Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy is a forthcoming book by rightwing journalist Andy Ngo scheduled for release on February 2nd (2021). In the runup to publication Ngo’s publisher has released an excerpt from the book containing its introductory chapters. The excerpt does not bode well for the rest of the book. It is littered with several clear errors or misrepresentations.
Andy Ngo is most famous for getting attacked at an antifascist protest in June 2019. In footage of the event, Ngo is seen getting covered with milkshakes and silly string. Video also appears to show Ngo getting hit and kicked before he’s ushered out of the crowd to safety by some of the very antifascist activists he attacks in his book. In later statements, Ngo claimed to have obtained a brain injury during the scuffle.
Following the attack, Ngo gained significant media attention and was invited to testify before the US Congress. This newfound fame led to a book deal with Center Street, an imprint of ‘big five’ book publisher Hachette Book Group. Despite its name, there is nothing centrist about Center Street which exclusively publishes conservative authors such as Sean Spicer and Donald Trump Jr.
In the sample of his book, Ngo’s prose ranges from clunky, “the City of Roses, as Portland is known by,” to unintentionally hilarious “‘F—king owned, bitch!’ shouted a local transsexual antifa militant and a member of the Satanic Portland Antifascists.”
The “local transsexual antifa militant” Ngo describes, tweeted out his description of her saying “THIS IS AMAZING.” In response, another Twitter user pointed out that the only thing Ngo had accomplished with the passage was showing that his “enemies are much cooler than him.”
While it’s easy to make fun of Ngo’s at times overly theatrical writing, it’s almost equally as easy to debunk many of his factual claims. Even a cursory examination of the facts he presents suggests Ngo is either purposely lying to push his agenda or doesn’t understand the concept of fact-checking. Or both.
The latter supposition is certainly not lacking in evidence. Ngo first rose to international prominence after being forced to retract claims he made in a widely criticized 2018 Wall Street Journal Opinion piece about a visit to what he called “Islamic England.”
After facing pushback for the article, Ngo stood by the piece’s emotional core while admitting he had made “mistakes” in its factual content. The article drew ridicule for (among other things) complaining that Muslim Londoners did not make eye contact with others. As any London resident can confirm: this trait is not confined to London’s Muslims, it’s just part of being a Londoner. Ngo also faced criticism for spreading Islamophobia, including his article’s conclusion that London was a failure of “multiculturalism.”
The Autozone Incident
One of the most egregious examples of Ngo misrepresenting facts comes in Unmasked’s first chapter. He relates the story of a black-clad man carrying an umbrella who smashed an AutoZone window in Minneapolis, implying antifa involvement. Ngo quotes a police officer who had written “Until the actions of the person your affiant has been calling ‘Umbrella Man,’ the protests had been relatively peaceful. The actions of this person created an atmosphere of hostility and tension.” Ngo fails to mention that the quote he is using is drawn from a search warrant in which the officer accuses a white supremacist of carrying out the crime.
Ultimately police did not file charges against the white supremacist; however, they also never indicted an alternative suspect. For Ngo to imply without evidence that the ‘Umbrella Man’ was an antifascist without acknowledging that his own source had (at the time) identified another suspect is a clear-cut lapse of journalistic ethics.
Ngo is no stranger to accusations of poor ethical behaviour having lost his first journalism job due to his “violation of journalistic ethics.” Later Ngo left a job as an editor for the online publication Quillette after an infiltrator of the far-right group Patriot Prayer alleged that Ngo tagged along with the group while they planned attacks without reporting these occurrences. Additionally, according to the infiltrator Ngo only ever turned on his camera when antifa confronted the group.
In a move that stretched credulity both Ngo and Quillette claimed his exit from the company was unrelated to the exposé.
Misrepresenting Ahmaud Arbery’s Death
Despite Ngo’s book ostensibly being about antifa he spends a large proportion of its introductory chapters levelling attacks at Black Lives Matter protests and murdered black men.
In his first chapter Ngo discusses the Ahmaud Arbery case in which father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael gunned down 25-year-old Arbery in February 2020. Widespread anger would later erupt when the footage of Arbery’s killing was released. Ngo describes the events thus:
“Gregory and Travis McMichael said they suspected Arbery of being a returning burglar in their neighborhood. They accosted Arbery on the street while waiting for police to arrive. Video recorded of the street confrontation showed Arbery rushing in and fighting Travis, who was armed with a shotgun.”
This account of the case leaves out many crucial details. Firstly, the owner of the construction site the McMichael’s had seen Arbery leaving stated that no black person had ever stolen anything from the site. Police records also confirm that no burglaries had been reported from the site in the months leading up to Arbery’s death. The only recent burglary reported in the neighborhood was the theft of a gun from a car parked outside one of the McMichael’s homes almost two months prior.
More importantly, the McMichael’s did not merely “accost” Arbery; they spent four minutes chasing him in a truck adorned with a Confederate flag. Near the start of their relentless pursuit, another bystander William “Roddie” Bryan joined them in his own truck. According to prosecutors, Bryan hit Arbery with his vehicle on at least one occasion.
Eventually, the three men trapped Arbery between their trucks and the McMichael’s levelled guns at Arbery. Despite chasing Arbery for almost 5 minutes, it is only at this point that the McMichael’s call the police.
The McMichael’s and Bryan have now chased Arbery hundreds of yards, hit him with a truck, and pointed guns at him. At every turn, Arbery has been trapped, threatened, and attacked. In Ngo’s retelling of the situation, this only amounts to one simple word “accosted.”
Ngo’s one-dimensional account of the case is cold and clinical. His telling drains the events of their true salience, but why? It’s not because he lacks the vocabulary. In fact, when describing his own June 2019 assault he talks in great detail and emphasizes that antifa had “brutally attacked” him. More likely it’s that he lacks scruples when trying to build his narrative.
Ngo further muddies the waters by summarising the events that follow as “Arbery rushing in and fighting Travis.” In reality, far from “rushing in” towards the McMichael’s, Arbery had spent the previous 4 minutes trying to rush away.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort to avoid getting trapped, Arbery ran around the McMichael’s truck once more avoiding direct confrontation but was intercepted by Travis, the younger of the McMichael’s. To block Arbery, Travis moved from beyond the safety of his open car door to the front of the truck. Left with no other choice, it appears that Arbery decided to engage with Travis in self-defense, but before he could reach him Travis shot Arbery for the first time. Travis would shoot twice more. Bryan would later recount that at this point Travis McMichael called Arbery a “f**king n*****,” something Ngo also fails to mention.
Initially, the McMichael’s and Bryan faced no charges; however, after months of protest, they were arrested and indicted on several counts by a grand jury, including felony murder. In November 2020 the McMichael’s were denied bail, suggesting the court system took their crimes far more seriously than Ngo ever did.
Ngo goes on to claim, without evidence, that antifa accounts circulated a false image of one of the McMichael’s at a KKK rally (the image was actually of another man). Ngo complains that this caused “Georgia Followers, a popular news and culture site, to tweet the photo and a false news report to its 1.5m followers.” In reality, the Atlanta Antifascists Twitter account (the most prominent antifa account from Georgia) had labelled Georgia Followers as “irresponsible” for posting the image, going on to say “it’s likely untrue.”
Upon seeing the excerpt of Ngo’s book the Atlanta Antifascists account linked to their original May 2020 thread and strongly criticized Ngo’s misrepresentation pointing out that in making it Ngo accidentally invalidates his core thesis:
“The unsupported claim was mainly pushed by a sensationalist website with zero relationship to antifascists.
So: Ngo is either arguing that there was an “antifa” disinfo campaign despite the most visible antifascist group in Georgia arguing against the claim. Or, he’s saying that the people making the claim were “antifa” anyway because… they presumably don’t like the Ku Klux Klan?
Ngo’s propaganda depends on this ambiguation: “Antifa” must be an organized body taking coordinated political action, but it must also be a catch-all category for diverse beliefs & practices (which Ngo dislikes). The result? Perfect for profitable scare stories, short on truth.”
The Smearing of George Floyd
Not content with misrepresenting one black man’s death Ngo turns his attention to George Floyd writing:
“Floyd, a 46-year-old black man with an extensive criminal history, died while being arrested by police in Minneapolis after allegedly using counterfeit money. Shocking video recorded at the scene showed Officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck while he repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe. Three other officers stood nearby.
Floyd became unresponsive and died. The Hennepin County medical examiner found that he died as a result of the “combined effects of… being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system.” There was no evidence found of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation in the county’s autopsy. It was later revealed that Floyd’s blood contained a fatal level of fentanyl.”
Ngo never clarifies why he thinks Floyd’s criminal history is of any relevance to the case he is building. The most obvious explanation is that it’s an attempt by Ngo to smear Floyd and manipulate his readers into a less sympathetic view of his death.
Ngo is correct that the medical examiner concluded that Floyd had a “fatal level” of fentanyl in his blood. However, the examiner did not suggest that this caused Floyd’s death and Floyd’s overdose would have been easily reversible if treated with naloxone (sometimes sold under the brand name Narcan).
In his summary of the Hennepin County medical examiner’s evidence, Ngo also leaves out the crucial detail that the examiner had concluded Floyd’s death was due to ‘homicide’. Ngo also fails to mention that numerous medical experts have noted that “suggesting asphyxia was ruled out by the medical examiner is wrong.”
So Antifa Isn’t That Violent After All?
Despite claiming that there are “untold numbers of [antifa] victims,” Ngo struggles to come up with many examples. Leaving aside the attacks which occurred on the day he was assaulted he names only three others, two from 2018. These cases led to arrests and successful prosecutions, which also runs counter to Ngo’s intimation that the police let antifa ‘get away’ with their ‘crimes’.
Ngo’s final example is Michael Reinoehl, who killed a Trump supporter for unclear reasons and was later himself shot dead by police. A New York Times investigation suggests Reinoehl was shot without warning and despite not holding a gun.
Furthermore, in Ngo’s introduction, he quietly concedes that “most” antifascists do not engage in violence. Instead, he claims they “work on delegitimizing liberal democracy and the nation-state through “charity” and relentless propaganda.” Providing charity and creating propaganda is not illegal nor is it particularly concerning on its own.
A couple of sentences after admitting that the vast majority of antifascists are not violent Ngo abruptly switches tracks claiming that antifa “has mutated into a unique contemporary breed of violent left-wing extremism” (emphasis mine). If Ngo can’t even stay consistent for a single paragraph – let alone a chapter – it’s hard to see how he will be able to develop a compelling argument throughout the rest of his book.
Later in the book, Ngo states “black bloc” is the “unofficial uniform for Antifa.” This is untrue. Black bloc is not the name of a uniform; it is the name of a tactic. Moreover, many antifascists do not engage in black bloc tactics, and those that do are often selective about how and when they do so. Some antifascists view engaging in black bloc tactics as unnecessarily intimidating, or dangerous, while others simply prefer to use alternative tactics.
Antifascism is a big tent but Andy Ngo is intent on painting it all as a terrifying and dangerous ideology of violence. The good news is he’ll run out of paint long before the world runs out of canvas.
Readers who are unaware of Ngo’s prior work may be worried about his weak grasp of well-documented events. They should be more concerned that despite years of ‘research’ he still lacks a proper understanding of what antifascism is and how it operates.
Ngo is the Republican’s chief antifa whisperer, and they don’t care that he’s not telling them the truth. The right has never been shy of attacking antifa, but once they have his book in their hands, they may go into overdrive. To many, it will be the life raft that gets them through the aftermath of the Capitol attack by giving them their own ‘domestic extremists’ to hate and fear.
Antifa has never been the ‘big bad’ the right would have people believe, and Ngo’s book is unlikely to provide much evidence to the contrary. Even the law enforcement organizations most strongly opposed to antifa have repeatedly confirmed that antifa is not a pressing threat in America. Both the FBI and DHS have concluded that white-supremacist extremism remains the greatest threat faced by the US.
The events of January 6th provide some of the best evidence for why. Full details are still trickling in, however, one thing is clear: far-right groups were able to effectively coordinate and despite talking about their plans in broad daylight, they still caught much of the establishment by surprise. This level of organization is simply not present on the far left, nor is the level of funding. (The Capitol rioters were funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a combination of wealthy individuals and small donors.)
One must wonder how Ngo feels in the aftermath of the Capitol attack after writing in his book that the number of far-right extremists and their influence was “grossly exaggerated by biased media.” Or if he regrets his assertion that antifa may pose more “of a threat to the future of American liberal democracy” than the rightwing groups.
Recent events demonstrate that Ngo bet on the wrong horse. All that remains to be seen is how long he can keep beating it.
This review of Unmasked by Andy Ngo was co-written by @SeventhDegreeUK whose thread on the subject inspired this deeper dive.
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Jack Lawrence is a journalist and disinformation researcher. He is the founder of Grftr.news and runs the @TimPoolClips Twitter project.