Oklahoma enlists notorious right-wing zealot to guide school library policy
Ellen Ochoa Elementary School, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was among the dozens of schools that received bomb threats last year after being targeted by the far-right Libs of TikTok account. The account, run by Chaya Raichik, trafficks in anti-LGBTQ bigotry and has previously been suspended by social media platforms for “hateful conduct.” Raichik's posts have also inspired violent threats to children’s hospitals, a public library, and even an animal shelter.
This week Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters tapped Raichik to join the state’s Library Media Advisory Committee.
“No one has done more to expose what the radical left is all about than @ChayaRaichik10 and @libsoftiktok,” Walters wrote on X. “Her unique perspective is invaluable as part of my plan to make Oklahoma schools safer for kids and friendly to parents,” the superintendent added in a statement.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education says that the committee will be tasked with “removing pornographic or sexualized content from public schools in the State of Oklahoma." According to the Department, the committee “is a volunteer advisory board appointed by Walters” and “is made up of parents, current or retired librarians and English literature teachers.” It’s unclear how Raichik is qualified for the position. A former real estate agent, Raichik has never been a librarian nor does she have any professional background in education. She also doesn’t live in Oklahoma.
Over the last few years, Raichik has been busy directing outrage at LGBTQ people, immigrants, people of color, and victims of police violence. Her account, Libs of TikTok, has 2.8 million followers on X and has been amplified by the likes of Matt Walsh and Elon Musk. It’s also been credited by Tucker Carlson for inspiring the passage of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill. The account has also been linked to multiple incidences of harassment and threats against both individuals and institutions.
In Oklahoma alone, two school districts received bomb threats in 2023 after Libs of TikTok posted about them, the Oklahoma Voice reported. One district, Union Public Schools, received bomb threats for “six consecutive days” after Libs of TikTok shared a video of an elementary school librarian. In the video, the librarian jokes about pushing a “woke agenda,” but the librarian also wrote in the caption accompanying the video that their “radical liberal agenda is teaching kids to love books and be kind.” Libs of TikTok, however, published the video without the caption.
Walters also quote-tweeted the post, saying “Democrats say it doesn’t exist. The liberal media denies the issue. Even some Republicans hide from it. Woke ideology is real, and I am here to stop it.” His post garnered nearly 900,000 views.“[T]he threats against the schools began the morning of Walters tweet,” according to Rolling Stone.
This wasn’t the first time the superintendent has stoked panic around “leftist” indoctrination.
Like Raichik, Walters has spent the last few years portraying himself as a culture warrior. In 2022, Walters, then Oklahoma Secretary of Education, asked the Oklahoma State Board of Education to revoke the certificate of an English teacher who had shared a link to the Brooklyn Public’s Library “Books Unbanned,” an initiative to expand access to books in light of increasing censorship measures. Walters, who is a former history teacher, boasts that he has “removed 14 teaching certificates” since becoming superintendent in 2023 and is filing for “17 more to be removed.”
In September 2023, after Libs of TikTok repeatedly called out an Oklahoman elementary principal in the Western Heights School District for performing as a drag queen in his free time, Walters called for the principal’s firing on Fox News. Following the incident, the district received a bomb threat. During this time, Walters “posted a photo with Raichik and praised her as doing ‘more for transparency and accountability in schools than most elected officeholders,’” Vice reported. Walters also launched an investigation into the hiring practices of the district, saying it was “simply unacceptable” that the district “put a drag queen in charge of one of our schools.”
Walters' alleged mismanagement of millions in federal COVID relief funding
In 2020, the state of Oklahoma was given “$360 million for Oklahoma’s public education systems to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic” by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Walters assisted the Florida-based company ClassWallet in “win[ning] a no-bid state contract to rapidly distribute $8 million” of the funds with “little government oversight.” Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, a nonprofit where Walters served as executive director, managed the program. ClassWallet was paid $650,000 from the federal funds to run the program.
An investigation by the Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found that some families used the federal emergency funds “to buy Christmas trees, gaming consoles, electric fireplaces and outdoor grills.” The investigation “found nearly half a million dollars in questionable purchases,” including “at least 548 TVs purchased through ClassWallet worth $191,000.” Other purchases made using the federal funds included “pressure washers, car stereo equipment, coffee makers, exercise gear and smart watches.”
A review by the U.S. Department of Education found that Stitt put the funds “at potential risk for fraud, waste, and abuse.” Stitt blamed ClassWallet for allowing families to use the funds to purchase items unrelated to educational supplies. But according to Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier, Walters had the chance to place restrictions on what was eligible for families to purchase with the funds. A ClassWallet employee asked Walters over email what items were eligible, and Walters responded that the company had “[b]lanket approval with vendors on your platform.”
A lawsuit against ClassWallet was filed by former Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor in August 2022. But it was dismissed at the beginning of 2023 by current Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who argued that it was “clear that a number of state actors and other individuals are ultimately responsible for millions in misspent federal relief dollars.”
In July 2022, auditors from the U.S. Department of Education recommended that Oklahoma return “more than $650,000 in misspent federal coronavirus relief funds,” and that “an additional $5.5 million in purchases” be reviewed. A state audit completed in June found that “almost 20% of purchases” through the program “were spent on non-educational items.” In August 2023, the FBI reportedly began an investigation into the program’s misuse of federal funds.
Walters' Koch connection
In October 2022, Walters received a $5,000 donation from Koch Industries. Charles Koch, the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, has spent millions of dollars to help right-wing Republicans win elected office.
In a 2020 profile in the Wall Street Journal, however, Koch said that his “partisanship was a mistake” and that he would no longer be participating in it. Koch said he wanted “work together with Democrats and liberals” and devote resources “to building bridges across partisan divides to find answers to sprawling social problems” instead. Koch said that his network’s efforts to elect far-right politicians was a “screw-up” and a “mess.”
In 2022, other donations to Walters included $5,000 from American Fidelity Corporation and $5,000 from the 1776 Project PAC, a political action committee dedicated to electing officials “who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history.” The PAC website states that it is committed to “abolishing critical race theory and ‘The 1619 Project’ from the public school curriculum.” (Critical Race Theory is a complex legal theory that is not taught in K-12 schools.) In 2023, Walters, who has also appeared on the PAC’s podcast, was fined by the state ethics commission for failing to disclose the donation from the 1776 Project PAC. Walters eventually reported the donation a year late.