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President Trump Refers To Counter-Protesters As The 'Alt-Left'


President Trump used a new term at his press conference yesterday - alt-left.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

CORNISH: He blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. Critics say this language creates a moral equivalence between the alt-right, many of whose members espouse a white nationalist ideology, and the counter-protesters who oppose them.

Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio has been reporting on this issue. He joins us now. And Brian, first of all, you and I have talked a couple of times about the alt-right. Is there such thing as the alt-left?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Well, it is really hard to lump all of these very different counter-protest groups under that umbrella. Most of them aren't nearly as radical as Donald Trump is implying there. In fact it's a tiny minority. Another crucial difference here of course is that groups on the left aren't based or organized around an ideology of racial supremacy, and that is a core idea and an increasingly mainstream idea within the alt-right.

But there are some superficial ways that these groups resemble each other. They're often using social media strategies to recruit members and to organize. They deeply distrust mainstream political culture in the U.S. And there are fringe elements on both sides willing to engage in violence.

CORNISH: Now, we also heard this alluded to in a response to the president's remarks. Former Klansman David Duke tweeted, thanks to President Trump for having the courage to, quote, "condemn the leftist terrorists and BLM Antifa," BLM meaning Black Lives Matters and pairing them up with anti-fascists. Now, how do Black Lives Matters activists feel about being portrayed in this way, the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis?

MANN: Well, first, that comparison just doesn't work factually. Black Lives Matter has sparked controversy occasionally with its tactics and its rhetoric. But you know, neo-Nazis and the Klan have a long, well-documented history of terrorism, of lynchings, blowing up churches, assassinating elected officials, murdering civil rights activists and police. And so, you know, that's a long history there that the black lives matter just isn't on the same continuum. We reached out to April Goggans - she's a Black Lives Matter activist - to get her sense of the president's framing.

APRIL GOGGANS: Black Lives Matter is an easy target. It's something that's visible, something that people know what it is and have their own, you know, ideas about what it means to them. But you just have to ask also, who is it that is saying this message, David Duke? I think the only people who lend credence to anything that he says (laughter) are his followers.

CORNISH: I want to talk more about the other name that was mentioned, the Antifa, or anti-fascists. This group is controversial. They have engaged in violent clashes, including there in Charlottesville. But most Americans are only learning about them now. Who are they?

MANN: Well, they're definitely the most militant part of the left-wing street movement that's grown over the last few years. They often wear masks. They carry improvised weapons. I've spoken to law enforcement repeatedly since Donald Trump's election, and they are really worried about this small fraction of the left-wing street movement. I asked Daryle Lamont Jenkins about this. He's an Antifa activist who often speaks for the movement.

DARYLE LAMONT JENKINS: Antifa was armed just as much as the Nazis were. And we did so because we knew that this was where it was going to go.

MANN: He's talking there about the clash in Charlottesville. And one final thing, Audie - I do think there's a lot of evidence now that these two elements of America's political culture are kind of feeding on each other. I've heard a lot of talk since Charlottesville that both sides want to get back out on the streets. And I think wherever you find neo-Nazis and the Klan, you're also very likely to find Antifa and other counter-protesters.

CORNISH: Brian Mann is with North Country Public Radio. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.

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