How one right-wing activist is fighting to ban over 3,600 books from Florida schools

On Monday, writing for his Popular Information blog, investigative reporter Judd Legum outlined how Bruce Friedman, a far-right activist who recently moved from New York to Clay County, Florida, has gotten dozens of books banned from school libraries — and is planning to remove thousands more.

"This year, at least 102 books have been removed from the shelves of school libraries in Clay County, Florida. Many of these books were pulled at the request of one man: Bruce Friedman," wrote Legum. "And Friedman says he is just getting started. During a November 28 meeting of the Florida Department of Education Library Media Working Group, Friedman said he had compiled 'a list of over 3,600 titles that I believe have concerning content,' including 'porn, critical race theory, social-emotional learning, [and] fluid gender.' He said this list proves that 'libraries have more than a little poison in them.' Friedman demanded that the school board 'clean up this mess.' If not, Friedman threatened to 'perform 3,600 challenges and overwhelm your awful, awful procedures and policies.'"

Among the books he forced the school board to remove is The Girl From The Sea, an award-winning graphic novel in which "two girls hold hands and, at one point, share a kiss. There is no sex, no swearing, and no nudity." Friedman told Popular Information that he objected to the book's presence because girls are "not in school to learn how to be better lesbians."

Friedman's challenge has not actually yet been evaluated; however, under school board policy, the books must be removed until the District Curriculum Council makes a decision either way, a rule Friedman has exploited to get dozens of books tossed.

"Friedman has exploited this policy by flooding the district with challenges. Friedman told Popular Information that, since June 30, he has 'investigated between 5 and 10 thousand' books available in Clay County school libraries on 'a very cursory level,'" said the report. "Popular Information has obtained dozens of Friedman's challenge forms through public information requests. Friedman, and a few others he recruited to assist him, filled out these forms identically. The reason for the request is to 'PROTECT CHILDREN,' the objectionable material is 'INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT,' and the impact of a student using the material is 'DAMAGED SOULS.' The answer to most other questions is 'N/A.'"

This comes after a year of Republicans sparking moral panic over anti-racist and pro-LGBTQ content in books, filing legal actions to get them removed from school libraries and, in one case in Virginia, even from a Barnes & Noble bookstore.