On the History of the Term "Alt-Right," "Alt-Left," and Everything Else Under The Sun

The terms "alt-right" and "alt-left" have been thrown around frequently, so I saw it fitting that I give a more complete explanation of these terms on several counts. Q&A format is appropriate here, and it's what I'll use:

Q: Who began using the term "alt-right," when did they begin using it, and for what purpose?

A: The term "alternative right" was coined in 2010 by Richard Spencer when he started his "The Alternative Right" publication. Richard Spencer is a known neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and anti-Semite. Because "alt-right" is a term coined by an actual neo-Nazi, it is NOT an insult, it is a semantic attempt to launder white supremacist ideology into the political mainstream. The term should not be used by Democrats as an insult. The term is to be outright rejected and replaced with neo-Nazism, white supremacy, anti-semitism, and ethno-nationalism, which are the actual ideologies at play.

Q: Who began using the term "alt-left," when did they begin using it, and for what purpose?

A: The first attested use of the term "alt-left" appears to be with Donald Trump after the 2017 Unite the Right rally. Unlike the term "alt-right," "alt-left" did not originate with people who claimed to practice it. Let me be clear; I am not attempting to delegitimize the notion of an alt-left purely because it has been imputed to people by others. Political nicknaming by opponents is a regular part of the political process. With that said, if anyone is to use the term (which I don't), it should be reserved for similarly violent ideologies and not used to describe any run-of-the-mill neoliberal Democrat who disagrees with the GOP idea du jour. As an additional matter, neoliberalism and liberalism are distinct from leftism, but that's a conversation for another time.

Q: Is Richard Spencer really a neo-Nazi, white supremacist or anti-semite?

A: Yes on all counts. As it regards neo-Nazism, Richard Spencer called the election of Donald Trump a "victory of will," a phrase that was a deliberate dog-whistle call-back to Nazi propaganda film "Triumph of the Will / Triumph des Wellens." Richard Spencer has urged his supporters to party like it's 1933, which appears to be a direct reference to the year Adolf Hitler assumed leadership of the Nazi Party and the office of German Chancellor. Richard Spencer has deliberately used Joseph Goebbels' term "Lügenpresse" or lying press to refer to the media. [Let me be clear that the media can lie, and not all claims that the media are lying are related to Nazism. My contest here is with an American citizen who speaks English using a German Nazi term for lying press.]

As it regards white supremacy, Richard Spencer has called for the creation of a "potential racial empire" that would resemble the Roman Empire. He has called for a "pan-European" "ethnostate" that would be accomplished through "peaceful racial cleansing," a process that would occur through treaties and agreements which would legally dispossess non-whites.

As it regards anti-semitism, I introduce a 54 second segment from Richard Spencer's address to the crowd at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville:

"Little f****** k**** [anti-semitic slur]. They get ruled by people like me. Little f****** o******** [slur for someone of 1/8 African heritage] ... I f****** ... my ancestors f****** enslaved those little pieces of f****** s***. I rule the f****** world. Those pieces of f****** s*** get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them. That's how the f****** world works. We are going to destroy this f****** town."

As a sidenote, when discourse like this happens (if you can call it "discourse" rather than the hatred-filled screed that it is), it's problematic to say that there were "very fine people" on both sides. At the very least, if Trump believed that there were certain principled people on both sides, he ought to have condemned speeches like the one I included above.

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Comments (57)

Sep 10, 2021 - 6:05am

who cares?

Never discuss with idiots, first they drag you at their level, then they beat you with experience.

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Sep 10, 2021 - 6:13am

To my knowledge, this is the 2nd time you've replied to me. The gist of both times is "you've written something that's too long, and I don't care," and that's a perfectly fine sentiment. You have every right to it.

With that said, I'll attempt to briefly outline why this conversation matters on this website at the present time:

#1. "Alt-right" is frequently used as an insult on this website. This is folly. "Alt-right" is not an insult; it is a desperate attempt by vile people to lend legitimacy to their hatred by placing it on the left-right dichotomy of political ideology.

#2. "Alt-left" is not a legitimate term. It originated as a bad faith false equivalency. I'm perfectly fine with decrying left-wing terrorism (e.g. attacks on United States Federal courthouses), but alt-left isn't the term I would use.

In summary, use of either term shows a lack of grasp on the concepts of political economy. This error is to be corrected.

EDIT: Intended as a reply for neink. My apologies

  • Associate 1 in IB - Gen
Sep 10, 2021 - 2:43pm

Most people already associate Alt Right with the things you listed. The left uses the term more than any other group, and they use it interchangably with "white supremacy". Nobody on the right uses it anymore except to describe a historical movement that died at Charlottesville. And good riddance - many of the core ideas were sensible and logical, but the optics were horrific and trying to go "big tent" with 90 IQ skinheads was idiotic. It was excessively European - it lacked any sort of "Americanness". Spencer himself was an effete intellectual trying to LARP as Carl Schmitt in the 30s. The term the right uses for people still in the Spencer-sphere is "wignat". I.e. wigger nationalist. 

America First takes all positive aspects of the Alt Right (appropriate skepticism of disproportionately powerful groups, opposition to mass immigration, anti-wokeism etc.) and places them firmly in an American populist context.

also on Trump's "both sides" comment, that was a huge blunder on his part. The violent revolutionary communists (who support the ideology that has murdered 100m+ people globally) were not good people and had no business disrupting a genuinely peaceful protest. But I guess you can support genocidal tyranical ideologies if you're on the left

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Sep 10, 2021 - 3:37pm

America First began as a political slogan under Woodrow Wilson, so the term can naturally mean many different things to different people. I don't think we can solely associate the term "America First" with a podcast that started nearly a century after its first widespread use. It's part of the conversation, but not the whole conversation.

Sep 10, 2021 - 3:34pm

Thanks so much for your response. The term "alt-right" has been used as an insult on this platform, which showed a clear lack of grasp. I don't share your sense of optimism that the movement that calls itself "alt-right" met its demise in the wake of Charlottesville.

As it relates to the portmanteau nationalist word you mentioned, the first word in the portmanteau is etymologically descended from "white n*****," which I hope you would agree is not a very respectful way of speaking about anybody. I'm curious to know whether there are any other ways you've heard the right reckon these people.

America First and Trumpism is certainly a more digestible ideology to the American public, but I will refrain from straying too far from the original post.

Sep 11, 2021 - 9:07pm

Shut the fuck up about the " very fine people on both sides" comment. Trump was referring to people who wanted to leave the statue up for historical preservation and the peaceful counter-protestors who wanted the statue taken down. He literally condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the same fucking sentence.

Sep 11, 2021 - 9:57pm

I think it will be helpful if I introduce the transcript from the event in question. The excerpts I care about are in italics.

Reporter: "Let me ask you, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to blast neo-Nazis?"

Trump: "I didn't wait long. I didn't wait long."

Reporter: "Forty-eight hours."

Trump: "I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct -- not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me, and it's a very important statement.

"So I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to --

Reporter: "So you had to (inaudible) white supremacists?"

Trump: "I brought it. I brought it. I brought it."

Reporter: "Was it terrorism, in your opinion, what happened?"

Trump: "As I said on -- remember, Saturday -- we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. And then it went on from there. Now, here's the thing --"

Reporter: (Inaudible)

Trump: "Excuse me. Excuse me. Take it nice and easy. Here's the thing: When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn't even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened.

"Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don't want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman, who I hear was a fantastic young woman, and it was on NBC -- her mother wrote me and said through, I guess, Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine -- really, actually, an incredible young woman. But her mother, on Twitter, thanked me for what I said.

"And honestly, if the press were not fake, and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice.  But unlike you, and unlike -- excuse me, unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts."


Reporter: "The CEO of Walmart said you missed a critical opportunity to help bring the country together. Did you?"

Trump: "Not at all. I think the country -- look, you take a look. I've created over a million jobs since I'm President. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we've ever had in the history of our country. We're doing record business. We have the highest levels of enthusiasm. So the head of Walmart, who I know -- who's a very nice guy -- was making a political statement. I mean -- I'd do it the same way. And you know why? Because I want to make sure, when I make a statement, that the statement is correct. And there was no way -- there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. Unlike a lot of reporters --

Reporter: "Nazis were there."

Reporter: "David Duke was there."

Trump: "I didn't know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. And the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated. In fact, everybody said, 'His statement was beautiful. If he would have made it sooner, that would have been good.' I couldn't have made it sooner because I didn't know all of the facts. Frankly, people still don't know all of the facts.

"It was very important -- excuse me, excuse me -- it was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly. Because if I would have made a fast statement -- and the first statement was made without knowing much, other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made after, with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things -- excuse me -- there are still things that people don't know. I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts."

Reporter: "Two questions. Was this terrorism? And can you tell us how you're feeling about your chief strategist, Stephen Bannon?"

Trump: "Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family, and this country. And that is -- you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That's what I'd call it. Because there is a question:  Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.


Reporter: "Can you tell us broadly what your -- do you still have confidence in Steve?"

Trump: "Well, we'll see.  Look, look -- I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him, he's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he's a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly."


Reporter: "Sen. (John) McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville."

Trump: "Well, I don't know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he's talking about. But when you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead."

Reporter: "Well, I'm saying, as Senator --"

Trump: "No, define it for me. Come on, let's go. Define it for me."

Reporter: "Senator McCain defined them as the same group --"

Trump: "Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at -- excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

"Let me ask you this: What about the fact 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. Wait a minute. I'm not finished. I'm not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day --

" I will tell you something. I watched those very closely -- much more closely than you people watched it. And you have -- 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 -- you had a group on the other side that came charging in, without a permit, and they were very, very violent."

Reporter: "Do you think that what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?"

Trump: "Those people -- all of those people – excuse me, I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee."

Reporter: "Should that statue be taken down?"

Trump: "Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see -- and you'd know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you're not -- but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

"So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

"But they were there to protest -- excuse me, if you take a look, the night before they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. Infrastructure question. Go ahead."

Reporter: "Should the statues of Robert E. Lee stay up?"

Trump: "I would say that's up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located."

Reporter: "How concerned are you about race relations in America? And do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?"

Trump: "I think they've gotten better or the same. Look, they've been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that, because he'd make speeches about it. But I believe that the fact that I brought in -- it will be soon -- millions of jobs -- you see where companies are moving back into our country -- I think that's going to have a tremendous, positive impact on race relations.

"We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced. We have Foxconn in Wisconsin just announced. We have many companies, I say, pouring back into the country. I think that's going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations.  You know why? It's jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay, and when they have that, you watch how race relations will be.

"And I'll tell you, we're spending a lot of money on the inner cities.  We're fixing the inner cities. We're doing far more than anybody has done with respect to the inner cities.  It's a priority for me, and it's very important."

Reporter: "Mr. President, are you putting what you're calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?"

Trump: "I'm not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I'm saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs -- and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.

"But there is another side. There was a group on this side. You can call them the left -- you just called them the left -- that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that's the way it is.

Reporter: (Inaudible) "… both sides, sir. You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are the --"

Trump: "Yes, I think there's blame on both sides. If you look at both sides -- I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say."

Reporter: "The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest --"

Trump: "Excuse me, excuse me. They didn't put themselves -- and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group. Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name."

Reporter: "George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same."

Trump: "George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?"

Reporter: "I do love Thomas Jefferson."

Trump: "Okay, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue?

"So you know what, it's fine. You're changing history. You're changing culture. And you had people -- and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

"Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group."

Reporter: "Sir, I just didn't understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don't understand what you were saying."

Trump: "No, no. There were people in that rally -- and I looked the night before -- if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I'm sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people -- neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them.

"But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest -- because, I don't know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit. So I only tell you this: There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country -- a horrible moment.  But there are two sides to the country.

"Does anybody have a final --

Reporter: "What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill?  You didn't get health care --

Trump: "Well, you know, I'll tell you. We came very close with health care. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You'll have to ask John McCain why he did that. But we came very close to health care. We will end up getting health care. But we'll get the infrastructure. And actually, infrastructure is something that I think we'll have bipartisan support on. I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure."

Reporter: "Mr. President, have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car attack?"

Trump: "No, I'll be reaching out. I'll be reaching out."

Reporter: "When will you be reaching out?"

Trump: "I thought that the statement put out -- the mother's statement I thought was a beautiful statement. I will tell you, it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And, really, under the kind of stress that she's under and the heartache that she's under, I thought putting out that statement, to me, was really something. I won't forget it.

"Thank you, all, very much.  Thank you. Thank you."

So across that entire statement, Donald Trump did all of the following: he condemns hatred, bigotry, and violence; he condemns the attacker who killed Heather Heyer and injured 35 others; and he condemns Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. His remarks were not without criticism for Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but the Charlottesville rally was organized by Neo-Nazi David Kessler and was attended by Stormer Book Clubs, the white supremacist National Policy Institute, the neo-Confederate League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America, the National Socialist Movement, the KKK, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, and Identity Evropa. To date, I haven't found record of a single group that attended the event which was not related to white supremacy, Neo-Nazism, or the neo-Confederacy, which means any "fine people" would have to be nonaffiliated. To ignore the overwhelming bulk of the event and have your lead comment be about the puny numbers of "fine people" for whom there is little to no evidence of their existence is a mealy-mouthed response.

EDIT: Credit to iercurenc for correcting me on my interpretation of the transcript. That element is fixed in my current comment.

Sep 11, 2021 - 10:31pm

You're a fucking clown. He didn't praise David Duke's statement, you illiterate dunce. Trump was praising his own statements regarding the rally. That's why he followed with "I couldn't have made it [my statement] sooner..." I'm not denying that there were a lot of racists at the rally. But there were also a lot of people who wanted to innocently take part in a legal protest. The fact that there was "little to no evidence of their existence" is that they were, as you stated, nonaffiliated. That doesn't mean they didn't exist. Trump was referring to these folks peacefully protesting for historical preservation when he said "fine people." Your entire response was disingenuous and misleading. Learn to understand context and a person's intentions before you make a comment degrading their character.

Sep 11, 2021 - 10:42pm

Also, you're fucking retarded if you don't see how unfair and misleading the media is after reading this transcript. Just look at this:

Trump: And you had people -- and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.


Reporter: "Sir, I just didn't understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?

Trump literally said, "I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE NEO-NAZIS AND WHITE NATIONALISTS" and the yet this reporter still responded "siR, i JUst diDN'T UndeRsTAnd... yoU WeRe SAYIng the PReSS hAs TreateD whitE naTIonAliStS UNfAIRLY?" What a shithead.

I always wondered why the media is so horrendously disingenuous but now I know it's because of fucktards like you who eat this up. I'm not even a diehard Trump crony or anything. I just hate seeing idiocy on this scale, especially when someone's character is being slandered. Fuck off.

Sep 12, 2021 - 3:17pm

The term the "alt-right" is far older than 2010.  It stems from the 1st Regan run from what I understand.   It described new big tent republicans that weren't orthodox in their policy positions.  It feel out of use after that and then as the OP mentioned it came back in the late 2000s early 2010s.  But the term was not created by Spenser. 

Sep 12, 2021 - 3:31pm

The wonderful thing about the origins of words is that there are people whose whole jobs involve finding when they were first used in print or in speech media. These people are lexicographers or "people who compile dictionaries." The lexicographers at Merriam-Webster (one of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting), have said that the phrase "alt-right" saw its first use in 2009 and that the phrase means "a right-wing, primarily online political movement or grouping based in the U.S. whose members reject mainstream conservative politics and espouse extremist beliefs and policies typically centered on ideas of white nationalism." If you find solid evidence that the phrase was actually in recorded use from the 1st Reagan run, I will personally contact Merriam-Webster myself and have them change their website. My primary thesis was that "alt-right" = white nationalism & neo-Nazism and Richard Spencer popularized or originated the term.

Sep 13, 2021 - 12:53pm

Never studied English at college. Never been a lady. Never thought my career trajectory was not going to pay well. Never attended a target school.

Anything else you'd like to prognosticate about my personal life?

*Talking about linguistics doesn't mean I study English. I can pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time.*

Sep 13, 2021 - 12:56pm

This is just proof that liberal arts courses are very important for non liberal arts majors.  When you have a significant number of highly educated finance professionals believing that society has to collapse because women get better grades or that Jews did 9/11 there's a real problem.  And no not every liberal arts course is "blue haired feminist postcolonial whatever"

Sep 13, 2021 - 1:04pm

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