Liberal and centrist Democrats did not necessarily coin the label “alt-left,” however, in recent months, the term was popularized by them. It was deployed against anyone on the left who challenged their politics, especially those perceived as supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders or members of the Democratic Socialists of America.
But in a recent press conference, President Donald Trump blamed “both sides” for violence in Charlottesville on August 12. He invoked the “alt-left,” a term largely unknown to the wider public and establishment press, and promoted a false equivalency in remarks rife with apologism for neo-Nazis.
Republican politicians from Speaker Paul Ryan to Senator Marco Rubio condemned Trump for refusing to assign all of the blame to white supremacy groups. And, in the span of seconds, Trump made a label liberals and Democrats had reflexively employed toxic.
Neera Tanden, director of the Center for American Progress and known for her support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, quickly deleted a tweet sent on the day of the violence. “Have you criticized those on the alt left who want to join with the fascists? There are plenty of ways to find them.”
Similarly, Trump stated, “What about the alt-left that came charging [at] them? Excuse me. What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
“What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.” (Note: Unicorn Riot posted video that heavily undermines the claim by Trump that anti-fascist protesters charged with clubs first.)
The Washington Post’s Alex Horton and Dave Weigel produced a piece attempting to define the genesis of the “alt-left” label. Horton and Weigel acknowledged the term was used by “some right-wing websites, commentators and Fox News personalities” to describe “a violent segment of left-wing activists — the alt-left.”
Both ignored its prevalent use by Clinton Democrats and other centrists and liberals fed up with Sanders supporters and their “purism.”
Several prominent Democrats, who see themselves as a part of #TheResistance, suggested progressive critiques of identity politics and demands from the left were the product of an “alt-left” that increasingly seems to be converging with the worst elements of the “alt-right” (the term for far right groups that includes white nationalists).
Whether through innuendo or straightforward comments, the impetus is the “alt-left” can be just as hateful and uncompromising in its “fringe” politics as far right groups.
Exactly one year ago, Joy Ann Reid, host of MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” tweeted that “alt-left” was a “perfect descriptor.”
Hours after Trump’s remarks, Reid filled in for Chris Hayes on MSNBC’s “All In.” The segment featuring what Trump said omitted the part where he said “alt-left” and explicitly blamed them for charging in with their clubs.
The Nation’s Joan Walsh, who was an ardent champion of Clinton during the 2016 Election, was also one of the first prominent people to maliciously deploy the “alt-left” label by making a false equivalency.
In August 2016, incensed by Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate who gave people on the left the option of not choosing Clinton, Walsh tweeted:
She tweeted in November, “I am not part of the alt-left that spends its time scapegoating women and people of color for Trump’s election. Nope.” And, on July 12, she wrote, “Yeah, the alt-left and right are converging tonight. Time to get off Twitter and let them enjoy one another.”
Al Giordano, who Reid once boosted in a piece for The Daily Beast on his pledge to unseat Senator Sanders, previously declared, “Both Alt-Left and Alt-Right are steeped in white supremacist ideology.”
A day after Trump’s remarks, Giordano argued, “People who run around labeling defenders of Civil Rights as ‘centrists’ have lost all rights to say they can’t be called ‘alt-left.'” It appears he still finds the false equivalency has some utility.
Vanity Fair culture critic James Wolcott sounded off in March with a piece titled, “Why The Alt-Left Is A Problem, Too.” It played a part in convincing Democrats to use the term more regularly in their discourse.
“Disillusionment with [Barack] 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,” Wolcott proclaimed. “They’re not kissin’ cousins, but they caterwaul some of the same tunes in different keys.”
Wolcott even drew attention to a Tumblr dedicated to exposing “Trumpian Leftists.”
Markos Moulitsas, the liberal editor-in-chief of Daily Kos, has gained notoriety in the past year for his smug belief that Republicans deserve poverty and denied disaster relief for voting Trump. He also holds the view that the “alt-left is as devoid of reality as the alt-right.”
Eric Boehlert, who is a part of Media Matters for America which was founded by Clinton operative David Brock, concluded the alt right and alt left had converged when Trump seemed to find Julian Assange’s analysis of alleged Russian hacking more credible than U.S. intelligence agencies.
Imani Gandy, known for her presumptuous tweets as @AngryBlackLady, shared in June, “When I saw a certain Intercept progressive deriding ‘identity-obsessed libs’ as ‘SJWs,’ I knew the joining of alt-left & right was complete.”
“I wish all the alt-right and alt-left boys would alt-jump into an alt-volcano,” Gandy quipped.
Sally Albright, a communications strategist for Capitol Waterfront Group and a Clinton Democrat stated in March, “Alt-Left is closer to Alt-Right than the actual left,” and in February, she suggested the “Alt-Left wants to abandon civil rights.”
She responded to people sharing her tweets on the “alt-left” by glibly replying, “These are some of my favorite tweets.”
Eric Garland, who runs a “competitive intelligence” consulting firm, has peddled some of the more baseless conspiracy theories about Russia’s role in getting Trump elected. He also is prone to producing neo-McCarthyist threads on Twitter against “leftists.”
The day of the violence in Charlottesville, Garland tweeted, “The alt right inflames racial tension. The alt-left claims ‘identity politics’ is a ‘distraction’ and shouldn’t be discussed. Coincidence?”
Scroll through Garland’s Twitter feed, and more than twelve hours after Trump’s remarks, there isn’t a single tweet explicitly addressing the false equivalency.
James K. Holder, host of “Not On My Watch TV,” contended, “The Islamophobic Portland Killer was a Sanders-Stein supporter. I keep telling you all that the Alt-Left is as dangerous as the Alt-Right.”
Columnists Arthur Chu, Sady Doyle, Jill Filipovic, and Amanda Marcotte have each promoted the idea that the “alt-left” is a vitriolic faction that has to be dealt with and contained by Democrats. These are the same people that promoted the “Bernie Bro” smear in order to silence critics of Hillary Clinton.
The “alt-left” label received a huge boost earlier this month, as progressives criticized Senator Kamala Harris for her neoliberal record on prisons, policing, and other issues. Democrats see her as a top candidate for a presidential run in 2020 because she is a black woman.
People like Joy Ann Reid would like anyone on the left with concerns about Harris’ career as a prosecutor in California to shut up and give her a pass—just as they demanded Sanders supporters leave Clinton’s neoliberal record alone.
Finally, in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Peter Beinart of The Atlantic wrote about anti-fascist protesters in a piece titled, “The Rise Of The Violent Left.”
“The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies,” Beinart concluded.
However, as even Republicans themselves understand, these weren’t merely members of their conservative, libertarian, or evangelical base. The people rallying on the streets in Charlottesville with Tiki torches and rifles and Confederate flags and various other symbols of hate were avowed white supremacists.
Hip-hop artist and special education teacher, De’Andre Harris, was assaulted by neo-Nazis in a parking garage as police stood by and did nothing to stop them. He and others faced threats to their safety with white supremacists out inciting violence in the streets.
There simply can be no equivalency between the “alt-right” and the “alt-left.” Nor is the “alt-left” responsible for any threat the rise of the “alt-right” may pose to the country.
It is neo-Nazis and neo-Nazis alone, who are responsible for their acts, and any centrist or liberal Democrat, who equates their acts with the behavior of the “alt-left” or invokes the “alt-left” to marginalize dissent is cravenly attempting to stunt movements for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice, which threaten the Democratic Party establishment.
Special acknowledgment given to Gavin (@theleftfarmer) for an invaluable thread documenting the use of the “alt-left” label.