Yes, the Alt-Left Exists, and No, It’s Not What You Think It Is
There have been many discussions over the term alt-Left. For many, this term has become a convenient cover, a rhetorical tool that the far-Right can point to in order to claim there are “extremists on both sides”. For instance,during the Charlottesville incident, Donald Trump and the Right Wing Media would attempt to derail from the racist extremism by creating a false moral equivalency between the alt-Right and Antifa or so-called Social Justice Warriors (a pejorative term for Progressive Intersectional Feminist activists). This in turn has, justifiably, led many on the Left to deny or dismiss the existence of the alt-Left as a concept.
In this piece, I intend to argue otherwse: that there is such a thing as the alt-Left. However, this movement is neither the conventional far-Left nor the Identity Politics focused Tumblr Left, as many on the Right have argued. It is a rather different beast, and one that is highly dangerous by nature. Rather, The alt-Left is a unique phenomenon which attempts to blur the line between the far-Right and certain elements of the Left. It is an attempt to hitch onto positions traditionally held by the Left, including anti-Establishment sentiment, in order to make reactionary ideas more palatable.
Whereas the so-called Tumblr Left is characterised by its intersectionality, the alt-Left is largely characterised by a lack thereof. It is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male, and tends to be a mixture of Tankies, Lyndon LaRouche devotees, National Bolsheviks, economic nationalists, WikiLeaks supporters, former Bernie Bros turned Trump supporters, among others. The alt-Left, while hardly an organised movement, is bound together by a series of common characteristics, including the following: admiration for Vladimir Putin, Assadism, a penchant for conspiracy theories, denial of the Bosnian genocide, often virulent anti-Semitism, and most importantly, a bizarre willingness to find common cause with Donald Trump and the Populist Right, including White Nationalists.
It has its own online media ecosystem, separate from reputable left-leaning outlets. These “alternative” outlets are often characterised for being poorly sourced and publishing conspiracy theories and other dubious material. And despite the fact that many of them tend to attract a left-leaning crowd, they often publish material that would not seem out of place in a platform like Breitbart or the Daily Stormer.
One of these outlets is VoltaireNet, a French-founded, Beirut-based online media outlet run by “Left-Wing” French journalist and 9/11 truther Thierry Meyssan. VoltaireNet has long been known for its sympathies for Vladimir Putin and their promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which even led early board members to leave the publication. Over the past year, editor Thierry Meyssan has written numerous glowing pieces about Donald Trump’s presidency, praising him for his “anti-establishment” positions, his opposition to “Jihadist states”, and his supposed adoption of an “anti Imperialist” foreign policy. One of these pieces even rushes to the defence of alt-Right influencer Milo Yiannopulous, praising him for “fighting against gays being made use of by the Democrats”. The same piece applauds Steve Bannon and highlights his opposition to “globalized billionaires” (It is worth noting that the term Globalist has become a dog-whistle term for Jews amongst the American far-Right).
Another is Russia Insider, an independent outlet that prides itself on “citizen journalism”. The site has ties to Gilbert Doctorow, a former contributor to various Left-leaning outlets such as The Nation and founder of the American Committee for East-West Accord. It has also acquired a certain following among pro Russia segments of the Left. Since January 2018, the publication has taken a turn towards an explicitly anti-Semitic editorial line. The outlet’s new editorial policies were announced through an editorial by RussiaInsider editor Charles Bausman titled “It’s Time to Drop the Jew Taboo”. The site has recently expanded to offer an entire section dedicated to the “Jewish question”, and was praised by numerous White Supremacists, including Richard Spencer.
A third outlet that manages to appeal to both the anti-Establishment, anti-Imperialist camp and White Nationalists is the Montreal-based anti-Globalization think-tank GlobalResearch. This Canadian think-tank is notorious for pushing conspiracy theories about 9/11, anti-vaccination ideas, pro-Assad propaganda, and Holocaust denialism. One of their prominent writers is White Helmets truther Vanessa Beeley, editor of the climate-denialist, pro-Trump, pro-Brexit 21st Century Wire. Beeley has praised Hungary’s far-Right President Viktor Orban and engaged in conspiracy-mongering against George Soros, a trope popular among Trump supporters and members of the Identitarian Right.
Thankfully, these outlets and online communities are rather fringe. However, they are protected by the support of more mainstream Left figures. Several investigative pieces by anti-Fascist journalist Alexander Reid Ross for the Southern Poverty Law Center on this phenomenon, which were instrumental research in the writing of this article, were removed from the SPLC’s website. Unsurprisingly, this decision was praised by numerous Right-Wing figures and publications, including alt-Rightist Mike Cernovich and pro-Trump publication The Daily Caller, which has been criticised for its links to White Nationalists. However, it is important to note that the figure who managed to get the articles removed was none other than journalist Max Blumenthal, who is well regarded within certain sectors of the mainstream Left. Blumenthal is one of the figures that have mastered the art of straddling the line between the conventional Left and the alt-Left. He has written both for respectable outlets such as The Intercept or The Daily Beast, as well as sites such as VoltaireNet, and despite his following by the mainstream Left, has even appeared on FOX News defending Trump over possible collusion with Russia, and has shared the stage with RussiaInsider’s Charles Bausman.
Other well-regarded figures that have engaged in flirtations that blur the lines between the anti-establishment Left and the Trumpist far-Right include individuals with ties to the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks. The first of these is Chelsea Manning, who earlier this year attended a gala hosted by alt-Right figure and noted conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. The second is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has engaged in sexist and anti-Semitic rhetoric as evidenced by leaked WikiLeaks group chats obtained by The Intercept. It has also been revealed that Assange supported Trump due to his perceived “anti-imperialism” and used WikiLeaks to aid Trump in the election. In addition, Assange also has ties to Holocaust denier Israel Shamir.
The rise of this alt-Left, while a fringe phenomenon, is a potentially dangerous development, and one that we on the Left must remain vigilant about. The threat of White Nationalists using anti-establishment rhetoric to “redpill” Leftists into supporting Trump is a worrying one, and one that has already begun to bear fruits. Even more worrying is the fact that well-known figures on the anti-Establishment Left are willing to provide cover for it.