Powell’s has decided to continue featuring Andy Ngo’s book, Unmasked, on their website. In response, there were protests outside Powell’s City of Books for two days.
If you haven’t been in Portland for the last year or so, this might be surprising. Let me provide some context for why Portlanders do not want Ngo’s book in a bookstore that prides itself on being a Portland staple and how Powell’s response is not appeasing many residents.
Andy Ngo is a far-right journalist who lives in Portland. Back in 2019 he was covering a Proud Boys rally when he was reportedly attacked by anti-fascists, or Antifa, members who allegedly threw a milkshake at him, punched him, and sprayed him with silly string.
Ngo has since used this alleged attack to frame Antifa members as violent and dangerous, and has garnered national attention by doing so. He has also doxxed people he claims are Antifa (meaning he revealed their personal information, including names, phone numbers, and addresses), putting them at risk of attacks from far-right extremists. This has continued throughout the last year amid the Black Lives Matter protests downtown, where there was a significant escalation in confrontations between Proud Boys and protesters.
The full title of Ngo’s book is Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy. Aside from the basic misunderstanding that Antifa is not really a group but rather the state of being anti-fascist, the title alone implies that this “group” is going to ruin the country. The title promises to be far-right, fascist propaganda that demonizes Portlanders who protest for civil rights.
Powell’s released a statement on their commitment to free speech, attempting to justify their selling of the book by saying that while they do not agree with the book, they sell it because to do otherwise would be censorship. Many Portlanders are not accepting this response.
For one, the book has not even been released yet. Powell’s is currently offering pre-orders on its website. The book has been written and is slated to release in February.
Next, Powell’s is an independent bookstore that prides itself on being integral to Portland. Publishing work by a local fascist threatens the safety of members of the community they claim to serve. The book can and will be sold, but the real question is: does Powell’s need to be selling this book?
In light of recent national events, Ngo’s book could also be seen as inciting terrorism, as we saw in D.C. in January.
Powell’s continued stance on carrying the book as a commitment to freedom of speech is valid to some extent because censorship is not the goal. However, as a local bookstore, selling a book by a far-right writer who has made it his career to disclose the personal information of residents of the city seems a bit tone-deaf. Ultimately, the decision sets Powell’s up to be a bookstore that cannot necessarily say it represents its community.