The picture at the top of this post is a protest, at a bookstore. It is protesting a book that was not realized yet. I doubt a single protester had read the book. They knew its title. They knew its author. Most important of all they knew the subject.
The subject of the book is the protesters. It is not just those protesters, but them and other loosely affiliated groups across the nation and in other countries. They are protesting the fact that Powell’s Books in Portland, one of the largest independent bookstores, if not the largest, in the nation, was planning to carry the book.
Who are these people trying to silence a yet to be published book? Is it the descendants of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition? Is it Tipper Gore and the rest of the PMRC? Perhaps it is the ghosts of the San Francisco and New York City censors who arrested Lenny Bruce?
Nope, it was the street army of the far left known as Antifa.
The current president says Antifa is just an idea, not a real organization. In that he is misinformed, and, to be honest, a bit insulting. Antifa in the United States is, as I said, a set of loosely affiliated groups nationwide. They were organized enough that Facebook has recently shut down some of their accounts, although others remain. Most significantly, they are the current incarnation of a group with a long and storied history, Antifaschistische Aktion.
The name was first used in Germany in 1932 by a group from the German Communist Party. When you read about street violence between Nazis and Communists in Germany prior to the final Nazi takeover, Antifa was there. They were one of the last, if not the last, group to oppose the Nazis in the street.
The book this storied, if somewhat amorphous group, is protest is Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy by Andy Ngo. As the title should imply, it’s a tell-all book about the modern American incarnation of Antifa. That’s my copy on the left, just delivered today by Amazon.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.C. S. Lewis On the Reading of Old Books
As a rule, I have given up on contemporary books about contemporary partisan politics. As Lewis says, every age has its own outlook and much of that outlook is embodied in contemporary politics. However, politics is about people and getting people to define themselves as a group and work together as that group. Politics is as much about psychology and sociology as it is about the specific issues of the day.
I tend to read books for deeper insights and contemporary partisan political books are at best summaries of what I could have heard on CNN and Fox or read in the New York Times and the London Daily Mail. At worst, they are little more than screeds of moral superiority for the author’s position and the moral degeneracy of the other side’s world view. You know the books. They are Ann Coulter books like Treason and Godless with the one-word condemnation of her foes in the title and her striking figure and long blonde hair on the cover. If your tastes in partisan politics run to the left a good example would be Rachel Maddow’s Bag Man which promises a wild ride looking at the gangster nature of the Trump White Hosue with a cartoon mobster on the cover.
I have no idea if Andy Ngo’s book is the former, the later, or the rare book that actually presents new research not commonly seen. In general, I lean to it be the summary, but with the potential to be the rare book. This potential has less to do with deep research by Ngo, who has covered Antifa extensively, especially in Portland, Oregon, but the fact that much of the major media agrees with the President and thus rarely covers the events that Ngo has.
None of that potential is why I bought the book. While my other political book of the year, Disunited Nations by Peter Zeihan, is being consumed as fast as I can handle it. I suspect Unmasked will wind up in the bottom half of the to-read pile beneath such burners as Interfacing to S-100/IEEE 696 Microcomputers by Mark Garetz and Sol Libes and Making & Mastering Wood Planes by David Finck.
I pre-ordered the book the day of the protest. The protest was half the reason I pre-ordered it. Antifa put enough fear into the owners of Powell’s that the store was closed. The protested posted signs on the windows and banged on them. One protester said, “We have to show up every day until they stop selling that fucking book”. In the process, the same protester claimed it would be the equivalent of stopping the publication of Mein Kampf.
There is no word if they will continue protesting Powell’s for selling Mein Kampf.
Contents of the two books aside, although I will mention if you rewrite parts of Mein Kampf making Jews men and Germans women, you can get it accepted into a scholarly journal, the publication of Mein Kampf was not a crime, even in retrospect. I would even argue, holding the German nation as a whole responsible for Hilter and his crew’s actions rest in part on that publication.
If Hitler had not published it, then perhaps his aspirations and plans would have been better hidden. That the German right and center used the Nazi’s as a counterweight to the communists who were rioting in the street and fomenting revolution knowing what Hitler advocated was criminal. How much worse would it have been had they not known. Instead of having to fool a bunch of people to get into power, perhaps the Nazis would have won an outright majority in the Reichstag.
Either way, if Andy Ngo has plans for a “Second Republic that will last a thousand years” I’d much rather read it in his words. When I get it straight from the horse’s mouth there is no risk of me being fooled by someone trying to put words there for their own advantage.
Yet, I said Antifa’s opposition is only half the reason I pre-ordered the book. It is the commitment of Powell’s book to hide the truth that provided the other half. Half is probably an understatement. Had Powell’s defended the truth I probably wouldn’t have the book on my desk right now.
In response to the protest, Powell’s released a statement, “Powell’s Commitment to Free Speech”. I acknowledge their commitment, but don’t respect it much. It is pretty shallow and afraid of itself. In part, it reads “This book will not be on our store shelves, and we will not promote it. That said, it will remain in our online catalogue. We carry books that we find anywhere from simply distasteful or badly written, to execrable, as well as those that we treasure. We believe it is the work of bookselling to do so.”
That was an acceptable stance up to the minute before the protest. There are thousands of books published every year. No book store can carry them all. Stacks and displays are labor-intensive and between being in Portland, where I doubt Ngo’s book had a large audience, and COVID limiting in-person shopping such expenses were not justified for the tome.
They can’t stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal.Mr. Universe in Serenity
That changed the minute the protest erupted. Powell’s had a chance to speed a truth beyond contemporary partisan politics. I could use plenty of well reasoned historical arguments. I gave a tiny bit of one above, that knowing what Hitler intended look at what was allowed to happen. Imagine it had been hidden.
In the long run, though, I like the simple reason quoted above. The USSR couldn’t stop the signal. In trying to do so, it made one of the most common office machines of the 1970s on verboten. The USSR was a more bureaucratic nation than the US has ever been, yet no office worker in the US could imagine life without a photocopier in 198x when Gorbochav began head of the Soviet Union. That same year, no Soviet office worker had one. Yet somehow they produce the samizdat on the right, and much more.
Powell’s had the chance to show the protesters what the real signal would be like. They could have spent the labor to put up a display and invited Ngo to sign books. They could have accepted the cost of the broken window and the free publicity of protests. They could have risked the inevitable arson attempt. They could have been everything independent booksellers claim to be.
They could have shown violence can’t stop the signal.
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetentSalvor Hardin in Foundation by Isaac Asimov
The Hardin quote is overused. I don’t even agree with its most absolute form, nor do I think Asimov did. Even Hardin didn’t in the broadest sense. The more correct statement would be “The initiation of violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
Antifa represents the left side of the political spectrum’s populist branch. It is the mosh pit of the Bernie Bros and the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The Northwest branches of Antifa have initiated a lot of violence over the past year. For that, the Hardin quote is very appropriate.
When I get to Ngo’s book I’ll read his indictment of Antifa through the lense of sieges of the Portland Federal Courthouse and the various autonomous zone. I’ll read it while contrasting the failure of OWS and the Bernie Bros to move the Democrats a millimeter from the rich corporatist center. Love him or hate him, Trump was the symbol of populist success in moving the GOP. Think they were goofy protesters are the Klan, the Tea Party did the same circa 2010.
Bernie got robbed by the Democrat National Committee, twice.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Antifa resorted to threats of violence to stop a book about them given that record of incompetence. I am surprised Powell’s caved to the threats instead of speaking the truth to everyone.
But I bought the book and I’m writing about it today, not because I endorse the contents. I don’t know them. I’ll have had the book in my hands less than four hours when this posts.
I bought the book and I’m writing about it because in this day in age, no message, good or bad, right or wrong, interesting or boring, can be stopped by violence or the threat of it. The people who don’t want you to know that are backing Antifa today just as they did the PMRC 30 years ago.
Tell them they are wrong.