Alabama GOP chairman suggests state consider withdrawal from American Library Association

By John Sharp 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speaks during a luncheon hosted by the Eastern Shore Republican Women on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at the Fairhope Yacht Club in Fairhope, Ala. In the background is John Wahl, chairman of the Alabama State GOP. (John Sharp/

The head of the Alabama Republican Party says it might be time to remove the state and its public libraries from associating with the American Library Association.

John Wahl, chairman of the Alabama GOP, said he “does not want to be associated with an organization whose head is an open Marxist,” and confirmed that he’s requested the Alabama Attorney General’s Office investigate whether the state’s library board can remove Alabama’s affiliation from ALA.

The professional organization has been the leading group pushing back against book bans nationwide.

“I think the big question is if there is anything in state law requiring the state board to recognize local libraries based on ALA (affiliation),” Wahl said after speaking Thursday during an Eastern Shore Republican Women’s luncheon in Fairhope in which libraries and concerns over books at libraries and schools dominated the issues discussed.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who also spoke at the luncheon, said he was unfamiliar with the request and declined comment.

‘Marxism’ focus

Wahl is just the latest in a growing line of conservative lawmakers and activists requesting their states or cities to withdraw from the ALA based largely on the organization’s defense of disputed books, many of which have LGBTQ+ or racial themes.

State libraries in Montana, Missouri, and Texas have announced they are leaving ALA with conservative lawmakers in at least nine states demanding similar action.

Part of the reason for the push stems from a tweet by ALA President Emily Drabinski last year in which she called herself a “Marxist lesbian.”

“Marxism by nature is a powerful central government that people are dependent on,” said Wahl. “The competition (against) that is strong family units, faith in God and local communities.”

He added, “The question has to be if we need to separate. I don’t want to be associated with an organization whose head is an open Marxist.”

The ALA, a nonprofit, has denied it has political agenda. It has said it remains a nonpartisan organization.

Gregory Magarian, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who followed Missouri’s departure from the ALA, said that severing the associational tie to the ALA for conservative states “makes the libraries more beholden to state government and more vulnerable to state government pressures.”

“Alongside that motive, I think these state governments want to make libraries into culture war battlegrounds,” Magarian said. “At a deeper level, I think public libraries, like public education, are anathema to conservative ideology. Conservatives don’t like government services, especially to lower income populations. They don’t like when people gain value while no one makes a profit. They want conservative managers to control cultural institutions … why wouldn’t they want to weaken, or preferably eliminate, public libraries?”

Bans, censorship

Indeed, the ALA is caught in the middle of a culture war that has exploded into libraries nationwide over the type of books that are displayed inside youth or children sections. The battles have animated city council and local library board meetings around the state this summer in cities like Prattville, Mobile, Foley, and Fairhope.

Wahl said the movement is not about “banning books,” saying that Republicans are “not about banning anything.”

He blamed Democrats for supporting “banning books,” accusing left-wing politicians and activists for pushing censorship.

“Conservatives are not the advocates of censorship, it’s the left,” said Wahl. “I will not be boxed into a false narrative. We need to be bold on this.”

The ALA has reported that book ban requests were at an all-time high last year at schools and public libraries. More than 1,200 challenges were compiled by the association in 2022, nearly double the record from 2021 and the most since the ALA began keeping data 20 years ago.

Democratic-controlled legislatures have taken a different approach to the debate. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed on June 12, a first-of-its-kind law that prohibits Illinois public libraries from restricting or banning materials because of “partisan or doctrinal” disapproval. Violators are ineligible for state funding as of Jan. 1, 2024, when the new law goes into effect.

Wahl said that conservatives are more concerned about children encountering questionable content.

“We are talking about what is appropriate,” he said. “Is the use of taxpayer funding to buy books with sexually explicit content for children appropriate? I say ‘No.’ We don’t want it in the children’s section where innocent children can get a hold of it.”

Wahl’s comments also come one day after the executive board of the Alabama Public Library Service voted on a resolution creating a list of books with content that people might find inappropriate for teenagers and children.

Wahl, who is a member of the board, sponsored the resolution which he called a “good first step.”

“We cannot sweep this under the rug,” he said.

South Alabama

Patrick McWilliams
Patrick McWilliams, chairman of the Baldwin County Republican Party, speaks during a luncheon hosted by the Eastern Shore Republican Women on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at the Fairhope Yacht Club in Fairhope, Ala. (John Sharp/

But Wahl admitted that the state board does not have the authority to regulate local libraries. He said the state can provide the list and create a guideline for local libraries to follow.

Patrick McWilliams, chairman of the Baldwin County Republican Party, said his organization’s executive board plans to vote on a resolution Saturday to recommend the Baldwin County Commission provide oversight of the Baldwin County Library Cooperative, which consists of 13 public libraries and one bookmobile.

He said the commission, which consists of all Republicans, has financial oversight of the county’s public libraries.

In nearby Mobile County, a group of local conservative activists have hinted that they might challenge up to 30 library books.

Tara McCook, speaking before the Mobile City Council during Tuesday’s meeting, struck back, and said efforts to “threaten our library” are about things “that are not even true.”

Her comments drew a reaction from two council members who said the Mobile City Council has not wavered in supporting LGBTQ people and causes.

“LGBTQ Moibilians are Mobilians, end of story,” she said. “These are our neighbors, friends, and family members. Every Mobilian … we deserve a community that serves us and institutions that serve us. We do not have to be defined by the lies on social media and cable news and those who do not live here and do not care about us.”