Liam Stack pulled himself off his anti-Trump Twitter feed long enough to file “Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa, Cuck: A Brief Glossary of Extremist Terminology” for Wednesday’s New York Times, while his colleague Linda Qiu assured us that “anti-fascist” Antifa, the bat-wielding, window-smashing black bloc, are not actually domestic terrorists. Both stories soft-pedaled the violence emanating from Antifa.
President Trump angrily denounced the so-called alt-left at a news conference on Tuesday, claiming that the group attacked followers of the so-called alt-right at a white supremacist rally that exploded into deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
Both phrases are part of a broad lexicon of far-right terminology that has become important to understanding American politics during the Trump administration. Many of these terms have their roots in movements that are racist, anti-Semitic and sexist.
Here is a brief guide to the meaning of those expressions and others used by white supremacists and far-right extremists.
The “alt-right” is a racist, far-right movement based on an ideology of white nationalism and anti-Semitism. Many news organizations do not use the term, preferring terms like “white nationalism” and “far right.”
It is also anti-immigrant, anti-feminist and opposed to homosexuality and gay and transgender rights. It is highly decentralized but has a wide online presence, where its ideology is spread via racist or sexist memes with a satirical edge.
Stack threw a wide-net to tar even benign viewpoints as racist. In favor of trade schools and apprenticeships? Congratulations, you may be part of the racist alt-right as well:
It believes that higher education is “only appropriate for a cognitive elite” and that most citizens should be educated in trade schools or apprenticeships.
Researchers who study extremist groups in the United States say there is no such thing as the “alt-left.” Mark Pitcavage, an analyst at the Anti-Defamation League, said the word had been made up to create a false equivalence between the far right and “anything vaguely left-seeming that they didn’t like.”
Stack has a practiced knack for twisting labels -- witness his December 2016 smear that miraculously transformed an objective study on religion into a smear on stupid Christians.
He let the unlabeled left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center call Antifa “extremist” but avoided the term in his own description. However, he used the term to describe “right-wing extremists.”
“Antifa” is a contraction of the word “anti-fascist.” It was coined in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s by a network of groups that spread across Europe to confront right-wing extremists, according to Mr. Pitcavage. A similar movement emerged in the 1980s in the United States and has grown as the “alt-right” has risen to prominence.
For some so-called antifa members, the goal is to physically confront white supremacists. “If they can get at them, to assault them and engage in street fighting,” Mr. Pitcavage said. Mr. Lenz, at the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the group “an old left-wing extremist movement.”
Stack quickly waved away any suggestion that Antifa bore responsibility for violence (never mind the photo in Wednesday’s paper showing an unlabeled “protester” hurling a newspaper box at a white nationalist).
Members of the “alt-right” broadly portray protesters who oppose them as “antifa,” or the “alt-left,” and say they bear some responsibility for any violence that ensues -- a claim made by Mr. Trump on Tuesday.
But analysts said comparing antifa with neo-Nazi or white supremacist protesters was a false equivalence.
S.J.W. is short for “social justice warrior” and is used by the right as an epithet for someone who advocates liberal causes like feminism, racial justice or gay and transgender rights. It is also sometimes used to imply that a person’s online advocacy of a cause is insincere or done for appearances. It became widely used during “GamerGate,” a controversy that began in 2014 over sexism in video game subcultures.
Mr. Lenz, whose organization has specific criteria for which groups it classifies as Nazi organizations, said the right used the phrase “to rhetorically address the fact that the left sometimes calls anyone who disagrees with it Nazis.” He said the alt-right had created the term so its followers had a similar blanket term to deride the left.
Also on Wednesday, the paper’s Fact Check reporter Linda Qiu put together another soft-pedaling piece, “On Spectrum of Extremism, Far Left Takes Relatively Little Space.” The paper’s photo choice was interesting: “A protester, center, threw a newspaper box at a white nationalist in Saturday in Virginia.”
President Trump defended his belated condemnation of white supremacists who engaged in violence in Charlottesville, Va., by arguing that he was exercising caution in casting blame. Then he returned to his original position that there was ample fault on both sides.
Antifa, or anti-fascist activists, certainly used clubs and dyed liquids against the white supremacists, according to the New York Times reporters Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Hawes Spencer, who covered the violence in Charlottesville. Other counterprotesters included nonviolent clergy members.
But there is one stark difference between the violence on the two sides: The police said that James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio drove his car into a crowd and killed at least one person, Heather Heyer. Mr. Fields was charged with second-degree murder.
Comparing Antifa to Mr. Fields’s act is like “comparing a propeller plane to a C-130 transport,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Using the fact that some counterprotesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president,” Professor Levin said.
Antifa and black block -- the far left of today -- engaging in street brawls and property damage, while reprehensible, is “not domestic terrorism,” said J. J. MacNab, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Similar episodes of extreme violence certainly exist on the left: the recent congressional baseball shooting in Virginia, or the bombing of the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters.
But overall, far-right extremist plots have been far more deadly than far-left plots (and Islamist plots eclipsed both) in the past 25 years, according to a breakdown of two terrorism databases by Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Conservatives would argue that the political left's softness on Islamic terrorism makes it more dangerous a threat.
Qiu showed some balance:
The far left was far more active and violent in the 1970s, while the far right and, specifically, militia movements resurged in the 1980s. A decade later, environmental terrorists became active. And jihadist attacks dominated after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But her sources cast a wide net that swept up “anti-abortion extremists” alongside neo-Nazis, though the last abortion-clinic related murders occurred in 2015, and previously in 2009.
Though Antifa and black block “are on my radar,” he still considers violent Salafist jihadists and white nationalists, neo-Nazis, “sovereign citizens” and radical anti-abortion extremists -- the consortium of far-right agitators -- more concerning.