January 24, 2017

Publishing during wartime, part V: The violence begins


Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at the University of Washington. Note his use of a Trump – Pence campaign sign on the podium.

So what do you get when you send a fascist provocateur out on a pre-publication book tour of college campuses? What should have been expected, that’s what: A riot culminating with a shooting occurred at a Milo Yiannopoulos appearance at the University of Washington in Seattle last Friday, as he made another stop on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” a pre-pub tour for his upcoming book Dangerous from Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions.

The incident got little coverage outside of Seattle, amidst the hoopla of the inauguration of Yiannopoloulos’s inspiration, Donald Trump, but as Benjamin Woodward details in a Seattle Times report, a day-long peaceful protest erupted into “chaos” after Yiannopoulos took the stage. Outside the hall, protestors “hurled bricks and other items at police officers… They also threw fireworks and paint” in the confrontation with Trump and Yiannopoulos supporters.

And somewhere in the melee, an unnamed thirty-two-year-old protestor was shot. (Police have not released the victim’s name. A subsequent Seattle Times report says the shooter has been arrested.)

In the hall, Yiannopoulos halted proceedings, telling everyone to stay in their seats as he left the stage,  but then, according to the Woodward report, he “returned to stage and said the show would go on. ‘If we don’t continue, they have won,’ he said as the crowd rose and cheered.”

But as Woodward reports, the shooting victim was not in fact a Trump or Yiannopoulos supporter. And meanwhile, according to a Los Angeles Times report, he’s currently in critical condition.

While Yiannopoulos’s tour has prompted increasingly rancorous protests, this one seems to have prompted Simon & Schuster to finally issue a statement on the book and the furor it has engendered — a statement that nonetheless seems as oblivious of the meaning of the developments as it does of the company’s moral vacancy in publishing the book in the first place. The letter, from S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy, assures the public that Yiannopoulos’s book will not “incite hatred, discrimination or bullying.”

Or, you know, gunfire.

As a Buzzfeed report by Jarry Lee explains, “Reidy writes that Simon & Schuster does not support, condone, or publish hate speech, and that Threshold Editions’s decision to publish Yiannopoulous’s book was editorially independent and ‘made without the involvement or knowledge of’ other publishers at S&S.”

The letter indicates how much Reidy is rattled by continuing criticism, as well as how much she is out to lunch: Substitute the names and it is a letter that would justify giving a platform to Hitler. In that, it’s as oblivious as the only other statement S&S has made so far regarding the publication of hate speech monger Yiannopoulos, which was that in the books it publishes “do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees.”

But as Colin Robinson points out in a Guardian commentary, “S&S’s disavowal sits uneasily with an assertion made by Louise Burke,” the Threshold publisher, who said, “This is an area where it really helps to be a believer. I don’t feel you can be successful in this particular genre if you are opposed to the message.”

Meanwhile, even as violence rises around Yiannopoloulos, the fronts of the big players in the book industry—such as the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the Authors Guild—remain as rooted in their support of him. None of the signatories of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) statement, decreeing that opposition to Yiannopoulos’s book is censorship, has issued any commentary on the shooting or what it signifies about the author they are endorsing.

This, despite an impressive detailing of continued opposition by one independent bookseller—The Booksmith in San Francisco—which reiterates its support of a boycott against Simon & Schuster in the newsletter of the ABA itself.

It’s a declaration worth quoting at length, especially in its citation of the many letters of support its been getting from within the industry:

The loudest voices of support have come from two groups — the first, perhaps, may surprise you, as it surprised us. The most vocal support arrived from editors, publicists, and publisher reps who sent heartfelt thanks. Some shared how horrified they were by the news of the book deal and dismay at the cynicism of Simon’s initial statement disclaiming responsibility for what they will publish.

The second group of supporters was Milo’s targets — people of color, Muslims, Jews, women, and/or LGBT folks. Conversely, the vocal critics were more likely to be straight, white, and, usually, men. Recognizing the lack of diversity and representation in our own industry, it felt necessary to point this out. Ultimately, the likelihood you will disagree with what we are doing may be inversely correlated to the degree that you’ve personally experienced hate speech.

And this last point gets to the center of why we felt we had to do what we did. In the words of Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Publishing and bookselling is a sphere where we felt we could use our buying power to add our voices to those that so often go unheard and potentially make real progress against normalizing this kind of violence and hate.

We’ve been getting mail from insiders here at MobyLives, too, including from Simon & Schuster employees sickened by the actions of their employer. They’re doing their best to stand up to the normalization of hate speech by Simon & Schuster and its supporters in the industry.

None of the letters I’m getting from S&S employees opposes a boycott.

It’s also important to note that, while I don’t back down from my earlier claim (in the first installment in this series) that the big publishers are all about the bottom line now, it should be noted that some mega-conglomerates are nonetheless better—or maybe I should say smarter—than others: according to my sources, all of the other Big Five publishers turned down the Yiannopoulos book. What’s more, according to a New York Times report, it was even turned down by Regnery Books, steadfast publisher of the right and even the ultra-right.

If that’s accurate, I say bully to all of them for refusing to support hate speech by giving it a platform at their publishing companies — a stance that, interestingly enough, makes its own statement about the NCAC position.

In any event, it makes the cynicism of Simon & Schuster all the more stark.

But enough. Don’t let them off the hook. Someone has been shot in the fight over this book. This is exactly why you don’t give a platform to fascists.

Boycott Simon & Schuster.
See part one, Publishing during wartime
See Publishing during wartime, part II
See part III, Protest of S&S and “gaslighting” is growing
See part IV, Learning from history
See part V, The violence begins
See part VI, The growing resistance
See part VII, Enter the Black Bloc, exit discernment
See part VIII, Enter the rainmaker?
See part IX, The flying monkeys multiply, but so does the opposition
See part X, Chickens, roosting

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives