Responding to customer outcry, Powell's Books announced Monday it would not carry in its stores a book by the conservative pundit Andy Ngo critical of Portland anti-fascists, but would continue to sell it online.
The compromise appeared to please no one, and instead intensified criticism of the Portland bookseller.
"We carry books that we find anywhere from simply distasteful or badly written to execrable, as well as those that we treasure," Powell's said in a statement. "We believe it is the work of bookselling to do so."
The statement continued: "Decades ago, we received credible bomb threats for selling the work of Salman Rushdie, and yet we carried on. We cannot behave any differently today when we feel differently about the book or writer in question."
Ngo is perhaps the single most famous media figure in Portland, and few people have played so large a role in creating the American perception of antifa as a public menace. In 2019, masked protesters assaulted him while he filmed an anti-fascist protest downtown. He has also been repeatedly accused of selective reporting and exaggerations, and of coordinating with right-wing brawlers. His practice of posting mug shots and personal information of people arrested at Portland protests has enraged many local progressives.
His book, Unmasked: Inside Antifa's Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy, will be published by Hachette on Feb. 21. Over the weekend, local activists launched an online campaign demanding Powell's drop the book.
Powell's responded that it had not hand-selected the book, but copies had been automatically supplied by Hachette, the publisher. The bookseller said it would not promote the book, or place it on store shelves.
That answer satisfied few. Several dozen people protested outside the front doors of Powell's City of Books on West Burnside Street on Monday afternoon, blocking the front doors, and pledged to return Tuesday morning. Others criticized Powell's for bowing to pressure about which books it would stock.
In response to an inquiry from WW, Ngo said he was disappointed.
"Given that Powell's dedicates part of every year to banned and censored books, it's a shame they've made the decision to restrict in-store sales of a book by a local author weeks ahead of release," he said. "However, I also have sympathy for them given how ruthless Antifa have been in vandalizing and hurting local businesses."