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Trump says ‘alt-left’ bears some responsibility for Charlottesville - so what is the ‘alt-left?’

The pedestal where a statue dedicated to Robert E. Lee and Thomas
The pedestal where a statue dedicated to Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson stood is shown August 16, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

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On Tuesday, Trump told reporters that the “alt-left” bears some responsibility for the violence at the white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. But what, exactly, is the “alt-left?”

In the Atlantic’s September cover story, “The Rise of the Violent Left,” Peter Beinart traces the history of Antifa – antifascists or Anti-Fascist Action – from its roots in the militant left fighting European fascism in the 1920s to its reactionary revival due to Neo-Nazi movements in the 70s and 80s, to today’s revival of Antifa in response to the rise in white nationalism in America.

Beinart writes that Antifa is a disparate movement, but many of its subscribers are anarchists and the unifying ethos has to do with circumventing policy in favor of direct action, such as destroying corporate property, doxing Neo-Nazis and breaking up white nationalist gatherings, by violence, if necessary.

Where did Antifa come from? What is it today? And is it fair to equate it, as President Trump did Tuesday, to the alt-right?


Peter Beinart, contributing editor for The Atlantic where his recent story is “The Rise of the Violent Left;” he is also the senior columnist for and an Associate Professor of Journalism and political science at the City University of New York; he tweets @PeterBeinart