During his press conference on Tuesday, President Donald Trump put part of the blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 on the shoulders of the alt-left. Trump asked a reporter, “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” What did Trump mean when he said “Alt-Left”? The phrase has been used in the conservative media for a while and became more widely used when Fox News host Sean Hannity started saying it late last year.
On Tuesday, Trump once again blamed both sides of the protest in Charlottesville on August 12. The protest was organized by white supremacists and the alt-right movement and called “Unite the Right.” The groups were protesting the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee Statue. After police irdered the event ti end, a suspect linked to white supremacists plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring at least 19 others.
“OK, but what about the alt-left that came charging at them?” Trump asked a reporter on Tuesday. “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this, what about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Here’s a look at the origins of the “alt-left” term.
1. The Term Started Being Used on News Sites Like WorldNetDaily
The term “anti-left” began being used by the online media in 2016 before it slowly migrated to more mainstream conservative voices, like Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The phrase popped up on WorldNetDaily in August 2016 after Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech.
“It’s a movement of phony self-righteousness and ‘compassion’ that it uses to gain power,” WorldNetDaily pundit Joseph Farah wrote of the alt-left. “It will do anything and say anything to achieve its goal of hammerlock control not only of government, but every significant cultural institution – from schools, universities and the press to churches, foundations, Hollywood and unions.”
He called it “racist to its core.”
Dan Gainor also writes a CNS News column called “Alt-Left Insanity,” which he started in November 2016.
2. Sean Hannity Started Using The Phrase on Fox News After the Election
Hannity started using the phrase after the election and continues to use it. In February, he told his viewers not to trust the “alt-left propaganda media.” In March, Hannity wrote that “Alt-left judges put American lives at risk by blocking travel ban.”
“We cannot allow the alt-left to drag us back into the pre-9/11 mindset,” Hannity wrote. “Since that dark day, when 2,996 Americans died and more than 6,000 more were injured, we’ve had plenty of reminders to stay vigilant.”
In an April post, Hannity wrote that the alt-left was becoming “unhinged” as Trump followed through with campaign promises. “All sides of the anti-Trump movement – including the alt-left media and the college campus crazies – are now coalescing to try and damage the new administration,” he wrote.
3. Trump Used ‘Alt-Left’ Before in an August 2016 CNN Interview
Trump himself likely played a role in making the “alt-left” phrase common among conservatives because he’s used it before. In an August 2016 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Cooper asked Trump about the “alt-right” after Clinton’s speech about it.
“Nobody even knows what [alt-right] is. And she didn’t know what it was. This is a term that was just given that frankly, there’s no alt-right or alt-left. All I’m embracing is common sense,” Trump told Cooper.
At the time, Trump was under fire for hiring Brietbart’s Steve Bannon to join his campaign. Days before that interview, Mother Jones published comments from Bannon, in which he said Brietbart is the “platform for the alt-right.” Today, Bannon is Trump’s Chief Strategist.
“I don’t know what Steve said. All I can tell you, I can only speak for myself,” Trump told Cooper.
Since there have been rumors that Bannon is on his way out, Trump was asked about him during the press conference. “We’ll see,” Trump told the media, but he also said Bannon is “not a racist” and a “good man.”
4. There Is an Extreme Left Group of Protesters Called Antifa or ‘Anti-Fascists’
In his reaction to Trump’s comments on Tuesday, white supremacist David Duke thanked Trump for condemning the “leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” The “BLM” he’s referring to is the well-known Black Lives Matter movement. But “Antifa” is less well-known, and white supremacists who were at Charlottesville have blamed them for the violence.
As CNN explains, the group doesn’t have a formal leader or headquarters. Their positions aren’t strictly defined, but they have protested the wealth amassed by corporations and the wealthy. They also believe they are opposing authoritarianism, while some are even against a centralized state.
Scott Crow, an Antifa organizer, told CNN that their “radical ideals” are being picked up by more mainstream liberals. But before they were seen “as the enemy as much as the right-wingers,” Crow said.
According to The Atlantic, the group traces itself back to the 1920s and 1930s, during the rise of fascism in Europe. Although the movement died down when fascism itself fell out of popularity after World War II, it has risen up to counter neo-Nazis since then.
In the late 1980s, the group gained a following in the U.S. as Anti-Racist Action instead of “fascism.” Mark Bray, who wrote Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, told the Atlantic that their members even toured with alternative bands in the ’90s to make sure their fans weren’t attracted by neo-Nazis.
During the 2000s and Obama years, Antifa groups focused on capitalism, but when Trump took office, they shifted focus back to fascism. Today, the New York City Antifa group has over 18,400 followers on Twitter.
5. Antifa Members Were Seen at Protests of Trump’s Inauguration & Milo Yiannopoulos’ Berkeley Appearance
Antifa groups are controversial because they often cause property damage at their protests. For example, Mother Jones reported that they were seen at the UC Berkeley protests in April.
CNN reported that “antifascist” protesters were seen at protests during Trump’s inauguration. They were seen breaking windows and bus stops. Six police officers were injured and 217 protesters were arrested during the inauguration in Washington.