President Trump spoke of the "alt-left" after speaking with reporters Tuesday, saying the group shared the blame for the violent clashes that took place in Charlottesville, Va., between white supremacists and counter-protesters.
While Americans have been hearing regularly about the alt-right for more than a year, Trump's comments may have marked the first time many people heard the term alt-left .
"What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump asked reporters.
So what is the alt-left Trump mentioned?
There are no groups that use ‘alt-left’ to describe themselves.
Mark Pitcavage, an analyst for the Anti-Defamation League, told The New York Times that the term was invented to "create a false equivalence between the far-right" and "anything vaguely left-seeming that they didn't like."
In a March article for Vanity Fair, James Wolcott derided the alt-left, defining it as a wing of the progressive left that vehemently opposed Hillary Clinton:
Disillusionment with Obama’s presidency, loathing of Hillary Clinton, disgust with “identity politics,” and a craving for a climactic reckoning that will clear the stage for a bold tomorrow have created a kinship between the “alt-right” and an alt-left.
The top definition for alt-left on Urban Dictionary, which was posted in January, defines the alt-left as follows:
Firm believers in a Liberal/Social Democracy ex.( Liberties mentioned in The Bill of Rights etc...) but with a type of Socialist Market Economy;
An alternative political movement that seeks to unite those who feel underrepresented or marginalized by current mainstream political channels, who seek to adhere to left-wing policies while rejecting what they deem the regressive left agenda; "Identity Politics", "Censorship in College campuses","Trigger Warnings", "All whites are racist", "All men are sexist" ...
But neither of these definitions seem to fit the group of counter protesters who fought neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Rather the group Trump described as the "troublemakers" who came with "the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats," would more accurately be defined as members of the "antifa," which is shorthand for anti-fascist.
In an article for The Atlantic, Peter Beinart said antifa's roots go back to the early 20th century when "militant leftists battled fascists in the street of Germany, Italy and Spain."
Those street battles began again in the 1970s and 80s as neo-Nazis and skinheads clashed with groups of punk music fans, anarchists and other leftists.
Beinart writes that the movement shifted its focus to battling global capitalism during the 1990s and 2000s, when there were violent protests against the World Trade Organization and the World Bank.
The anti-fascists were part of the violent anti-Trump actions during the 2016 campaign, as well as the violent protests this year at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College against right-wing speakers.
These protests have been widely condemned as assaults on free speech. Right-wing groups have organized "free speech rallies," including one planned for this weekend in Boston.
"Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism," Beinart said. "Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, anti-fascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not."
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