a year.
In the 2021-22 school year PEN America documented 565 books banned in Florida schools. Some were banned permanently, others temporarily pending investigations. The result is the same: students can’t access books.
Here’s how PEN America defines a book ban: https://pen.org/book-bans-frequently-asked-questions/.
What’s really going here?
DeSantis knows he’s lying. He knows students’ First Amendment rights are being trampled on. He knows he’s making life hell for teachers, librarians and principals. But he’s leaning into his role as a Christo-Fascist Crusader for “parents’ rights.”
It’s a clearly an area where Trump would have zero credibility, so “Meatball” Ron is staking out that turf as he positions himself to run against the One-Term-Loser in 2024.
But it’s also part of the GOP’s much larger war on public education—and the right-wing’s ongoing assault on Americans’ ability to think.