Banned books and free speech in Westport

When a gunman murdered 20 little children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, just a few miles from Westport, I could not imagine anything worse happening to those grieving families.

Then I heard about Alex Jones.

With a scowl and a sneer, he proclaimed the massacre never happened. He called the mothers and fathers who lost their boys and girls “crisis actors.” He mocked their tears, then fundraised off their agony. And – because he is not alone in his sick, sorry world – he egged on his followers. They trolled the families online, and tormented them in person. They forced some of those families to move. When they fought back, in a lawsuit to hold Alex Jones accountable for his vile charade, he and his posse made those families relive the most horrendous days of their lives over and over – in public.

So I cheered when a Waterbury jury decided that Jones must pay nearly $1 billion in damages. I was especially pleased that the Sandy Hook families’ case was handled by Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder. Westport attorney – and Staples High School graduate – Josh Koskoff played a key role in the long saga.

The jury’s decision, and the local legal angle, reaffirmed my pride that I live in Connecticut. While much of the rest of the country is polarized on nearly every issue of importance, and goes to the polls next month with a good chance of electing as senators, representatives, governors and election-supervising secretaries of state a mind-numbing collection of conspiracy theorists, religious zealots and election deniers, my state (I applauded silently) actually lived up to its nickname: The Land of Steady Habits.

And even if Donald Trump loyalist Leora Levy won the Republican nomination for US senator – in a primary race that drew just 20 percent of her party’s voters – the national GOP is not wasting any money on this contest. They know Connecticut is still a blue state.

Then came Banned Books Week.

For 15 years, the Staples High School library has celebrated the American Library Association’s display of the most challenged books of the previous year. The reasons for challenges vary, of course, and they come from the left as well as the right.

Last year’s list included three books about LGBTQ issues: “Gender Queer,” “Lawn Boy” and “This Book is Gay.” All have been in the Staples library for several years. They apparently have not been checked out often. Then again, most books in school libraries are rarely looked at these days. News flash: Teenagers get most of their information online.

Some or all of those three books are also in the school libraries of neighboring towns, and districts similar to Staples elsewhere in Connecticut and Westchester County.

But seven residents used the public portion of a Board of Education meeting to speak vehemently against the LGBTQ books. They called them “pornographic,” and “inappropriate for children.” Some of the speakers alleged that Westport educators “groom” and “sexualize” students.

One woman charged Staples with “indoctrinating” students into Marxism. “You obviously want to dismantle the nuclear family,” she said.

When the debate spilled onto social media, words grew even hotter. Some of the phrases and ideas used by those opposed to the books echoed talking points from similar battles in other Connecticut towns – and around the nation. The Land of Steady Habits is no longer immune to the rhetoric heard in states where whoever goes to Washington or sits in the statehouse may be decided by a very few – and very disputed – votes.

“Marxism” should not be a word thrown around casually. But several of the people in the “banned books” debate used it, saying they were familiar from the encroaching threat because they grew up in totalitarian countries.

The “Marxism” allegation is not going away. Last year, Steve Bannon’s podcast highlighted Westport. The segment claimed that the town is run by an “unelected Marxist Politburo.” (By that they meant TEAM Westport – the Board of Selectmen-appointed multicultural group).

On air Bannon interviewed the editor-in-chief of CD Media. The initials stand for “Creative Destruction,” which is “reopening newspapers up and down the Colonies.”

Wed Nov. 1, another CD Media figure — chief investigative correspondent and senior editor Christin Dolan — speaks in Westport. Her talk is titled “How Public Policy is Putting Our Children at Risk.” Among the topics her panel will address: “Significant increase in child human trafficking”; “Exponential increase in youth deaths from fentanyl”; “Alarming increase in suicides of young people” and “Decrease in mastery of basic academic skills.”

And where will her talk be held? At the Westport Library. You know: a place that doesn’t ban books. Speakers.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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