A crowd of protesters flocked to the store on Monday to denounce its decision to distribute a book by a local author, conservative journalist Andy Ngo, known for documenting and highlighting instances of violence associated with Antifa on social media. The owners were forced to evacuate employees and customers out the back door. Later that day, the store announced it would not be putting the book on the shelves, but that it would remain in its online catalogue, along with many books that Powell’s itself deems “abhorrent.”
“While we understand that our decision to carry such books upsets some customers and staff members, we do not want to create an echo chamber of preapproved voices and ideas,” the company said.
However, that concession apparently failed to placate all of the protesters, as a smaller crowd was back at the store the next day, chanting slogans and vowing to force the store out of business if it failed to exercise self-censorship.
“You will lose money every day. Every day that you sell his book, we will shut down this store,” protesters could be heard shouting in footage circulating online.
Powell’s was forced to close early and evacuate customers on Tuesday as well.
Set for release in February, the book – titled ‘Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy’ – chronicles Antifa’s history of violence and its “radical plan to destroy democracy.” It is touted as an in-depth study of the origins and the history of the left-wing movement that features accounts by former supporters, as well as those who fell victim to its violence. The book is said to contain “a trove of documents obtained by the author that he will publish for the first time,” according to Amazon’s description of the tome.
While some critics of the book and the store itself have accused Powell’s of giving a platform to “fascists and racists,” others argued that Ngo had endangered protesters by exposing them, insisting that freedom of speech doesn’t protect the book since it could “incite actions that would harm others.”
Ngo’s supporters, on the other hand, decried the efforts to block the book’s distribution, calling the protesters “modern-day book burners.”
“There are few acts of censorship as overt as a mob deciding which books people should be allowed to read,” wrote author and Reason journalist Robby Soave.
Ngo, who is Asian, came to increased prominence after he was attacked by a mob of Antifa protesters while covering a rally in 2019.