On July 5, 1969, a group of musicians waited in the wings in London’s Hyde Park before singing at a free concert. They were members of one of the most famous groups in the world. But the Beatles were bigger than they were. The Temptations would sell more records than they did that year. And even though Elvis was still “the King,” the stage manager stepped onstage, leaned into the microphone and announced to the 250,000 excited fans: “Ladies and gentlemen, the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band!”
The band members thought it was stupid at first, but they let him keep saying it. Soon, other people started saying it. Then it became their calling card. Then it just became a fact. If you ask those who know anything about music what is the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band, they’ll quickly answer without thinking: “The Rolling Stones.”
That’s how groupthink works. When people hear something repeated over and over again, it becomes hypnotizing white noise. It burrows into their brains. They can’t remember how it got there, but they blindly accept it as fact. They don’t know where they heard it, but they know they’ve heard it a million times, so it must be true.
In the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., terrorist attack, President Donald Trump held a second press conference to minimize the damage and outrage from his first press conference after he compared the white supremacist tiki-torch mob to the counterprotesters by condemning the violence “on both sides.” Instead of apologizing for or clarifying his remarks, Trump doubled down on his previous assertions. About midway through his question-and-answer session, he leaned into the microphone and asked the gathered reporters a simple question: “Well, what about the ‘alt-left’?”
It sounded stupid at first, but reporters and news outlets kept repeating the term. Then regular people starting using it to describe counterprotesters, anti-fascists and anyone who disagrees with the white supremacist movement that cleverly rebranded itself as “alt-right.”
Like the Trump administration’s previous gifts to the new-millennium lexicon, which include “alternative facts” and “fake news,” people have blindly accepted the term “alt-left” as fact. It is used in the headlines of the most reputable newspapers. It is a talking point on Fox News. “Alt-left” is a thing now. Donald Trump created it out of thin air and made it real.
There is no such thing as “alt-left.”
It is as real as unicorns, Taylor Swift’s rhythm and the border wall that Mexico is putting on layaway. It has never existed and never will. Even if Trump says it a million times. Even if Breitbart writes it every day. Even if Sean Hannity talks about it every night.
Hate, white supremacy and fascism are nothing new. In the early days of the 2000s, a nativist movement began coalescing in corners of the internet. Its adherents believed that America was becoming too nonwhite. They thought that diversity and multiculturalism were endangering Western culture. Their philosophy was rooted in conservatism and far-right ideology, but mostly it was based on their whiteness.
These weren’t your traditional, backwoods Klan members or thug skinheads. They were educated and professional and thought of themselves as smart. They wanted to distance themselves from negative stereotypes, so some of them called themselves “Identitarians.” Others referred to themselves as “racialists.” Many of them believed in the principles of conservatism, but didn’t think that went far enough, so they called themselves “radical conservatives” or members of the “radical right.”
In 2010, one of the brightest young leaders of this movement decided to start a magazine. He was charismatic and had already started working closely with the National Policy Institute, described by many as a “white supremacist think tank.” His name was Richard Spencer.
When Spencer contemplated a name for his publication, he decided to name it something catchy and respectable that could rebrand the entire white nationalist movement and draw in people who held racist beliefs under one banner. He decided to use a term he had been trying to make mainstream since 2008.
“In some ways the alt-right is arbitrary,” Spencer explains. “I mean, the whole point is that this is a movement of consciousness and identity for European people in the 21st century. That’s what it is. If you don’t like it, you can, you know, talk about linguistics.”
To be clear, there are—and have always been—radical people on the left. James Thomas Hodgkinson, the man who opened fire on a congressional baseball game, famously wounding Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and others, was a radical leftist. Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army were left-wing terrorists.
I know you’re wondering: “Wait ... why did you go back to 1974 to find a famous example of left-wing terrorism?” I did so because ... well, that’s about it.
Groups of anti-fascists, often called antifa, are sometimes radical and often violent, but they exist in such small numbers compared with the so-called alt-right. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll showed 10 percent of Americans agree with the ideology of the alt-right, and 9 percent believe it is acceptable to have Nazi views.
In a nation of 323 million people, that means that 32 million people find at least some part of white nationalism acceptable. That means if you went to a costume party with 100 people, 10 people would be cool with you wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and/or a swastika. That’s a lot of tiki torches.
Also, you should leave that party.
There is no left-wing version of Richard Spencer. Even those who lump groups like Black Lives Matter in with the mythical “alt-left” can’t find an alt-left version of the Oklahoma City bombing or Ruby Ridge. There are random incidents like that involving Micah Johnson. While he wasn’t a member of or affiliated in any way with Black Lives Matter, he could probably be called a left-wing terrorist. Now compare him to Dylann Roof. Or Eric Rudolph. Or Larry Shoemake. Or Richard Baumhammers. Or Mark Anthony Stroman. or Benjamin Nathaniel Smith.
You haven’t left that party yet?
If you want to compare the movements, there is an easy and objective way to do it: numbers.
- Since 1992, right-wing and nationalist terrorists have killed about 10 times as many people as their left-wing counterparts, according to Forbes.
- Right-wing terrorists account for 6.6 percent of all terrorist murders in the last 25 years. Left-wing terrorists account for .07 percent of such crimes.
- Of all the politically motivated murders between 2007 and 2016, right-wing extremists committed 74 percent of them. Left-wing extremists committed less than 2 percent, according to the Washington Post.
- According to the Cato Institute, nationalist and right-wingers injured 992 people between 1992 and 2017. Left-wing extremists injured 46.
Repeating the phrase “alt-left” just because someone said it is an example of either malice or ignorance. It is as stupid as saying “White lives matter” in response to “Black lives matter.” It is a false equivalency. It is misinformation. It is an outright lie.
The alt-right is a self-named movement with a clear identity. The people who follow it created the name. Its adherents are widespread and strong enough to hold an entire American city hostage. There are enough of them to elect a president. There are enough of them to hold an entire presidency hostage. There are too many of them.
The alt-left is a thing Donald Trump made up, but such a thing could not be created in a vacuum, even if it were real. No matter how you define it, it could be easily done away with.
If there were no fascists, there would be no anti-fascists. If black bodies weren’t being reduced to lifeless sidewalk litter all across America, there would be no Black Lives Matter. Antifa isn’t showing up in town squares where there are no neo-Nazis and Klansmen present.
If there were no alt-right, America would never have to even worry about whether the so-called alt-left was fictional or real. No matter how many times they repeat the term, it will always be a lie ...
... on every side.