Posted on February 27, 2019

Amazon and the End of Free Speech

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, February 27, 2019

White Identity by Jared Taylor has just been delisted by Amazon. Like most cases of this kind, the digital book burning was in response to a hit piece. An article from Quartz called “There’s a disturbing amount of neo-Nazi and white supremacist material on Amazon” frothed about White Identity and other titles. The piece was headlined by a picture of a flaming swastika and a group of people performing the stiff-armed salute.

The article recycles the usual silliness, claiming Mr. Taylor is a “white supremacist who has earned a place in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘Extremist Files.’” But the most “extreme” quote Quartz could find from the book was a warning to whites: “If they do not defend their interests they will be marginalized by groups that do not hesitate to assert themselves, numerically and culturally.” The fact that White Identity has been banned while books championing “black power” are still on sale suggests Mr. Taylor is correct.

Another book targeted by the article — and banned by Amazon — was the The White Nationalist Manifesto by Dr. Greg Johnson, in which he “argues for ‘the right of all white peoples to self-determination.’” There is no explanation as to why this is bad or even controversial. Meanwhile, black nationalist flags and books promoting Aztlán continue to be sold.

As they should. Unless a book threatens immediate violence against specific people, a free country should not fear it. Of course, America is no longer a free country, and the impulse to censor is growing, especially younger Americans. A recent poll found more than half of college students believe diversity and inclusivity is more important than free speech, with blacks especially likely to favor restrictions. The whole country is becoming one giant college campus, with Google, Facebook, and Twitter arbitrarily censoring anyone they don’t’ like.

(Credit Image: © Omer Messinger/ZUMA Wire)

Amazon used to be different. The first major book banned by Amazon was The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure in 2010. Amazon banned it after a raucous media campaign. Certainly, almost no one would disagree that the book is vile, but at first Amazon defended it on free speech grounds:

Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.

Since then, Amazon has banned several books without a clear explanation. For example, some authors were allegedly manipulating Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to get more money than they deserved.

Even if it did not ban their books, Amazon kicked a number of white advocacy groups — including, Counter-Currents, and American Renaissance — out of its “affiliate” program. The crackdown was especially severe after a March 2015 article in the Washington Post. Losing “affiliate” income was a setback for these groups, which was probably the intent of the Post article.

Holocaust revisionism started getting the ax in 2017, starting with Judaism’s Strange Gods and Judaism Discovered. Many books that deny the Holocaust or criticize Jews were banned. The World Jewish Congress specifically thanked Jeff Bezos for banning books it had brought to Amazon’s attention.

On September 7, 2018, nine books by self-help author Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh were banned, ostensibly because of violations of “content guidelines.” The author was not told what rule he broke, but this was shortly after the Huffington Post contacted the company to complain that the books encouraged rape.

“Roosh” writes about sex, but many far more explicit books such as TRex Erotica are still on sale. In 2018, BDSM books were briefly removed from the Kindle best-sellers list, but were restored after a public outcry.

Amazon does not seem to have a clear policy for banning books. Instead, it reacts to press complaints, but does not always behave coherently. The recent Quartz article complained about George Lincoln Rockwell’s White Power; it has been removed and is available only through third-party sellers. Rockwell’s Collected Works, however, are still available for Prime delivery. Quartz yelled about The Jews and Moral Subversion and The White Rabbit Handbook, which supposedly prompted a terrorist attack, but they are still available. Critics often yell about The Turner Diaries, but it is still on sale by third-party sellers.

In August 2018, Amazon removed The Liberator Code Book: An Exercise in Free Speech, which included instructions for making guns with a 3-D printer. Stephen Gutowski at National Review condemned the ban, arguing that Amazon refused to explain or justify the ban. He submitted a plea for free speech as an op-ed in the Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) but it was rejected. The ban was probably a response to a Forbes article, “Amazon now offers Cody Wilson’s 3-D Printed Gun Code in Book Form.”

It’s not clear whether it is legal to make such weapons at home, but books that explain how to make bombs, such as the Anarchist Cookbook and the U.S. Army’s Guide to Unconventional Warfare remain on sale, and Amazon still sells all manner of far-left texts and books, including The Antifa Handbook.

Amazon has also censored other products. Confederate flags were banned after the 2015 Dylann Roof church shooting in South Carolina, but Nazi imagery and “Kekistan” items were still available for a while. In July 2018, Amazon removed every product identified in an article in The Next Web. Third-party sellers still carry a few items that depict the Confederate flag.

There is no clear banning standard. Amazon reserves “the right not to sell certain [book] content, such as pornography or other inappropriate content,” but “other inappropriate content” appears to be whatever a journalist yells about loudly enough.

The latest banning campaign seems to be driven by a July 2018 report called “Delivering Hate: How Amazon’s Platforms Are Used to Spread White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, and How Amazon Can Stop It.” It got coverage in the mainstream media, including in the Washington Post. The Quartz article also referred to it.

“Delivering Hate” listed specific items it wanted banned, but many are still for sale, or are available from third-party sellers. For example, “The Fable of the Ducks and the Hens,” by George Lincoln Rockwell, Race Differences in Intelligence by Richard Lynn, and The Mosque of Notre Dame by Elena Chudinova, are still available. Who knows for now long? The report calls for Amazon to work directly with the Southern Poverty Law Center and other “watchdog” groups so they can veto books.

This is a serious danger. Amazon is almost a monopoly in many industries and already dominates bookselling. Any book it delists is essentially unavailable for many readers. Publishers could sell a handful of books directly, but many dissidents are prevented from using online payment processors such as PayPal.

The right to free speech in the Constitution is all but meaningless if whoever journalists don’t like is banned from basic financial services, the digital public square, and online retailers. It’s clear that political disagreement rather than fear of violence or “extremism” is driving Amazon’s decisions. Just as on Twitter, Mr. Taylor’s reasoned, moderate arguments must be banned because they are persuasive.