“Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy” by Andy Ngo; Center Street (320 pages, $28).
Andy Cuong Ngo is an Asian-American investigative journalist born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and member to its LGBTQ+ community. He is best known for covering the protests that have taken place there. Andy is the child of immigrant parents that fled from Vietnam in 1978 by boat after they had been forced into labor and reeducation camps by their government. He’s written columns in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, National Review, and others. Until recently, he was an editor for the online free thought platform Quillette.com. He drew national attention when he was allegedly attacked by Antifa members on the streets of Portland in the summer of 2019 while he was livestreaming the protests to an online audience as he was known for routinely doing.
On June 29, 2019, Ngo covered protests at a Portland rally organized by Anti-Semitic group “Proud Boys”. In response to the presence of the Proud Boys hate group, a counter-protest was organized by Portland’s local Antifa (Anti-Fascist) chapters, loosely identified by their black and red face-concealing outfits known as “black bloc”. A small group of protesters dressed in black bloc and Antifa symbolism recognized Andy Ngo and closed in, making threats at him to stop his livestreaming of their activities or else.
When Andy refused to stop filming, the group began to physically assault him. Ngo was punched in the head, kicked, and allegedly hit with at least one cement milkshake. A “cement milkshake” is created by pouring quick-drying cement into a drink container to be thrown at victims, potentially forming solid cement in their hair, eyes, nose, mouth, or ears. Andy was subsequently hospitalized for skull injury and cerebral bleeding.
Ngo’s firsthand accounts shared within Unmasked are chilling. Although the single incident from the summer of 2019 brought Andy to international prominence, there’s much more to the story. Unmasked provides Ngo’s history of Antifa; from its European roots, to how it has transformed in England and the US. Ngo focuses on the Pacific Northwest, especially Portland and Seattle. This includes Seattle’s short-lived “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (CHAZ), later renamed “Capitol Hill Organized Protest” (CHOP).
Antifa is a loosely organized movement that mostly operates as autonomous chapters, not every member is responsible for or approving of what happened to Andy Ngo. Unmasked serves as Andy’s exposé of those extremists within the Antifa movement who choose to use violence and harassment as a feature rather than a bug. He includes compromising materials from certain bad apple Antifa organizers meant for members-eyes-only. Andy has showed himself to be an old school journalist that risks life and limb to get up close and personal with the heated protests most of us only see from afar, daring to get closer and dive deeper than many others.
He knows the local organizers and they know him; a fact that is highly evidenced by the stunning undercover photographs included in his book. In 2021, Andy begrudgingly relocated from his lifelong hometown of Portland, Oregon to London, England, citing ongoing concerns for his personal safety. Ngo had filed at least ten police reports to the Portland Police regarding death threats made to him or his family since June 2020.
As the alleged victim of unjustifiable political violence, Andy’s voice is an especially important one that should be heard above the clash and chatter of political division. I feel it would be in best keeping with justice and fairness to open an ear to anyone who ends up harassed or bloodied by ideological fervor, reaching our personal conclusions only after doing them the kindness of hearing their story, not before.
As for my personal conclusion, it should go without saying that those protesters picked a fight with the wrong journalist on that heated summer day, but it could have just as easily been any other recording bystander they could have chosen to attack in Ngo’s place, journalist or not. I believe if injustices such as what Andy endured are not given proper attention and learned from, we risk repeating it. I’ve also been inspired to look into the humanitarian crisis which his parents fled from. Our readers will know if I dig up a good book about it!
Donavon Anderson is a Reference Library Assistant at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at email@example.com.