White supremacists briefly took over a reading by author Jonathan Metzl at the flagship location for Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington D.C. on Saturday, shouting “this land is our land” and marching through the store yelling the name of a group that helped to organize the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally.
The incident interrupted Independent Bookstore Day celebrations at the store and occurred at the same time that the first national Antiracist Book Festival was being held at nearby American University.
“We had no warning that they would be coming, although the author told us after that he’s been the recipient of attacks by them,” said Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics and Prose, who was in the store when 10 white supremacists marched through the door.
For safety reasons, bookselling staff did not intercede, nor did Metzl, who had just begun a presentation on his book Dying of Whiteness.
Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department told PW that they were investigating the matter as a “bias-related incident,” and Graham said that D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser’s office checked in with him following the incident.
The group was caught on video by onlookers as audience members booed. Their leader could be heard saying, “You would have the white working class trade their homeland for handouts. But we, as nationalists, and identitarians, can offer the workers of this country, a homeland, our birthright, in addition to health care, good jobs and so forth." They then marched from the store shouting “AIM”—the American Identity Movement—which was formerly a hate group called Identity Evropa.
Twitter users subsequently claimed to have identified a number of the members of the group at the reading. PW has not independently corroborated those claims.
Graham said that protests have occurred at readings from time to time, most recently at a reading by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in March by people who disagreed with immigration policies implemented during her tenure.
“It’s regrettable that groups like this feel compelled to stage a scene,” said Graham. “Independent bookstores see their mission as providing forums for free and open discussion but along with that comes—we would hope—recognition that exchanges need to be civil and respectful and need to follow certain rules of decorum.”
American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher wrote by e-mail that, "it appears that both the store and author were able to quickly move on and use the protest as an opportunity for more discussion. Of course, any effort to interfere with the exercise of free speech is always disappointing. But, it points to the critically important role indie bookstores play in their communities."
Graham emphasized that the incident was a “blip” in a day that included customers participating in Independent Bookstore Day’s passport program to visit bookstores across the city, as well as a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hear a reading by his former colleague Angie Kim from her book Miracle Creek.
Correction: This article has been updated with new information.