Donald Trump says the ‘alt-left’ shares the blame for Charlottesville. Here’s where that term came from
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” he asked a reporter.
“Let me ask you this: What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.”
Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University and former government security analyst, said that before Tuesday, she had never heard the term “alt-left.”
“I’ve never heard groups refer to themselves that way. I’ve never heard any kind of description as such,” she said.
The word “alt-right” is also fairly new, she believes, invented by white supremacists and white nationalists as a way to distance themselves from movements like the KKK in an effort to be more “respectable.”
The Associated Press has recently advised journalists to be more specific than the word “alt-right” to describe right-wing individuals or movements. “The term may exist primarily as a public relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience,” reads their advice on the subject.
Carvin says that Trump’s use of the word “alt-left” is also inappropriate.
“It’s an attempt by a president who has demonstrated that he has no understanding of the issues in Charlottesville to create a false moral equivalence that simply doesn’t exist.”
During a demonstration Friday night in Charlottesville, white nationalists carried torches and in some cases, wore Nazi symbols and chanted Nazi slogans. They met a group of counter-protestors and both sides threw punches. The next day, a white supremacist rammed a car into a group of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring others.
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“By using ‘alt-left,’ Trump really quite cleverly highlights their similarities without highlighting their differences,” said Chris Crandall, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas who has studied extremist movements. People on both sides are violent at times, but they don’t tend to be violent towards the same thing, he said.
Left-wing groups have committed many violent acts. Black Bloc protestors smashed windows and burned police cars in Toronto during the G20 riots in Toronto in 2010.
Left-wing extremists were responsible for most bombs that went off in Canada from about 2004-2014, said Carvin. But these were attributed to single-issue groups: an anti-globalization group that claimed responsibility for bombing a Quebec hydro tower and a Canadian Forces recruitment centre, or an Ottawa man who firebombed a RBC bank branch who claimed to oppose the bank’s involvement in the Alberta oilsands and the Vancouver Olympics.
More recently, Antifa (short for anti-fascist) protestors have shown up at right-wing events to protest those groups’ views, sometimes violently.
The difference between right and left violence tends to be their targets, Crandall said. “The alt-right aims down. They want minorities, they want people who are lower in status than them, they are attacking the people in the world who are generally less powerful.”
“The alt-left is aiming up — at banks, at petroleum, at large corporations, at powerful politicians who collaborate with them, more so than poor people or physically handicapped people or so on.”
People on the right and the left both hold prejudices, he said.
“But you have to ask yourself the moral question: is disliking bankers the same moral thing as disliking black people?”
Left-wing extremists would argue that it isn’t, he said. But calling the groups alt-right and alt-left “has the psychological consequence of making them seem more equal.”
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