The alt-left is real, and it's helping fascists
But the protestors in Charlottesville were traditional anti-fascists with a proud history and defined identity - there is nothing "alt" about them. If the label was being misapplied to them, maybe "alt-left" is nothing more than a right-wing media trope to smear progressive activists.
Not quite. Before the right hijacked it, the "alt-left" label was used mainly by progressives to refer to a strain of leftism that sees liberalism rather than fascism as the main enemy. It is distinguished mainly by a reactionary contrarianism, a seething ressentiment, and a conspiracist worldview.
In its preoccupations it is closer to the right: More alarmed by Hillary Clinton winning the primary than by Donald Trump winning the presidency; more concerned with imagined "deep state" conspiracies than with actual Russian subversion of US democracy; eager to prevent a global war no one is contemplating but supportive of a US alliance with Russia for a new "war on terror".
Like the right it disdains "globalists", it sees internationalism as liberal frivolity, and its solidarity is confined to repressive regimes overseas.
Though these tendencies have always been a feature of the far left, they were turned into a powerful obstructive force after the last Democratic primary as the "never Hillary" fringe of Bernie Sanders supporters defected to the Green Party (in its worst incarnation under Jill Stein) or chose to sit out the election. Loath to admit mistake, the enablers of Trump now spend their time minimising what he has unleashed.
|Far from fighting fascists in the streets, the alt-left snipe at antifascists from their social media parapets|
Far from fighting fascists in the streets, the alt-left snipe at antifascists from their social media parapets. The day after a white supremacist in Charlottesville killed Heather Heyer, Michael Tracey of The Young Turks rued the fact that Nazis were losing their jobs for merely "attending a political rally".
When 40,000 Bostonians took to the streets to protest a white supremacist gathering, Julian Assange of Wikileaks condemned them for marching "against 'free speech'".
In January, Assange had suggested shady motivations behind the Women's March too. "Gloria Steinem, co-Chair of #WomensMarch against Trump, admitted to being a CIA agent" he told his followers; and "flak by Dem-press, Soros, CIA" and the size of the march indicated to him that Trump was "in for Korea-like protests". Assange has seen similar dark forces at work behind civil protests in Syria, Russia and Venezuela.
For the alt-left, Hillary Clinton's call for a no-fly zone to protect Syria's civilians was proof that she wanted a global war. Donald Trump on the other hand was going to protect America from WWIII because of his "non-interventionist mindset" (Glenn Greenwald).
Jill Stein and Susan Sarandon both insisted that Trump was "the lesser evil". Even his bombings were "consistent with the particular 'non-interventionist' outlook" (Greenwald & Tracey).
But for the alt-left, the threat of WWIII hasn't yet abated. Even before Trump was inaugurated, Glenn Greenwald was on Fox News with Tucker Carlson alleging that the CIA was undermining Trump because he had spurned their plan to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
|Alt-leftism, like white nationalism, is rooted in privilege|
Greenwald has seen little cause for contrition since. Earlier this month he hosted Carlson on his podcast to argue that there was "no tangible evidence… virtually none" that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia. The whole affair was a "deep state" conspiracy to undermine a president who is eager for détente with Moscow. It was an attempt to spark a new "Cold War", an example of "red-baiting", "McCarthysim", "Russophobia".
Greenwald however takes a less jaundiced view of Russian intransigence. In 2015, when the Russia military intervened in Syria, Greenwald found it "utterly bizarre" that people would treat it as "some sort of BREAKING!!! (and scary) development".
The attempts to absolve Putin and Assad have sometimes turned comical. Many at The Nation are embarrassed by Stephen F. Cohen's serial apologia for Putin; but the magazine recently caused a minor revolt after it published an absurd article claiming that according to "a new report" the DNC emails hadn't in fact been hacked but were leaked by an insider.
|Read more: Why Nazis from Charlottesville to Europe love Bashar al-Assad|
There was no such "report"; the claim had come from an "open letter" by the self-described "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" (VIPS), a group of pro-Kremlin ideologues with a history of fabrication. In 2013 the same group had plagiarised a Canadian conspiracy site for an open letter to Barack Obama in which they claimed that Assad was innocent of the August 21 chemical attack. (The letter was later cited by Sergei Lavrov).
Meanwhile Greenwald's The Intercept published a scoop about a "UN report" that identified a novel cause for the suffering in Syria: US and EU sanctions on Assad. The regime's official news agency and Kremlin broadcaster RT amplified the story. Except the document cited wasn't a "UN report", nor was it an exclusive.
Oliver Stone recently lauded Putin for "bomb[ing] the shit out of Syria". But the clip that Putin showed Stone to prove Russia's successes against IS was in fact footage from a US helicopter in 2009 targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In Virginia the world witnessed the sordid spectacle of pro-Assad white supremacists. But the alt-left's unseemly love affair with the dictator is of older vintage. David Duke isn't the only public figure to have paid homage to Assad; the man overseeing what the UN calls the "crime of extermination" has also found defenders in Tulsi Gabbard and Dennis Kucinich.
Jill Stein previously called on the US to restore Syria to Assad's rule. And Julian Assange has cast doubt on Assad's responsibility for the most recent chemical attack.
For all their populist posturing, the alt-left rarely grant dissidents from Syria, Russia or Venezuela a hearing, but the states repressing them enjoy the benefit of every doubt.
It is clear that fascists have little to fear from the alt-left.
The same however cannot be said of minorities and people of colour. Donald Trump was hardly coy about his intentions during the campaign. If someone saw in him a lesser evil, they weren't considering his effect on immigration, policing, social welfare, healthcare, environment and foreign policy - issues that disproportionately affect people of colour.
Alt-leftism, like white nationalism, is rooted in privilege. Progressivism will be ill-served if this strain becomes dominant.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling.
Follow him on Twitter: @im_PULSE
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.