The Nashville Public Library system was forced to close its branches on Thursday after receiving an anonymous bomb threat via email – the latest in a series of similar alerts across the country recently.
Police determined that the message probably came from outside Tennessee and was not believable, according to NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. But the library management chose to temporarily close its locations after receiving the email, which had not targeted a specific branch.
“It’s so common now. It’s domestic terrorism,” Nashville City Councilwoman Ginny Welsch told NewsChannel 5. “It’s trying to scare us all, and a library really is the perfect target for that stuff because it’s a place of knowledge, information and of history.”
Libraries across the country have also received threats in recent weeks, which tend to arrive on the internet from somewhere other than the targeted location, although it’s unclear if they’re related.
Earlier this month, workers at the Salt Lake City Public Library received a bomb threat which did not mention a specific branch, according to ABC4 in Utah. A staff member found an unattended bag near a building, but local law enforcement found no explosives during a search and said the public was not in danger.
Other threats came this week.
On Monday, an employee of the Fort Worth public library in Texas received three emails indicating a bomb threat, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A library spokesperson said the messages did not contain any explanation for the threat, but 17 branches were evacuated and closed early. Law enforcement determined that the emails originated outside of the United States and were not credible. Libraries reopened the following day.
Then the Denver Public Library closed its branches on Wednesday after receiving a “unspecified threat” overnight, 9NEWS reported in the Colorado capital. A nearby high school also closed that day after a threat circulated on social media, according to local outlet 11 News.
The hoax threats appear to be an escalation of a conservative culture war that has taken off over the past year, with right-wing groups are focusing their anger on public libraries for hosting events and books on LGBTQ or racial justice themes.
The extremists have protested the “drag queen story hours”, calling family events a haven for pedophiles. A record number of books face bans. Religious organizations have mounted campaigns to prevent people from reading books about LGBTQ communities, and library workers quit their jobs amid harassment.
Then there are the conservative parents determined to remove the books they don’t like from the facilities. A Michigan town voted for fund your own library because there were books with LGBTQ characters, which some residents said were actually pornography or a stepping stone to child abuse.
And many Republican officials did not hesitate to join in the fake panic. Last year, Texas State Rep. Matt Krause distributed a list of hundreds of books he suggested school districts should review. Llano County Officials shut down the public library system – even if it is not part of the school system – to verify titles and remove any questionable titles. Residents have since filed a complaint.
The source of the bomb threats and messages targeting libraries remains a mystery. But their effect is similar to other campaigns against establishments this year: creating chaos and confusion while harassing staff — and closing establishments, even temporarily.