If Rule 101 of writing a book is “Turn your phone off”, then rule 101 of publicising a book is “get it banned”. The rule was once again proven this week as Andy Ngo’s forthcoming work Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s radical plan to destroy America became the Number 1 bestselling book on Amazon US. That is, the number 1 bestselling book in the English-speaking book market. How did it happen? Because as well as being contemptuous of the laws of American society, Antifa turn out to be ignorant of the rules of the publishing industry.
For anyone unaware of him, Andy Ngo is a young American journalist who has spent recent years reporting on Antifa’s activities in Portland, Oregon, among other places. For years he has attended Antifa events (first openly, subsequently undercover) and through video, photography and written reports has testified to a reality which most American journalists either ignored or treated as an unimportant sideshow. As well as appearing in mainstream publications such as the New York Post Ngo’s journalism has caused waves online where he has attracted a huge social media following.
In the summer of 2019, while reporting on an Antifa rally, Ngo was attacked by a mob, who recognising the young journalist, attempted to stop him reporting and seriously assaulted him. The resulting injuries saw Ngo hospitalised with a brain haemorrhage. It was the moment when many people first saw the reality not just of Antifa violence, but of Antifa’s delight in violence.
Ngo is everything the progressive Left should be in favour of. The son of Vietnamese immigrants to America, he was raised in Portland and, while doing a Master’s degree at the local university, began his career at the student newspaper.
It was there that I first noticed him. He showed himself to be one of the insightful people of his age who had seen through the identity politics that were roiling their generation. Ngo had pointed out that as a person of colour, of immigrant heritage who happened to be gay, his politics and outlook on the world should have been ordained for him. The radical left clearly thought they should be able to speak for him, and yet they clearly did not. Ngo asserted the right — whatever his characteristics — to be allowed to think for himself and not to be told that he had to fall in line with some specific political project because of his background.
In subsequent years, as he progressed with his journalistic career, Ngo was consistently not just treated differently but singled out for specific attack. As his reporting from his home town began to get noticed the radical Left tried exceptionally hard to take him out. Online campaigns increasingly influenced mainstream publications to claim that Ngo was in some ways a partisan, political actor, motivated by malice and bigotry. Since it is hard to portray a quiet gay member of an ethnic minority as some kind of alt-right, white nationalist they made the most extreme claims possible about him, following the tactic that if you make the most outlandish and damaging allegations about a person then some of it will stick.
They partly proved the utility of that tactic. Antifa and their fellow travellers spent years claiming that Ngo was in league with the far-Right and that his presence reporting from demonstrations by “the Proud Boys” and other Right-wing groups was in fact proof that he was a member or supporter. Having got away with such claims they pushed further, pretending that the person they were targeting was in fact targeting them.
They claimed that by identifying individuals who had been at protests, or who had been arrested, Ngo was “doxing” (releasing the home address or other personal details) of rioters. In fact, as so often, they were simply accusing an opponent of doing something that they were doing themselves. A campaign of harassment by Antifa activists picked up pace. Forced to get security cameras at his parent’s home, Ngo filmed Antifa activists turning up there. On one occasion they did a pseudo-intelligence service sweep to “affirm” that the address was one Ngo lived at. On another they turned up in masks with Ngo’s own face on them. It was a campaign of harassment that the Portland authorities took no interest in.
Even when Ngo was seriously attacked the same authorities could not rally themselves. When a journalist was assaulted and hospitalised in broad daylight — on camera — the Portland city politicians and police spent no time trying to identify what had happened or who might be culpable. To date, nobody has been charged for the attack. If things continue to go badly wrong in the US one reason will be that so many people were able to see — spelt out in actions as well as words — that elected officials and law enforcement took so little interest in the activities of far-Left militia groups that they allowed them to pick journalists off with impunity.
So it has gone on. Last October, while in Portland ahead of the US election I went on a tour of the Downtown area of the city with Ngo and was disgusted to see graffiti everywhere calling for his murder. “Kill Andy Ngo” was written in huge blood-red letters on the boarding of one of the endless number of buildings boarded up because of riots. The one remaining statue in the centre of town (a World War II memorial) was also plastered in graffiti attacking him. In most of the developed world, having your city daubed in graffiti calling for the murder of a journalist would be regarded as a matter of shame. In Portland the authorities clearly did not care, and none thought it worth acting on.
Last November the ineffectual Mayor of the city, Ted Wheeler, was re-elected over an Antifa-backed candidate. To say that he has lost control of his city is an understatement; the city authorities have allowed rioting for months, even resisting federal requests to assist law enforcement. Wheeler was chased out of his own apartment block and earlier this month was assaulted in a restaurant. None of the placation seems to have worked.
But this week the activists of Antifa returned to one of their favourite targets: the journalist whose factual reporting seems to get under their skin so much. Learning of the imminent publication of Ngo’s book they began a campaign to try to force bookstores in America not to stock Ngo’s book.
Their targets included Powell’s bookstore in Portland, where a group of Antifa protested this week, screaming at management and causing the bookstore to close as a safety precaution. The shop pleaded for mercy, insisting in a published statement that “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.”
America’s fearless and impartial media covered this as well as can be expected. In a report on the Portland bookstore protest ABC news wrote that “Author Andy Ngo is known for aggressively covering and video-recording demonstrators.” What is this “aggressive” coverage? How does it differ from ABC’s own brand of journalism? Does ABC favour “mild” reporting or “milquetoast” video-recording of rioters? Apparently so.
The “news organisation” continued: “In 2019, Ngo said he was targeted and suffered brain injuries when he was assaulted while covering protests in Portland.” What is this “said he was”? Either Ngo was assaulted and hospitalised or he wasn’t. It should not be hard for ABC to find this out for themselves. But in this and other ways, the effectiveness of Antifa’s tactics over recent years can be seen. Spread enough ordure around a figure, find people in the mainstream media sympathetic to some of your aims and intentions and you can subtly or not so subtly rewrite and reframe actual events and cast a victim as some type of sinister perpetrator.
For now Antifa’s tactics have worked not just in influencing some of the mainstream media but in — among other things — chasing Ngo from his home, and indeed out of his country of birth. Like his parents before him, Ngo has ended up leaving a country in which his life is in danger. That this country is the United States is shaming.
But there is one upside. Attempts to ban books do not go down well in all quarters outside of Oregon, and ahead of its release next month UnMasked shot up the online bestseller lists. And if bookstores do not stock the work then they will simply lose even more business to their online competitors. Amazon will still sell it, and this week UnMasked was selling in droves. Andy Ngo is not a victim, but thanks to Antifa he is now a Number 1 bestselling author. Which is the best reply imaginable.