Publisher drops children’s illustrator for anti-trans notes

Apr 5, 2023, 2:38 PM

The children's book "You Are Home With Me," illustrated by Mitchell Thomas Watley, is shown at a bo...

The children's book "You Are Home With Me," illustrated by Mitchell Thomas Watley, is shown at a bookstore in Portland, Ore. in this April 5, 2023 photo. Publisher Sasquatch books, owned by Penguin Random House, said Wednesday, April 5, 2023, it has ended its publishing relationship with Watley after he was arrested on allegations of leaving violent, transphobic notes in stores around Juneau, Alaska. Watley told police he was motivated by fear following a deadly school shooting in Nashville that sparked online backlash about the shooter's gender identity, court records show. (AP Photo/Claire Rush)

(AP Photo/Claire Rush)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A children’s book illustrator from Alaska known for drawing mother-baby animal pairs like sea otters and wolves was dropped by his publisher this week after authorities allege he left transphobic notes threatening children.

Mitchell Thomas Watley, 47, will have a preliminary hearing April 11 in Juneau on a single count of terroristic threatening for allegedly placing notes in businesses that included an assault rifle superimposed over the transgender flag. The text on the notes read: “Feeling Cute Might Shoot Some Children.”

The notes were found during a period of social media profile.

After the Nashville shooting, a false and baseless online narrative emerged that claimed there’s been a rise in transgender or nonbinary mass shooters in recent years. Some pundits and political influencers on social media went further, falsely suggesting that movements for trans rights are radicalizing activists into terrorists.

Court documents show that Watley referenced the Nashville shooting suspect after his arrest. Watley, who lives in the small coastal city of Juneau 575 miles (923 kilometers) southeast of Anchorage had his $10,000 bail paid by his wife, according to online records.

“Officers spoke to Mitchell, who said (in essence) that he was in fear of the recent transgender school shooter and took it upon himself to print out and distribute these leaflets,” the criminal complaint said.

Online records didn’t list an attorney for Watley. A man who didn’t identify himself answered the door at the couple’s home and said there would be no comment.

In Juneau, booksellers removed the books Watley illustrated for his wife, Sarah Asper-Smith. Their publisher, Sasquatch Books, owned by Penguin Random House, said Wednesday it has ended its publishing relationship with Watley and will discontinue selling their books.

Watley is best known as the illustrator for three children’s books written by his wife, including “I Would Tuck You In” and “You Are Home With Me.” The books for children ages 1 to 5 feature mother animals snuggling their young and trying to make them feel safe with loving, affirmative statements like “wherever you may be, you will always have a home with me.”

Juneau merchants began removing Asper-Smith’s books from their shelves this week, but only the ones with illustrations by her husband. She does not face charges.

Pat Race with Alaska Robotics Gallery, a downtown Juneau store, said the shop has hosted gallery shows and book releases for Watley and carried his artwork for years.

“Whatever the motivation, we feel Mitch’s actions were not consistent with our values or the values of our community,” he said in a statement on social media. “In that light, we’ve decided to pull all of Mitch’s books and artwork from our shelves.”

Christy NaMee Eriksen, who owns Kindred Post, a store in downtown Juneau, has also removed the books.

Eriksen said in a social media post the actions that Watley is accused of are “terrifying and transphobic.”

“We have little patience for acts of disrespect, and we have no tolerance for hatred against marginalized groups,” Eriksen said. “Members of the trans community are our community.”

Tori Weaver, a co-owner of Rainy Retreat Books in downtown Juneau, said the retailer pulled Watley’s books, which she said were “incredibly” popular, particularly during the busy summer tourism months.

“We don’t want to alienate any of our customers,” she said.

The first of several notes was found in a grocery store Friday, which was International Day of Transgender Visibility. That discovery prompted Juneau schools to increase security, and some parents kept their children home. Another was found at the Alaska State Office Building. The last notes were found Sunday at a Costco, and police used the store’s surveillance video to track the man who left the notes to his vehicle. Vehicle registration records led them to Watley, who was arrested Sunday, authorities said.

The incident also came as lawmakers across the country consider bills limiting the rights of transgender people, including in Alaska where a bill from Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has garnered significant attention.

It would require parental permission before a student can use a different name or pronoun in school records; that sex ed classes require parental notice and permission and that schools must provide for locker rooms or restrooms based on “biological sex” or access to single-occupant facilities.

The bill remains in its first committee in the House. Senate leaders in a bipartisan majority of nine Democrats and eight Republicans have already indicated the bill isn’t expected to advance on their side.

“The anti-trans rhetoric around the country has had an effect on hate crimes or attempted hate crimes like this one,” said Caitlin Shortell, an Anchorage civil rights attorney and board member of Identity Inc., which offers community services and focused health care to the LGBTQ+ community.

She said transgender people rarely commit mass shootings and are more likely to be victims of violence.

“And we’ve seen nationwide, and in Alaska, initiatives to discriminate against trans people in the name of protecting children, and I link this to attempted crimes like the one that we averted in Juneau,” Shortell said. “I think that we can expect more of this as this campaign against transgender and LGBTQ people in general continues around the nation and in our state.”


Thiessen reported from Anchorage. AP Writer Claire Rush contributed from Portland, Oregon.

National News

FILE - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks at a news conference after the House passed t...

Associated Press

Speaker McCarthy eyes new commission to tackle nation’s debt, but many Democrats are wary

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is studying the history books and considering the appointment of a mix of lawmakers and business leaders as he lays the groundwork for a new commission to tackle the nation’s growing debt. McCarthy is fresh off his biggest political victory since becoming speaker in January. He got the […]

22 hours ago

Associated Press

Trump indicted in classified documents case in a historic first for a former president

MIAMI (AP) — mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, a remarkable development that makes him the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges by the federal government that he once oversaw. The Justice Department was expected to make public a seven-count indictment ahead of a historic court appearance next week in […]

22 hours ago

Associated Press

Louisiana governor says he intends to veto anti-LGBTQ+ bills including ban on gender-affirming care

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said Thursday he intends to veto a package of bills passed by the GOP-dominated legislature that targets the LGBTQ+ community, including a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors and the state’s version of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Edwards has said throughout […]

22 hours ago

FILE - Attorney General Merrick Garland announces Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the Just...

Associated Press

Trump indicted: What to know about the documents case and what’s next

Donald Trump’s indictment on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate has brought renewed attention to one of the most notable cases in Justice Department history. The federal charges represent the biggest legal jeopardy so far for Trump, coming less than three months after he was charged in New York with 34 felony […]

22 hours ago

FILE - President Donald Trump sits at his desk after a meeting with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, left,...

Associated Press

Live updates | Trump Classified Documents Indictment

MIAMI (AP) — Follow along for live updates on indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate. The Justice Department did not immediately publicly confirm the indictment. ___ What to know: — Signs that Trump could face criminal charges began to pile up this month — Who is Jack Smith, the special […]

22 hours ago

Associated Press

Lawyers blame ChatGPT for tricking them into citing bogus case law

NEW YORK (AP) — Two apologetic lawyers responding to an angry judge in Manhattan federal court blamed ChatGPT Thursday for tricking them into including fictitious legal research in a court filing. Attorneys Steven A. Schwartz and Peter LoDuca are facing possible punishment over a filing in a lawsuit against an airline that included references to […]

22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Publisher drops children’s illustrator for anti-trans notes