How right-wing lawmakers, media, and dark-money interest groups teamed up to harass and intimidate school librarians

This week the ACLU-SC received news of a targeted harassment campaign against school librarians in an Upstate school district. 

Sadly, the story was typical of the attacks that politicians and political interest groups have been launching against teachers, librarians, and school librarians in recent years. Wherever people are trying to ban books, we also hear from public employees on the frontlines who are scared for their jobs, their reputations, and even their safety. 

Today on the blog, we want to set the record straight about what’s happening. While we continue to argue, including in court, against book banning and censorship, today we want to highlight the danger that book banners' aggressive tactics pose to librarians and educators. 

In late 2023 we received word that State Rep. April Cromer (R-Anderson), a member of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, had submitted a public records request to Anderson School District 1 seeking reams of information on school librarians. 

Given Cromer and the Freedom Caucus’ track record of attacking public schools and promoting mass book purges, we wanted to see what was happening behind the scenes. So we submitted our own request under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to see what she had requested and what she had received. 

Cromer had submitted two related requests on official State House letterhead, both dated October 18, 2023. These were incredibly broad requests seeking, among other things, “All records from ASD1 School Board Members.” 

But they were also incredibly specific at times, seeking the records of two school librarians and the names of anyone who volunteered in the high school libraries. Cromer also wanted all records from the high school librarians that mentioned phrases including “critical race theory,” “LGBTQ,” “gender,” “racist,” “diversity,” and “hate.” We’ve uploaded her FOIA request below so you can see for yourself. 

A few things have happened since the fall of 2023. 

First, the employee who handles FOIA requests in Anderson 1 told us apologetically that he couldn’t send all of the records that his office handed over to Cromer because they totaled more than 17,000 pages and were provided to Cromer as hard copies. Apparently, it took the entire district office staff about a week of work to fulfill Cromer’s request. 

This was followed by months of silence. Then, on Feb. 28, 2024, a public relations firm called Cavalry Strategies pitched South Carolina news outlets on a story about a supposed coverup of obscene books by Anderson 1 librarians, citing 5 out-of-context quotes from the 17,000 pages of documents. Unsurprisingly, Cavalry Strategies works with Moms for Liberty, a right-wing, dark-money group that pulls the strings of folks like Rep. Cromer. 

Most news outlets in South Carolina seem to have passed on the story pitch, with one notable exception: On March 4 the right-wing gossip blog FITSNews picked up the story, naming specific librarians and linking to their social media profiles. 

The campaign escalated from there. Two days later, on March 6, another Freedom Caucus member named Rep. Thomas Beach wrote a letter to the state superintendent demanding the firing of these school librarians and accusing them of “grooming,” a baseless accusation of pedophilia that is often leveled against LGBTQ people and allies. 

What we have seen here is a coordinated campaign of willful and reckless bullying. This is an alarming escalation in an ongoing effort by a vocal minority in South Carolina to censor books, silence educators, and enforce strict ideological and political speech codes within public schools and libraries. 

The politicians and interest groups participating in these attacks cannot plead ignorance. In 2023, as state lawmakers were considering a teacher gag order (H. 3728), South Carolina school librarians submitted testimony about worsening patterns of harassment, intimidation, and threats.1

“I became the target of vicious attacks caused directly by rhetoric used in legislation like H. 3728,” wrote a high school librarian from the Upstate. 

“I have felt physical fear for my safety and won’t go certain places without my husband,” wrote another Upstate librarian. 

“I was targeted in thousands of comments in local Facebook groups … and received threats on my property, my professional credentials, and my LIFE,” wrote an elementary school librarian. 

One Lowcountry librarian wrote this about a colleague: 

“The librarian, a 15 + year educator who had been named Teacher of the Year and received many other honors, was called a ‘groomer’ and accused of many other awful things … She left the school library. We lost an excellent educator and dedicated librarian because of the extreme harassment she experienced at the hands of a parent who believed that what they wanted for their child was more important than what other parents wanted for their own children, more important than following established district policies and procedures, and more important than the dignity and safety of the librarian.” 

This is where we are in South Carolina. In a state that habitually under-funds its schools, where children face real threats to their lives, futures, and safety, a small cluster of aggrieved interest groups has come together to make life difficult for public servants. People have threatened and called the police on school librarians for the books they keep on their shelves. 

And rather than stand up for students and school librarians, lawmakers like Reps. Beach and Cromer have gleefully joined in the attack. As dedicated teachers and librarians leave public service entirely, South Carolinians will feel the consequences for generations. 

If you would like to join our efforts to push back against the wave of censorship and intimidation in our schools and libraries, consider joining the Freedom to Read SC coalition. For updates on censorship policies being advanced in the State House, be sure to join and follow our coalition partners in ProTruth SC. To learn more about our efforts to defend the freedom of speech and freedom to read in our courts and legislature, visit our Free Speech issue page


1 South Carolina Association of School Librarians. (2023). Personal librarian harassment statements. PDF download.