By Matthew Reilly
There is no such thing as the alt-left.
In the wake of the chaos that erupted in Charlottesville last month, President Donald Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the ‘alt-right?’ Do they have any semblance of guilt?” Trump said. “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.”
Trump just branded those opposing racism and anti-Semitism as being equivalent to those perpetrating those heinous acts, focusing on who he wants to blame. Trump isn’t trying to vilify the Democrats for the violence, he’s trying to shift blame onto a whole new bogeyman: the so-called alt-left.
For many people, this was the first time they had ever heard the term “alt-left.” Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, for example, even claimed the phrase was “coined by Mr. Trump.” This is incorrect. The term “alt-left” was first used by centrist Democrats as a way to disparage those with more leftist views.
The term was coined “to create a false equivalence between the far-right and anything vaguely left-seeming that they didn’t like,” Anti-Defamation League analyst Mark Pitcavage told The New York Times. “It did not arise organically, and it refers to no actual group or movement or network.”
The concept of the alt-left was inevitable after the concept of the alt-right was created. The alt-right is the title given to the generally incoherent grouping of Nazis, Klansmen and Internet trolls whose support gave rise to Trump’s candidacy in 2016. Those who were labelled as alt-right by the media, like Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, wore the title proudly as it sounded more palatable than “neo-nazi.” Alt-left, however, was just created to be used as an epithet.
The term alt-left started picking up steam among centrist Democrats when Bernie Sanders declared his candidacy for president. Prominent Hillary Clinton supporters in the media, such as Joy Reid of MSNBC, would use the term to mock Sanders supporters and their lofty ambitions.
There was nothing inherently wrong with disagreeing with Bernie Sanders’ proposals, but using the term “alt-left” was a deliberate attempt to associate progressive Sanders supporters with the vile and regressive alt-right. Throughout the primary, anyone who disagreed with Clinton would be dismissed as a member of the “alt-left” and anyone who was a member of the “alt-left” was dismissed as “just as bad” as the alt-right.
But the alt-left is the left. The “alt” is meaningless.
“In the context of the alt-right, ‘alt’ could be made to mean ‘unacceptable,’” wrote Sam Kriss of Politico in a piece on Charlottesville. “Calling their opponents to the left an alt-left implied, circuitously but unmistakably, that they too were racists and sexists, transphobes and anti-Semites, without ever requiring the courage to directly make the accusation.”
Trump has now co-opted the term, meaning it is going to be perpetuated by his base for years to come. It means if someone is perceived as “alt-left”, their words will be devalued. It means beneficial progressive ideas like single-payer healthcare, Universal Basic Income and Wall Street regulation will be seen as negative and undesirable by some. It means people will hesitate joining progressive organizations like Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) to avoid being associated with groups like Antifa. The term is meant to control the left’s ideas and to keep them from ever becoming a reality. It is a devaluation of what the left has fought for and continues to fight for.