On Tuesday, a day after explicitly condemning neo-Nazis in the wake of the fatal violence in Charlottesville, President Trump wanted to talk about the “alt-left” instead.
“What about the alt-left, that came charging at the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?” he said at a news conference at Trump Tower in New York. “What about the fact they came charging, they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? I think they do.”
Many lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, condemned Trump’s sudden return to talking about “both sides” after a counterprotester was killed in Charlottesville, on Saturday. But as Trump spoke, his biggest online fans were, suddenly, hearing more or less exactly what they’d been saying about the Charlottesville violence. And this time, it was coming directly from the president’s mouth.
In a Periscope broadcast shortly after Trump finished speaking, pro-Trump media personality Jack Posobiec said, “The madman himself is back.”
“He has returned, and he is going on offense. Everybody knows it,” Posobiec said. “Take a bow, President Trump.” He then asked Trump to have the Department of Justice officially declare antifa — short for “antifascists” — a “domestic terrorist organization.”
Although Trump didn’t use the term “antifa” — he said “alt-left” — many interpreted his remarks to be addressing that group, which regularly confronts demonstrators at right-wing and white nationalist events.
First he RT @JackPosobiec who has reported on ANTIFA nonstop.
— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) August 15, 2017
Posobiec is one of many prominent figures on the pro-Trump Internet who have spoken and written about “violent leftists” and “Antifa” repeatedly for months. President Trump himself retweeted the right-wing activist this week, when Posobiec said there was “no national media outrage” over the shootings in Chicago last weekend.
“Leftist violence” has become a part of how right-wing media have discussed Trump’s opponents over the past several months, showing up in venues as varied as 4chan doxing campaigns and Fox News. As The Fix noted in a piece on the term “alt-left,” the boundaries of who is associated with this violence are permeable. Antifa might be a small group, but it’s come to take on an enormous role in how the pro-Trump filter bubble talks about the president’s opponents at large.
As we’ve written before, pro-Trump media outlets have increasingly given relatively isolated clashes between small groups of Trump supporters and counterprotesters across the country the sort of iterative, sensational media coverage that CNN gives to high-speed car chases and missing passenger jets. And the fact that mainstream outlets aren’t generally following suit has become a reason to accuse them of being “complicit” in the violence. When a gunman opened fire at a baseball practice for Republican congressmen in June, for instance, this nonstop coverage fed into a viral, pro-Trump meme that the violence against Republicans was the inevitable result of antifa, and that the mainstream media should be blamed for it.
As the events in Charlottesville unfolded last weekend, the pro-Trump media more or less backed the first statement Trump made, in which he blamed violence on “many sides” instead of singling out white supremacists. The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump blog, for instance, wrote:
“During the white supremacist marches on Friday and Saturday violent Antifa thugs attacked the protesters with mace and projectiles. The antifa thugs ALWAYS resort to violence and have been beating conservatives across the country for several months. The media has mostly ignored these violent leftist attacks…
…The president condemned violence on all sides during his statement. This was before the killer was identified. The liberal media, Democrats and opportunist and ignorant Republicans condemned the president. This was disgusting.
What Trump said was completely appropriate. The left was beating heads on Saturday like they always do. The white supremacist allowed his hatred to drive through a crowd and kill a 32 year-old woman.”
On Tuesday, The Gateway Pundit called Trump’s remarks “Epic.”
Trump, now speaking Truth:
"Two sides were violent. What about the alt-Left? Where does it stop? Take down George Washington statue next?"
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) August 15, 2017
Nearly the entire quisling "conservative" media immediately caved to the B.S. left-wing media narrative on Charlottesville. NOT TRUMP!
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 15, 2017
"Define alt right. Define it for me. What about the alt-left?" I can't handle how much I adore him.
"I'm not finished fake news."
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) August 15, 2017
Conservative writer Mike Cernovich, meanwhile, took at least partial credit for Trump’s remarks, and the president’s aggressive delivery of them to the media. “They finally started listening to Mike C!” Mike Cernovich said in a livestreamed reaction to Trump’s remarks.
“Why do you think Trump identified antifa as a terrorist organization?” he added later. “Why do you think that? Because he was realizing that the base — the people who actually elected him were losing morale.” This, he believed, would turn that around.
- A man clobbered protesters with a bike lock at a Berkeley rally, police say. The Internet went looking for him.
- A Twitter campaign is outing people who marched with white nationalists in Charlottesville
- The creator of Godwin’s Law explains why some Nazi comparisons don’t break his famous Internet rule