What is the 'alt Left' that Donald Trump said was 'very violent' in Charlottesville?

White supremacists and counter-protesters clash in Charlottesville - Barcroft Media
White supremacists and counter-protesters clash in Charlottesville - Barcroft Media

President Donald Trump has launched an attack on what he termed "the alt-Left" - describing a group of people who came to Charlottesville on Saturday to protest against a rally by white supremacists.

When asked about the "alt-Right" - a term used by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and nationalists to describe themselves, Mr Trump replied: "What about the alt-Left that came charging them? Do they have any semblance of guilt?"

He did not acknowledge that the counter-protesters would not have been there were it not for the neo-Nazi rally

White supremacists descended on Charlottesville on Saturday

He continued: "What about the fact they came charging - that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

"As far as I'm concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day

"I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now.

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

Asked by a reporter in response if "what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?" Mr Trump dodged the question. He simply said: "I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups."

White supremacist groups clashed with hundreds of counter-protesters during the "Unite The Right" rally

David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, immediately praised Mr Trump's remarks, celebrating on Twitter.

"Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa," he said.

The term "alt-Left", coined by Mr Trump, is not widely used. Whereas members of white supremacist groups would define themselves as belonging to the "alt-Right", the "alt-Left" is far less easy to understand.

Mr Duke mentioned "BLM/Antifa" - a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement and an anti fascist organisation.

Black Lives Matter would likely distance themselves from the Left-wing anarchists who commonly disrupt May Day celebrations and gather at meetings like the G8 with the express aim of causing trouble.

And the majority of those who assembled to protest against the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville did so peacefully.

But photos and videos from Saturday's riot does show people dressed in black, their faces covered, engaging the neo-Nazis in violent confrontation. 

Anti-fascist counter-protesters wait outside Lee Park to hurl insluts as white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" are forced out after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering

According to an article in the current issue of The Atlantic, Antifa, a militant Leftist organisation, traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain.

"When fascism withered after World War II, Antifa did too," wrote Peter Beinart, a professor at New York University.

"But in the ’70s and ’80s, neo-Nazi skinheads began to infiltrate Britain’s punk scene. After the Berlin Wall fell, neo-Nazism also gained prominence in Germany.

"In response, a cadre of young leftists, including many anarchists and punk fans, revived the tradition of street-level antifascism."

The group of rioters seek to meet "alt-Right" activity with violence.

In the same way that Left-wing anarchists in Greece battled police during protests against austerity measures, masked groups in America will challenge Right-wing rallies and speeches.

On Inauguration Day, a masked activist punched the white-supremacist leader Richard Spencer, and a month later protesters violently disrupted plans by the University of California in Berkeley’ to host a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart.com editor. 

According to Mr Beinart: "Antifascists call such actions defensive. Hate speech against vulnerable minorities, they argue, leads to violence against vulnerable minorities.

"But Trump supporters and white nationalists see antifa’s attacks as an assault on their right to freely assemble, which they in turn seek to reassert."