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What is the ‘alt-left,’ which Trump just blamed for some of the violence in Charlottesville?

On Aug. 15, 2017, President Trump asked reporters to define the "alt-right," then said "alt-left" members were also to blame for violence in Charlotteville, Va. (Video: The Washington Post)
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President Trump said Tuesday that there was plenty of blame shared for recent violence in Charlottesville, which left one person dead and 19 injured.

He also used a term that some right-wing websites, commentators and Fox News personalities have for months advanced for a violent segment of left-wing activists — the alt-left.

“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right?” the president said from Trump Tower in New York, addressing Saturday's violence in Virginia.

“I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it,” Trump said.

The term alt-left or violent left has been used by some on the right to describe anti-Trump protesters and Black Lives Matter activists. But it has been used most often for “anti-fascist” groups, also known as antifa, that have mobilized to confront right-wing gatherings, sometimes escalating to violence.

Trump again blames ‘both sides’ in Charlottesville, says some counterprotesters were ‘very, very violent’

Trump used it as the flip side to the “alt-right,” a term used to describe a white nationalist movement and proponents of anti-globalism.

Antifa activists vandalized property and committed acts of violence on Inauguration Day in Washington and during protests at the University of California at Berkeley over a planned speech by then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

Their actions have been relatively isolated, focused on disrupting white nationalist rallies. However, “Leftist violence” has become a part of how right-wing media discusses Trump’s opponents, The Post's wrote. Some of the pro-Trump media have increasingly warned of the dangers of antifa since the inauguration.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has shifted its mission and language to appear as a line of defense against what it calls “the violent left,” spinning images of anarchists bringing peaceful democracy down.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has warned against a “gathering of forces that are willing to use violence against us.”

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“If the violent left brings their terror to our communities, our neighborhoods, or into our homes, they will be met with the resolve and the strength and the full force of American freedom in the hands of the American people,” he said in a Feb. 24 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, a frequent Trump defender, has expanded the term in recent months to include members of the news media.

“The Alt Left Propaganda media will run with every leak to help distract from Obamas & Co's role in spying on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump,” Hannity tweeted in March.

Google searches for “alt-left” spiked in November, with the highest crest following Hannity's Nov. 22 discussion with reporter Rosie Gray on the use of the term “alt-right.”

The use of the term “alt-left" appears to be "a way to point out that there are also extremists on the left — a fact that these conservatives believe is being ignored," The Post's Aaron Blake wrote.

He added that the "difference between alt-right and alt-left is that one of them was coined by the people who comprise the movement and whose movement is clearly ascendant; the other was coined by its opponents and doesn't actually have any subscribers."

Trump, who has insisted language matters when using the phrase “radical Islamic terror” to discuss campaigns against the Islamic State, suffered bipartisan wounds after he took two days to name white supremacists as the drivers of violence in Charlottesville, and then only focusing the blame on “many sides.”

On Tuesday, he called James Alex Fields Jr., the alleged driver of the car that killed counterprotester Heather Heyer, a “disgrace” to the country and his family. Fields was described by a former teacher as a Nazi sympathizer.

That's where the distinctions between white supremacists and counterprotesters for Trump appeared to end.

“You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent,” he said.

David Weigel contributed to this report.

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