Hours after a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by white nationalists, turned deadly, President Donald Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence that transpired. Three days later, at an impromptu press conference at Trump Tower, the president doubled down on this message, condemning groups “on both sides” of the fighting. “What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right?” the president said.
Many people know the phrase “alt-right,” a term coined by white nationalist Richard Spencer to describe the white nationalist movement. But “alt-left” is a term that’s recently floated around in various corners of the internet. It gained some popularity earlier this year, when violent riots erupted in Berkeley, California, during protests over an appearance by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley.
White nationalist David Duke defined the term after President Trump referenced it Tuesday.
Alt-left = BLM/Antifa communists who have burned cities, murdered cops & viciously attack thousands. Not morally the same as the Alt-Right. https://t.co/Ph68rsRoV6
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 16, 2017
Fox News’ Sean Hannity and InfoWars’ Paul Joseph Watson have also offered their own definitions.
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 4, 2017
I would use "alt-left" to distinguish it from actual liberals, but the inmates took over the asylum.
Mainstream left is the alt-left.
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) July 27, 2017
Ultimately, the intent seems to be to frame alt-left as the opposite of alt-right and create a false equivalence between groups on the far ends of the right and left. But here’s the thing: No left-wing group has ever called itself the alt-left. And the groups smeared by the alt-left label don’t include anything like the heinousness of overt white supremacism that has increasingly defined the alt-right.
It’s a blanket term some right-wing media commentators and white nationalists have taken to throwing over groups they disagree with, like the umbrella of “fake news” they use to describe stories they disagree with. Doing so manages to both minimize the ugliness of the alt-right and vastly overstate the actions and intentions of leftist groups.
So how did “alt-left” make it to the president’s vernacular? It’s unclear, but, as the public has seen, the president is known to borrow language he hears in media reports.
Regardless, the president’s reference to the alt-left pleased some people, and certain alt-right activists further seeded the term across Twitter.
Dear Antifa, I mean "Alt-Left", hope you like your new name because now that President Trump has used it, it isn't going anywhere. ?
— Brittany Pettibone (@BrittPettibone) August 16, 2017
But there’s really only one thing that happens when a prominent politician uses a word or phrase hitherto native to the web: Each side tries to reclaim it with memes. Remember when Hillary Clinton defined the alt-right in a campaign speech? Twitter had some definitions of its own—and the same thing is happening here.
Famous Members of the Alt-Left pic.twitter.com/wnHaazbccM
— Jules (@jules_su) August 16, 2017
If so then COUNT ME IN!#ProudToBeAltLeft
— ??TrumpsAChump (@WorkTurns2War) August 15, 2017
Let's make something very clear:
There's no such thing as the ALT-LEFT.
It is a term invented by racists for political cover.
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) August 16, 2017
These Alt-Left thugs are out of control! pic.twitter.com/97OXskryyl
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) August 15, 2017
Plus, because actual fascists attended the Charlottesville rally, left-wing Twitter spun up plenty of Nazi-themed attacks.
Alt-left, violently coming at the alt-right, circa 1944. pic.twitter.com/K9J9MoXvX0
— Scott Gilmore (@Scott_Gilmore) August 15, 2017
#1 Meme of the DAY!
— One Resister ? (@OneResister) August 16, 2017
Alt-left violence. pic.twitter.com/WK7KD1Xo7Z
— Guy Branum (@guybranum) August 15, 2017
16.1 million American Alt-Left members fought Nazis in World War II without a permit.
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) August 16, 2017
Will any of that deter far-right commentators’ use of the phrase? Probably not. But whether they heard it or not, the internet’s ultimate message was clear. Take it away, Regina.
— Danielle (@Danilizsky) August 15, 2017