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Opinion

The Terms ‘Alt-Left’ and ‘Alt-Right’ Establish a Dangerous False Equivalence

In an infuriating Tuesday press conference, President Trump suggested the blame for violence in Charlottesville this weekend fell on the shoulders of not only the racists who initiated it all, but also on those of “alt-left.”

“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’? Let me ask you this: 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.”

The words shocked the country — perhaps even the world. The president of the United States seemed to offer a passionate defense of violent white supremacists by equating them to left-wing progressives.

In ordinary circumstances, I’d say it would be a mistake to get caught up in the semantics of things, but these circumstances are anything but ordinary, so here goes: The alt-right doesn’t exist. It’s called neo-Nazism; it’s an ideology for people who think women are inferior humans who don’t deserve the right to vote and exist solely at the pleasure of men, for people who think African Americans are inferior humans who don’t deserve to be in this country.

To suggest neo-Nazism is merely a faction of run-of-the-mill conservatism is to normalize an ideology of hatred and bigotry and suggest that it has a place in the modern, national political dialogue.

Frankly, there’s no “alt-left” either — the term, which purportedly refers to people who have the audacity to believe health care is a human right and transgender individuals deserve to have their pronouns respected, is an invention of the “alt-right” and its sympathizers to establish a false equivalence.

The idea that Americans shouldn’t die because they can’t afford health care and that trans people aren’t perverted monsters isn’t extremism — the idea that minorities are second-class citizens is. And the fact that our president can’t recognize this isn’t just frustrating — it’s terrifying.

In either case, this false equivalence is used to minimize the violence that’s inherently attached to neo-Nazism and white supremacy. It’s important to remember that the ideology of removing people of color from the country or taking away their rights can only be backed up with force or the threat of force. People who defend hosting speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter, who thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, suggest that just saying that women or black people don’t deserve human rights is peaceful speech, but it’s not.

Words aren’t just words.

When we say the phrases “alt-left” or “alt-right” in an attempt to mask the danger and violence of neo-Nazism, those aren’t just words. They’re an endorsement of racism and bigotry. Anyone who thinks this is still a free speech issue isn’t paying attention.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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