January 14, 2021
Anti-Antifa book protested at Powell’s Books; free speech confusion continues
by Mike Lindgren
Protestors have gathered at famous indie bookstore Powell’s, in Portland, Oregon, to express their opposition to the store’s selling of Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy, by right-wing
clown nincompoop gadfly Andy Ngo.
According to industry tip sheet Shelf Awareness and West Coast newspaper The Oregonian, Powell’s does not stock or display the book, but it can be ordered on the store’s website. This seems to the former booksellers on our staff to be an outstanding solution; you’re not banning the book, but you’re not exactly bragging about its availability. After all, decisions of this kind are made at an enormous scale all across media and retail industries, constantly.
While we are at it, we would like to remind free speech advocates across the political spectrum that only the government can violate your First (or indeed any) Amendment rights. Let’s say that once all together now: ONLY THE GOVERNMENT CAN VIOLATE YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. Protestors try to persuade a privately owned merchant not to sell a certain book: not censorship. The police come and close your store and seize your books: censorship.
Another example, just picked at random: let’s say a privately owned social media web site decides to exclude you from its user base. It’s not censorship because it’s not coming from the government.
That’s not to say that pressure shouldn’t be brought to bear; it’s just a question of identifying the true source of the problem. One place to start might be international publishing companies who choose to publish books by high-profile reactionaries and stooges, just to make a buck. But that’s a different fight entirely.
Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.