Ngo is a No-Go at Powell’s

Portland bookstore pulls anti-Antifa book after protests

It’s merely Tuesday, and I’m already back in my Sisyphean role of reporting on the week’s latest literary cancellation news. Powell’s Books will not stock Andy Ngo’s ‘Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy’ on shelves after protests at their flagship store in Portland. Critics say Ngo’s previous work about Antifa was biased, uncredible, and oftentimes faked, and that his book is no more than propaganda.

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“This is active fascism,” said one protestor identified as Root in a video from the protests. “There’s a difference between the historical value that we get from Mein Kampf, from that thing, to not repeat that. This is different. This is active fascism that we can do something about right now.”

Ngo is a social media personality who rose to virality by filming and sharing Portland street protests. He made headlines in June 2019 after antifascist demonstrators hit him with a milkshake during a Proud Boys rally. (Ngo later said he suffered a brain injury as a result.) He livestreamed the event, and the video went viral, causing the Proud Boys to organize a followup event a month later. A magazine story later revealed that Ngo, previously claiming to be an independent journalist, was a longtime right-wing provocateur, worked closely with the conservative group Patriot Prayer, and coordinated his coverage with these allies. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch indicates that Ngo goes viral off of misrepresenting facts.

“Portland’s largest bookstore has announced it will not be stocking my upcoming book…on its shelves,” said Ngo in his only response to the decision. He has shared videos of the protests to his Twitter feed, as is his custom, as well as directed fans to other ways to buy his book.

“This book will not be placed on our shelves. We will not promote it,” said representatives for Powell’s in a statement. “That said, it will remain in our online catalog. We carry a lot of books we find abhorrent, as well as those that we treasure. We believe it is the work of bookselling to do so.”

“We are dedicated to providing a wide array of books, authors, viewpoints, and voices, and our selection is one of the things that sets Powell’s apart from our peers in bookselling. We provide these options out of deference to the First Amendment, but just as importantly, because we believe that exposure to a multiplicity of writing—in fiction and nonfiction alike—facilitates critical thinking and spurs conversation and growth,” the Powell’s statement continues, seemingly in defense of their decision to sell the book online.

Critics continue to ask Powell’s to pull Ngo’s book from their online store. On Monday, protests outside of the indie bookstore forced the store to close early. Ngo reports on Twitter that demonstrators returned again on Tuesday, and Antifa has planned follow-up actions. I’m sure those tweets completely lack bias.

The protests at Powell’s, publicized by Ngo’s online platform, have caused his supporters to buy the book in question in droves. A quick search of Ngo’s name on Twitter reveals hundreds of tweets from supporters, including receipts for their recent purchase of his cancelled book. Amazon lists Unmasked as #1 today in Best Sellers—with George Orwell’s 1984 in the #2 spot.

 

Supporters like Abigail Shrier, who’s trying for a Book & Film Globe trifecta, decried the decision as cowardice.

Ngo’s critics push for a larger-scale deplatforming of the author. Journalist Donovan Farley wrote an incredibly meticulous thread that details his history and practices.

New York Times journalist Sarah Jeong, who has her own history of online controversy, writes on Twitter: “Ngo is dangerous. The chilling effects of his intentional misframing and misreporting are well-known in this city. If he puts your face out there, people—dressed exactly like the people who stormed the Capitol—show up at your house.”

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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