Last week, Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. closed early for several days after protestors plastered signs on the store's windows opposing the store's offer of pre-orders of conservative journalist Andy Ngo's book Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy on its website. The book will be released in February by Center Street, the conservative imprint of Hachette Book Group. The protests have since been suspended after activist and protest organizer Dustin Brandon cited the need to do so resulting from the presence of counter-protestors and online threats against his life.
The entire incident was inflamed last week when the store tweeted, "This book will not be placed on our shelves. We will not promote it. That said, it will remain in our online catalog. We carry a lot of books we find abhorrent, as well as those that we treasure." This was followed two days later by a statement from bookstore owner Emily Powell, who issued a statement putting her decision in context. Powell then directed readers to the store's statement in support of freedom of speech.
Following Powell's statement, ILWU Local 5, the union representing Powell's employees issued a statement condemning Ngô, "and everything he represents," but also noting that the union has no control over what the store sells and has no power to negotiate this with the management. That choice is Powell's "alone to make" said the union, which then went on to encourage anyone concerned about the book to send their criticism to Hachette directly.
The union emphasized that its top priority was the safety of the store's employees and that they are in regular touch with representatives from management who have notified them of the steps that are being taken to keep all employees safe.
PEN Offers Support
PEN America, the free-speech advocacy literary organization, issued a press release announcing its support for Powell's decision to sell Unmasked. "We stand with Powell’s in their decision to carry Ngo’s book. Bookstores play an essential role in ensuring the public’s right to access a wide range of information and knowledge,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs. “Selling a book does not equal endorsement, and as we reckon with the divisions in our country, we must recognize and cherish the right of bookstores to offer the perspectives of authors from across the political spectrum—even those that some may find offensive. Shutting down avenues to access those voices, even if appealing to some in this current moment, would set a troubling precedent of censorship for years to come.”