Members of the Missouri Republican Party have been widely condemned after they were filmed participating in a symbolic book burning at the St. Charles County Freedom Fest over the weekend.
State Senator Bill Eigel—a GOP candidate for the Missouri governorship who has pledged to burn books if elected—is seen on camera gleefully using a flamethrower to burn empty cardboard boxes while joined by State Senator Nick Schroer, highlighting what he would actually do to books if given the chance.
Eigel defended the video in a statement to the Kansas City Star, saying it's symbolic of what he wants to do "to the leftist policies and RINO corruption of the Jeff City swamp."
“But let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too - on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”
You can see what happened in the video below.
Eigel's remarks reflect a consensus among members of the far-right that schools are "indoctrinating" their children through liberal thought.
As such, conservatives around the country have increased their number of attempts to challenge literary materials in schools and public libraries. According to a report from the American Library Association, these attempts reached a record high in 2022.
But Eigel's pledge goes further.
Public book burnings have historically symbolized extreme censorship, often associated with political, cultural, and religious suppression. They have invoked memories of atrocities like, as the Kansas City Star noted, "the burning of Jewish texts in Nazi Germany and racist bonfires conducted by the Ku Klux Klan."
Schroer also defended the video, telling reporters that Republicans were burning empty boxes at the event, which was hosted by the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee. He emphasized that they were not burning books and accused critics of spreading false information.
He nonetheless published a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, in which he gloated about "Burning down the swamp!"
Eigel himself repeated his prior statement, insisting that the boxes were not filled with books.
Nonetheless, their actions have been severely criticized.
The video's controversy highlights a more extensive conversation in Missouri regarding the content of books.
In the earlier part of the year, House Republicans, in response to a lawsuit challenging a new state law that prohibited certain materials in school libraries, initially reduced the state budget for libraries by $4.5 million. However, these funds were subsequently restored by the Senate.
Eigel has pushed back against his critics, urging his supporters to visit his campaign’s website “to fight back against these woke radicals.”
Organizations like PEN America, which raises awareness for the protection of free expression in the United States and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights, have tracked these events, charging they curtail academic freedom and freedom of expression and threaten diverse voices in literature.