Socialist London bookshop Bookmarks was attacked over the weekend by a "far-right mob" and is now calling for solidarity following the "Nazi attack".
The Bloomsbury-based shop, known for selling books on a range of socialist topics including Marxism and women’s and LGBT+ rights, was invaded between 6.30pm and 7pm on Saturday evening (4th August).
Around 12 men bearing placards and wearing baseball hats reading "Make Britain Great Again", thought to be in their 20s and 30s, entered the bookshop and destroyed displays, wrecked books and chanted alt-right slogans, according to bookseller Noel Halifax. One was wearing a Donald Trump mask.
Halifax, who was there when the attack happened with just one other member of staff, told The Bookseller that while no one was physically assaulted the experience was "shocking", "frightening" and deeply "unnerving".
Two customers browsing "fled" when the group entered and began to be abusive towards staff, making racist comments about Islam and threatening the shop. Halifax described some individuals as "bellowing" in his face, with one saying, "I hope you burn down."
The gang also tore up issues of Unite magazine, an anti-racist publication, and, confusingly, also took issue with a book called The Jewish Question by Belgian Jewish Trotskyist Abraham Leon, who died in the Holocaust, for being anti-semitic.
Halifax said he suspected the "incoherent" cohort had been protesting at another event locally and had decided to invade the shop afterwards, with some members of the group carrying placards refering to the BBC as the "British Bolshevik Cult".
"We said, 'We're a bookshop, will you quietly browse, we're not a speakers' corner or a debating society; if you object to the books then don't buy them'," Halifax recalled. To remove the gang from the shop Halifax said he and his colleague resorted to ringing the customer handbell repeatedly as "a warning to get out", which alerted the shop next door, which in turn called the police. By the time the police arrived, however, the group had left.
A group called Make Britain Great Again is said to have posted clips from the group's visit on YouTube. Halifax said this showed they "weren't ashamed" of the incident.
"There was another bookshop attack four or five months ago. I don't think it is particularly co-ordinated. I think because of the whole Trump alt-right thing, people like this feel empowered by it and feel confidence in saying and acting on things they wouldn't have done before. It's the general atmosphere we're living in," said Halifax.
A silver lining, however, is that the shop is being "inundated" with support - so much so it will be holding a "solidarity event" in store with authors on Saturday 11th August.
"It's chilling," said Halifax. "But since the attack, it's been very busy here because we have been completely inundated with messages of support, it's been hard to cope with the volume." Well-wishers have included singer and activist Billy Bragg, Rupa Huq MP, historian Louise Raw and Guardian columnist Owen Jones.
Dave Gilchrist, manager of Bookmarks, said: “This horrific attack on a radical bookshop should send shivers down the spine of anyone who knows their history. The Nazis targeted books because they knew how important radical ideas are for challenging racism and fascism. The same is true today, and that is why we have to show that we won’t be intimidated.”
Meryl Halls, m.d. at the Booksellers Association, has also thrown her support behind the store. "It’s appalling and shocking that this attack has happened now, at a point where we need bookshops, and all they stand for, more than ever," she said.
"Bookshops should be safe spaces, and are very often the refuge of the oppressed, the fearful and those looking for guidance at difficult times; they are special places for so many reasons, and should never find themselves on the receiving end of hate-filled, violent outpouring. They are also the locus for community, and we know that the bookselling community itself has already rallied round Bookmarks on social media, pledging support and expressing outrage at what has happened. Added to the cowardly attack earlier this year on Gay’s the Word Bookshop, also in central London, these attacks are a worrying sign of growing polarization and intolerance in our society, and we must do all we can to stem it. Bookshops will continue to stand as places for the free exchange of ideas, where all are welcome."
Bookmarks is also calling on supporters to donate funds to help bolster security in the shop and to replace lost stock. Donations can be transferred to: Sort Code: 30 93 29 A/c: 00089719.
A Met spokesman said: “Police were called at approximately 18:35hrs on Saturday, 4 August to reports of a protest inside a shop on Bloomsbury Street, WC1.
“No other offences were disclosed at the time. Police received a second call a short time later stating that the group had left the premises after causing some damage inside the shop. There were no injuries. An appointment has been made for officers to speak with the complainant. No arrests have been made.”