Controversy at Powell's Books
Why is journalist Andy Ngo creating such a fuss?
Founded in 1971, Powell’s Bookstore has been a fixture of downtown Portland, Oregon for decades, and is one the largest independent bookstores in the country. Unsurprisingly, there have been issues over the years regarding certain books sold by the retailer. Such tension came to a head several weeks ago, however, when the store was actually forced to close earlier than scheduled for consecutive days after protesters plastered signs on its’ windows. What was causing all the commotion? It was opposition to Powell’s offer of pre-orders of conservative journalist/activist Andy Ngo’s new book Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy. The following Monday, Powell’s communicated through social media that they would not be carrying or promoting the book inside their store. They would, however, keep the title in their online catalog. Additionally, the owner of the bookstore, Emily Powell, released the following statement:
Since Sunday, Powell’s has received hundreds of emails, calls, and social media comments calling for us to remove Unmasked from Powells.com. Demonstrations outside our Burnside store have forced us to close to ensure the safety of employees, protestors, and neighbors. If we need to remain closed, we will not hesitate to do so… Since the first published texts there have been calls to disown different printed work, and at Powell’s we have a long history of experiencing these calls, and the threats they bring with them, firsthand. Until recently, the threats were from those who objected that we carried books written by authors we respected or subjects we supported. The threats were real but we could feel virtuous- we were bringing the written word to the light of day.” (Defending Ngo’s book, though)… “does not feel virtuous…it feels ugly and sickening to give any air to writing that could cause such deep pain to members of our community.”
Why has this writer and why has his book created such a stir? Best known for covering street protests in Portland, Ngo has built a large following, as well as a large opposition. Several major media outlets have written articles highly critical of him, typically accusing him of being biased and using manipulative tactics. The Oregonian has described him as a “right wing provocateur”. The Southern Poverty Law Center stated in an interview that Ngo “promotes a false equivalence (between left and right political violence in the US), when there’s no such equivalence at all…”
I spoke with local journalists/activists familiar with Ngo, and the criticism was even harsher. Garrison Davis, co-host of Uprising: A Guide from Portland and an independent journalist affiliated with Bellingcat shared with me the following about Ngo:
“I think he is first and foremost a grifter, he had made a career out of putting himself in situations to be a victim, and then bends reality for his fans to create a whole different world of "truth." I have never really interacted with him, though he often embeds my protest footage in his tweets and passes off my footage as his own in articles for The Post Millennial and other right wing news sites.”
When I asked him about Ngo’s recent fleeing from Portland, he responded,
“I don't know much about (that), though he has pulled similar shticks in the past, around a year and a half ago he claimed to have moved to LA to escape antifa, again all part of his victim grift.”
Such criticism of Mr. Ngo has not prevented him from becoming a popular figure on the right, though, as his personal Twitter account has nearly 750k followers, and his book is predicted to become a top seller.