By Zach Hagadone
Amid the many claims and counterclaims regarding library materials considered “obscene” or otherwise “harmful” to minors — which have roiled controversy at the federal, state and local levels for years — the East Bonner County Library administration filed a report with Sandpoint police May 9 citing comments it found threatening toward library staff posted in early April on the “Rosebud” local Facebook discussion group.
In a statement to the Reader, Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon confirmed that an officer met May 9 with Library Director Viktor Sjöberg, who reported the threat, which was in a post “in reference to the library staff stocking bookshelves with ‘pedophilia material’ and using taxpayers’ money.”
Sjöberg in a May 10 phone interview with the Reader identified threatening comments made in a long thread originating April 6 with a post about the vote to overturn Little’s veto of HB 314.
Dozens of comments later in a subthread linking to the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a user wrote, “I bet if a librarian had to decide whether to take all them books off the shelves or visit her husband in a body cast the books would disappear.”
That post appears to have been removed from Rosebud, but is captured in a screenshot shared with the Reader. The user did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Immediately below the now-deleted post is a still discoverable reference to ostensibly objectionable material in the Coeur d’Alene Public Library.
“[W]ell I guess some of us need to make friends with school librarians, really get to know I’m up close and personal if you know what I mean [sic],” the user wrote. “Voting’s not working but I know ways that do.”
Later, the user wrote, “get me a list of names of all Bonner county librarians please [sic].”
Sjöberg said a community member made the library aware of the comments at its May 8 board meeting.
“I think it is important to draw the line — whether or not this is keyboard warrior stuff or actual threats, it’s unacceptable,” he said. “We can’t have a climate where this is the type of rhetoric that’s being accepted.”
Rosebud page creator Mose Dunkel confirmed that he received notifications from fellow users about the posts that prompted the library’s police report, but has a policy not to remove comments unless they are being made by spammers, scammers or individuals using fake accounts.
“I’m happy that they did file something,” Dunkel said, “hopefully there’s a little bit of a wakeup call for the person who’s writing that stuff and it’ll send a message to other people that they should chill.”
According to Coon, “The Sandpoint Police Department takes all threats seriously and will investigate all reported crimes,” adding that Idaho Code empowers law enforcement to bring criminal charges against an individual “who with intent threatens another person.”
What follows is an investigation, followed by a determination by officers whether the threat supports a criminal charge, followed by findings from the prosecutor’s office to agree or disagree with filing the complaint with the courts.
“First, it’s important to understand most speech in the United States is protected,” Coon wrote. “The federal courts have been very clear about protecting free speech under the First Amendment, which includes some hate speech, but not libel, obscenity or what the Supreme Court has called ‘true threats.’ The growing issue we are now facing is, when does a statement on a social media platform cross the line from being protected speech to becoming criminal. I believe the federal courts will be ruling on this subject soon. For now, we use the Idaho Statute.”
While Sjöberg said he tries to stay above the political fray, concentrating on his role as director of library operations and its staff, he added that the tenor of much of what’s been said about the library’s materials and policies at multiple levels has been unconstructive at best, misinformed and harmful at worst.
The issue of inappropriate materials has also been a central feature in the race for a six-year term on the East Bonner County Library Board of Trustees, which will be decided Tuesday, May 16 when voters choose between incumbent Susan Shea and challenger Stacy Rodriguez.
The latter’s campaign has stated Shea “believes that stripper poles and drag queens should be allowed in our community libraries,” that material in the library “would make a sex worker blush” and is being leveraged to “sexualize children,” and the goal should be “to refocus the library on its core mission of inspiration and education, not indoctrination!”
“I see direct connections between some of the rhetoric that’s been utilized in this campaign. If one of the candidates is talking about getting the library away from ‘indoctrination’ and toward education, that sounds to me like she’s accusing the library staff of indoctrinating the community,” Sjöberg said. “And when the same candidate is talking about how Susan Shea is talking about putting stripper poles in the library, that’s heating up the rhetoric that results in this behavior, and that’s where I feel like I need to step in.”
The comments April 6 on Facebook predated the April 19 candidates’ forum featuring Shea and Rodriguez, where the notions of drag shows or “stripper poles” at the library entered the discourse.
In an email May 10 to the Reader, Rodriguez wrote, “My campaign and I condemn in the strongest possible terms any violence or threats of violence against anyone associated in any way with the library or this election. The posts and related comments from the Facebook page ‘Rosebud’ are in no way known to or associated with me or Readers 4 Rodriguez, and do not reflect the values of my candidacy or my campaign.”
Asked for comment May 10, Shea told the Reader in a phone interview that, “As a trustee, I want everybody associated with the library to feel safe coming to work and to feel that their families are safe.”
“It is a political climate where it’s suddenly OK to be disrespectful of people in the community that you don’t agree with, instead of having some kind of dialogue — you skip that whole step and you go straight to verbal violence or verbal threats of some sort,” Shea added.
Kirsten LeBlanc, a volunteer for Rodriguez’s campaign who identified herself as a coordinator, told the Reader in an in-person interview that harassing, threatening and otherwise abusive comments have been directed at both candidates — including references to Rodriguez and her supporters as “Christofascists” who want to ban books.
“I personally have never asked for a book ban, ever. Those words have never come out of my mouth,” she said, going on to claim that statements to the contrary have gone uncorrected or unchallenged by library board members when made in public meetings.
“Perhaps what you’re seeing is people responding to the lies that have gone uncorrected,” she said, adding that her proposal to the board to create age-controlled access to materials containing adult themes went unaddressed, though she was later met with hostility that prompted no pushback.
For her part, Rodriguez suggested that “inflammatory rhetoric” is on full display in letters to the editor in local publications — including the Reader — as well as comments and posts left on her campaign Facebook page.
“That is where you will find falsehoods and incendiary comments (from my opponent’s supporters — not mine), the likes of which should have no place in this process,” she said.
“It is our sincere hope that, once the election is completed, all parties can work together, peacefully and civilly, to ensure the library serves the best interests of the community as whole, young and old alike,” Rodriguez wrote.
The Reader received more than a dozen phone calls and emails on May 10 claiming to provide audio evidence and first-hand accounts from the April 19 candidates’ forum that Shea answered “why not?” to a rhetorical question posed by Rodriguez about whether drag shows and stripper poles would be installed at the library if the community wanted them.
Upon reviewing the recording multiple times, it is impossible to identify whether the muffled statement came from Shea, while the Reader’s own reporting of the forum — collected from a vantage point immediately to Shea’s right among a crowd of more than 100 attendees — does not indicate that she made any such statement.
“No, negative,” Shea told the Reader. “There was no response to that. … I never said that.”
Further addressing her opponent’s allegations regarding library drag shows, stripper poles and “indoctrination,” Shea said, “If you could just tell the world that, ‘No, Susan has no interest in drag shows or stripper poles,’ that would be great. …
“To say that we’re choosing books to indoctrinate children is just not correct, and this goes back to her campaign ideology, that’s basically saying the LGBTQ community is grooming children for sexual abuse, so her objection is to any books with an LGBTQ connection or storyline.”
Sjöberg said the controversy threatens the purpose and functioning of the library.
“One of my primary goals with working in libraries is to provide opportunities for people to meet and to gather and create these bridging experiences where you might meet someone who you don’t agree with and bridge that understanding,” he said.
“This political division, which I think is orchestrated on a national level, is basically making that very, very difficult. And this whole thing about us having to play this game of the back-and-forth and dealing with this campaign and dealing with all these people who think we have pornography in the library is also making it difficult to do the really interesting work,” he added. “This is the most basic misunderstanding, and how are we supposed to do our job if this is what we have to deal with?”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story misidentified the bill number of Idaho House Bill 314. It has been corrected in the text above.
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