Actor and Trinity Broadcasting Network host Kirk Cameron and other right-wing media figures are visiting libraries across the country to promote a line of conservative children’s books and peddle false claims of victimhood.
According to language that was on its website until at least March 28, the “Freedom Island Tour” (sponsored by Christian children’s book company Brave Books) is a joint effort by the publisher and Cameron intended to “win back Story Hour and stand up for truth and Biblical values.” The tour, named after a Brave Books series about a fictional “Freedom Island,” features Cameron and guests traveling to libraries and reading their books to children. The tour bills itself as a response to the right-wing boogeyman of drag queen story hours.
Cameron, author of the Brave Books title As You Grow, has been promoting the books and library events through appearances on Fox News programs and in Fox web articles, as well as on his own show, Takeaways with Kirk Cameron, on the Christian network Trinity Broadcasting Network.
At least one previous library event on the Freedom Island Tour has caused problems for the host library and its staff. In Hendersonville, Tennessee, news station WKRN reported that after Fox covered Cameron’s complaints that a library wasn’t welcoming enough for the tour, the library staff was harassed and a bomb threat was called in. This continued harassment campaign also resulted in a community librarian being fired.
Until late March, Brave Books’ website encouraged community members to hold their own events and to seek its guidance if a library denied them. Changes to the website in recent weeks have removed that guidance.
“Are you tired of story hour being held captive by ideas and values you don’t hold and people you don’t trust?” asked the site until it was scrubbed. “Are you willing to do something about it?”
The website also provided resources for organizing Brave Books story hours at local libraries, including advice on how to talk to library staff about the event. For instance, organizers were advised only to discuss the biblical content of the books “if they push” and to stress that “all are welcome.” Brave Books also gave an email address to contact if the library says no, as according to the website, “they may have broken the law.”
Brave Books stories connect patriotism to conservative Christian values
Brave Books was founded in 2021 by Texas-based ophthalmologist Trent Talbot, who told the New York Post that he created the publishing company after he had his first child and realized “that there is a real war going on for the hearts and minds of our kids.”
Brave Books’ goal is to shape “the next generation of heroes. Children empowered to combat the lies and destruction of woke culture. Children who embody the principles and values that made America great. Children who place God, family, and country ahead of self.”
The books are intended to “instill pro-God, Pro-America values” that will “empower your children against woke culture.” This rhetoric tying American identity and patriotism to explicitly conservative Christian values echoes some tenets of Christian nationalism, which contends that the U.S. is a fundamentally Christian nation and should be governed by right-wing Christian beliefs.
The actual books do exactly that.
- Elephants Are Not Birds, by ex-Turning Point USA brand ambassador Ashley St. Clair, is focused on giving children a rigid definition of gender identity by asserting that “boys are not girls, and Elephants Are Not Birds.” In the book, Kevin the elephant “learns that even though he can sing, he is not a bird, even if Culture insists that he is.” (“Culture” is a vulture that is a recurring villain in the Freedom Island universe.)
- More Than Spots and Stripes, by comedy and commentary duo The Hodgetwins, is “a Christian children's book that teaches kids the dangers of critical race theory.” In the book, “an aging racer has made it her mission to distract Rebel and her classmates with a new ideology claiming all cheetahs with stripes are cheaters by nature,” according to the Brave Books website.
- No More Secrets by Chaya Raichik, who runs the anti-LGBTQ Twitter account LibsofTikTok, is a children’s book about teachers telling their students to keep secrets from their parents. In the book a lamb is influenced by her teacher to eat candy behind her parents’ backs, a vague allegory for the false conspiracy theory that teachers are transitioning children's gender identity without their parents' knowledge or consent.
Cameron has used his media platform to push the book tour any chance he got
Takeaways with Kirk Cameron is a show on Trinity Broadcasting Network with content that ranges from Christian lifestyle topics to Christian nationalist rhetoric.
In the March 13 episode, Cameron focused on the concept of “revival,” talking about the “covenant relationship” that the United States’ Founding Fathers supposedly had with God. Cameron said this relationship “was absolutely essential for the success of this American experiment." Cameron’s rhetoric pushes the myth that America is a fundamentally Christian nation, a false belief that is a core tenet of Christian nationalism.
In December 2022, he teamed up with Brave Books to create his own title, As You Grow, a “Christian children's book that teaches kids how to grow in wisdom through the fruit of the spirit.” Soon after, according to the Brave Books website, Cameron contacted libraries about hosting a story hour for his book and was “turned down by over 50 libraries,” prompting Cameron to make claims of anti-Christian and anti-conservative bias.
“I was denied by over 50 woke libraries who had previously hosted drag queen story hours,” Cameron claimed on his show. He then explained that he had threatened a public library with a lawsuit and the library subsequently chose to proceed with the event.
In the months since, Cameron has made a number of appearances on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s news-style program Centerpoint and Fox News to promote the book tour and encourage viewers to host similar events at their local libraries, occasionally invoking Christian nationalist talking points along the way.
- Cameron pitched the idea of hosting a story hour to Fox host Tucker Carlson’s audience and said if anyone trying to do so was denied access to a library, the libraries may be“breaking the law." Cameron told Carlson the libraries are “likely breaking the law and violating the Constitution. And [those trying to host events] can contact bravebooks.com. We will give them free books and all that they need to turn that denial into a revival in their community.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 12/7/22]
- Cameron promoted his upcoming story hours on Fox & Friends. He encouraged people to “join this movement,” and claimed that “if we don't return to being one nation under God, we will be a nation gone under.” Cameron also hinted at a broader plan, saying, “This is the very beginning of a nationwide tour that’s leading up to something very exciting in summertime.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/9/23]
- Cameron explained the story hours on Trinity Broadcasting Network's show Centerpoint. According to Cameron, Christianity “is in our DNA as Americans. This is a nation that was built with the idea of biblical principles and a free constitutional republic as our framework. What we're doing is simply exercising our sacred duty as parents, as Christians, and Americans to read to our children.” [Trinity Broadcasting Network, Centerpoint, 3/30/23]
- Cameron spoke live in studio on Fox & Friends about his previous story hours and mocked people in drag who came out to protest. Cameron said, “I thought it was Halloween in the beginning, it looked like the monsters in drag.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/31/23]
The Freedom Island Book Tour has already stirred conflict in local communities
On February 25, Brave Books and Cameron hosted a story hour at Tennessee's Hendersonville Public Library, which was promoted by Fox News. After the event, Fox pushed talking points from Brave Books that claimed the library wasn’t welcoming to Cameron and that he received “pushback." The library said the event had grown beyond its capacity and it was attempting to find another space for the reading.
Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary took issue with Fox’s reporting and wrote a Facebook post saying, “The library staff has been vilified unfairly. Fox News, a national outlet with nobody in Hendersonville this past week, took a comment from the publishing company that was terribly inaccurate.” Even after the conservative mayor's post, Fox continued promoting Brave Books’ version of events and ignored Clary’s criticism of the network.
In Fayetteville, protestors in drag sat quietly during the story hour, which was centered on the anti-trans book Elephants Are Not Birds. After the event, Fox published an exclusive interview with Cameron in which he called the protesters “disturbing” and mocked them as “grown men wearing silly makeup.”
In D.C., the turnout to the event was an embarrassment. But that didn’t stop guest speaker and known alt-right troll Jack Posobiec from riling up his Twitter followers over an LGBTQ pride flag inside the library.
Cameron and his fellow far-right authors appear eager to turn these events into a circus, which will only hurt local libraries and the communities they serve over the course of their tour.