Note: this story has been updated.
Far-right provocateur Andy Ngo has few fans in Portland—and his forthcoming book has only made his opponents louder.
In an email to Portland Monthly, journalist Tuck Woodstock called out what they see as a clear pattern of harassment and online abuse by Ngo.
“Over the last several months, Andy has used his massive social media platform to target dozens of journalists and protesters, sharing their identifying information with his 762K twitter followers alongside inflammatory and often false captions,” they write. “This has happened to such an extent that protest attendees started making, ‘I got doxed by Andy Ngo and all I got was this t-shirt’-style merch. Multiple protest attendees have experienced so much harassment after being targeted by Andy that they changed their addresses.”
Now, in the wake of the assault on the US Capitol and the subsequent banishment of President Trump and many far-right radicals from social media, protesters in Portland demanded that Powell's remove Ngo's book from its inventory, many assembling outside the downtown store, leading management to close it early twice this week. Powell's announced Monday the book would be available online but not in stores, citing its longstanding policy of selling objectionable books. But Woodstock says the issue is bigger than that.
“I presume that the reason folks are asking Powell’s not to carry Andy's book is not (just) because they don't like him as a person,” they write, “it's because he has built a following by repurposing other journalists' content to create fake news narratives, and uses that following to direct harassment towards individual Portlanders. There's no reason to think that his book wouldn't be more of the same.”
Meanwhile, Emily Powell released a letter responding to the "hundreds of emails, calls, and social media comments" and explaining her decision to keep the book available online: "Our current fight 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. But we have always sold books that many of us would reject." The letter went out to the store's mailing list on Wednesday.
Read Emily Powell's full letter here:
Dear Powell's community,
At Powell’s, a lot of our inventory is hand-selected, and hand-promoted. And a lot of our inventory is not. Unmasked by Andy Ngo came to us via one of our long-term and respected publishers, Hachette Book Group. We list the majority of their catalogue on Powells.com automatically, as do many other independent and larger retailers. We have a similar arrangement with other publishers.
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.
As many of you may be following these events, I want to offer additional context about our decision to allow this book to remain online.
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. We could feel proud of our choices, even when the choices created conflict.
Our current fight 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. But we have always sold books that many of us would reject. We have fought for decades, at Powell’s, for the right of a book to stand on its own. Doing so is one of our core values as booksellers.
In our history we have sold many copies of books we find objectionable. We do that in spite of all the reasons not to, because we believe that making the published word available is an important and crucial step in shedding light on the dark corners of the public discourse. It is actually a leap of faith into the vortex of the power of the written word and our fellow citizens to make sense of it.
That leap of faith is inextricably woven into our existence as Powell's: faith in our customers is what first propelled us from a small corner store into who we are today. We recognize that not every reader has good intentions, or will arrive at a writer’s intended destination, but we do believe that faith must extend to our community of readers. That offering the printed word in all its beauty and gore, must ultimately move us forward. As my father says, if your principles are only your principles sometimes, they’re not principles at all.
President and Owner