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Conservatives join liberals in ‘quiet and polite’ Idaho protest to protect their library from book-banners

<i>Stephanie Becker/CNN</i><br/>
Stephanie Becker/CNN

By Nick Watt, CNN

A couple of dozen men, women and children are silently reading books in the shade of apple trees one sunny morning in beautiful little Bonners Ferry, Idaho. But this is a protest.

“We’re having a read-in in support of the library,” explains Billie Jo Klaniecki, a spry 70-something wearing a broad brimmed sun hat and a careworn white shirt buttoned at the cuffs. “We’re here being very quiet and very polite.”

And why does the library need their support? Because the trustees are facing a recall, because the library’s director just resigned under the pressure, and because a vocal group of activists is demanding the banning of more than 400 books from the library’s shelves. Many of the targeted books are about gender or sexuality. And currently, the library does not stock any of them.

“They’ve come into our community with their standards and their agenda and they’re determined they’re going to force it on us,” says Klaniecki. “They carry guns to library board meetings and school board meetings. Carry guns! We don’t need that. This country doesn’t need that.”

So, are the protesters under the apple trees in the library garden reading books from among the 400? “No,” says Klaniecki, clutching a dog-eared paperback about a man of God who lives out his dying days in a native Alaskan community. “We’re reading books that we like.”

And who are these newcomers she speaks of? Well, we reached out to a number of the people pushing the recall and demanding that books be banned. None of them would talk to us.

But they have made their feelings known at library board meetings. “Things need to change,” one man told the board at a meeting in late August. “Otherwise, you bring curses upon yourselves. Period. From the Most High.”

And at a meeting in July, Donna Capurso, a local realtor, said this: “My job is to protect our kids from sexual deviants, who will be drawn to our library if inappropriate sexual material is on our library shelves.” Capurso is an occasional contributor to a website called Redoubt News, which caters to a growing group here in northern Idaho of self-described, “God-Fearing, Liberty-Loving Patriots.”

“The American Redoubt” is a term coined in 2011 by a Christian survivalist. The idea is that Christian patriots should retreat here from modern America to live their truth and defend themselves. The Redoubt is a large chunk of land encompassing all of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming as well as eastern slivers of Washington and Oregon. The boundaries are similar to those of the Whites-only homeland envisioned by the Aryan Nations, which was headquartered for years about 80 miles south of Bonners Ferry. The Redoubt movement does not espouse racial separation.

This northern panhandle of Idaho, home to Bonners Ferry, has long been seen as a refuge for “Off the Gridders” and militias. Ruby Ridge is just five miles away. Some realtors now cater specifically to that crowd. And property prices are rising as a result.

“In the last several years, there’s been a big influx of people who are trying to come to this area to get away from urban settings,” says Darrell Kerby, an avuncular well dressed white-haired former mayor of Bonners Ferry, where he was born and raised. Like most people around here, Kerby voted for former President Donald Trump. And would consider doing so again.

Just outside town a large billboard reads, “Welcome to Trump Country” in big, bold letters. And in a smaller font, “Go Badgers,” in support of the Bonners Ferry school sports teams. Kerby is a conservative, but also firmly in support of the library trustees and their efforts to resist the would-be book banners.

“This isn’t about Trump,” he says. “This goes beyond any conservatism into almost Nazism, where they’re trying to force their own ideas and religious concepts on everybody else. That’s not America.”

“What I hate to see is my community torn apart like this,” says Lee Colson, who was also found reading a book in protest in the dappled light cast by those apple trees outside the library.

He’s a recently retired forestry worker and a volunteer fireman for more than a quarter century. He sports a thick mustache, a wide smile and a very well-worn baseball cap. He voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. He’s also one of the library board trustees now facing a recall. And standing up to those who want to ban all those books that are not on the shelves but are on that long list emailed to the library in the spring.

“The conflict is that I cannot say we will not get them,” says Colson. “Because if we’re a library, if the public comes and requests those books, we will get those books. That’s what we do.”

And what they do is in accordance with the Constitution. What he’s going through has made Colson more politically aware, he says, and engaged. “The first part of the lesson is to pay attention to your community,” he says. “Be involved. Last week I went to a school board meeting, which I’ve never really gone to before.”

Kerby, the former mayor who also served as a city councilman, agrees this is not just about books. “Obviously it’s not, because they don’t exist. They’re not here. It’s more about, I think, control.”

Under the apple trees, there is concern. Perhaps even anger. But also hope that things will work out.

“There are a group of people that want to change this community and there’s a group of people that want it to stay the same,” says Colson. “I’m sort of a notorious optimist, I think that free choice and freedom win in the end.”

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Stephanie Becker contributed to this story.

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