Both of the white supremacist killers responsible for the mass murders in El Paso and Christchurch have more than their racism in common. They are both self-described eco-fascists.
What does this mean, and how is the far right coopting environmental concerns to spread its racist message?
In a recent article, I examined the underlying philosophies that motivate white nationalist shooters.
Anti-immigrant sentiment, the need to fight a racial war, the sense of “loss” that underlies white racial resentment as minorities campaign for equality — these are all common features of alternative right extremism.
However, one motive that has experienced resurgence in ultra-rightist circles is the need to protect the environment — hence the term eco-fascism.
Concern for the environment and a willingness to do something to stop ecological destruction is normally associated with the left. Green activism is the usual provenance of left-wing groups. However, the ultra right and white supremacists are no strangers to environmental causes.
Rather than deny the reality of climate change, rightist organisations are now accepting the science of anthropogenic global warming. Their proposed solution? Reduce the human population, in particular the non-white nationalities of the world.
Environmentalism has a long history on the racist Right
The issue of environmental destruction wrought by industrialisation and the depletion of natural resources has been a concern of the white supremacist right.
Lamenting the despoliation of nature, the right has traditionally blamed immigration, and what they see as the movement of non-white “races” into the white colonial-settler societies.
Decrying multiculturalism as a plot by global elites to dilute white society, eco-fascist writers have blamed the problems of pollution, overcrowded cities and the excessive consumption of scarce resources on migrant communities.
Blaming immigration for environmental problems has a sordid pedigree, and this line of thinking traces its origins to the advocates of white supremacy.
Professor Madison Grant, eugenics proponent and author of the racist book The Passing of the Great Race, was an ardent environmentalist. A passionate conservationist, he combined his love of nature with a racially-charged misanthropy, advocating the reduction of immigration as a way to relieve pressure on the environment.
While Grant wanted to reduce the numbers of poor people within US society, his co-thinkers in Europe proposed genocidal solutions.
In an article for TRT World, Amar Diwakar detailed how German commentators developed a racial, volkish (nationalist) concept of “race and soil”. A mythologising of the past, volkish nationalism romanticised the notions of white “folk” tied to the land, cultivating it and connected by racial bonds.
This atavistic throwback to an imagined pre-modern racially harmonious community has surprisingly modern adaptations. The notion of “living in tune with nature” sounds like a benign preoccupation, but was actually updated in the 20th century by Nazi ideologues such as Walter Darre.
An early example of a “green Nazi”, Darre articulated the “blood and soil” ideas of the Nazi party, advocating a racially-homogeneous homeland (whites-only) sustaining an ecologically harmonious community.
One of the interesting outgrowths of the alt-right’s “green” underpinning is advocacy of vegetarianism and veganism. While the stereotypical long-haired hippie type has become the poster-child for veganism and a vegetarian lifestyle, increasing numbers of today’s white supremacists are going for veganism.
Resentful of the connection between “loonie-lefties” and vegetarian concerns, the alt-right is emphasising the historic strains of vegetarianism present among the political ancestors of the ultra right. Organic farming and reforestation programs were promoted by the Nazi party as an extension of their “getting back to nature” ideas.
Counterposing trees and refugees
The El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, lamented the destruction of the environment in his manifesto. He blamed immigration and refugees for increased pressure on the environment and natural resources. In this, he is not alone.
The notion of overpopulation has a long racial lineage, and has been deployed to rationalise bigotry against the non-white populations of the world. Eco-fascists and ultra rightists have acknowledged the ecological crisis to advocate homicidal measures against their favoured targets.
Overpopulation — or the fear of such an outcome — requires an extensive article of its own.
The fact of ecological despoliation has long been used as a reason to adopt coercive and authoritarian methods against racial and ethnic minorities — and the poor.
Overpopulation advocates have built a case based on xenophobic arguments and fear. Deriving their ideas from the English pastor Thomas Malthus, today’s neo-Malthusians routinely point to non-white communities and cities — Kinshasa, or Mexico City — to buttress their arguments.
Overcrowding in urban areas is a symptom, not a cause. Overcrowded cities are the result of bad planning, or rather, prioritising profits over people’s needs.
Not every overpopulationist is a vicious, stone-cold racist. Talking about numbers of people is axiomatic. However, every eco-fascist advocates against overpopulation; targeting the numbers of non-white people, to sustain the rapacious consumerism of capitalist societies.
Environment journalist David Roberts has written how it is the wealthy that consume the most resources and have the greatest adverse environmental impact. It is the profit-driven corporations that exploit and over-consume natural and mineral resources. The oil and gas energy companies are notorious for exploiting resources, leaving behind them a trail of toxic pollution and environmental destruction.
Even if we are concerned about reducing numbers, the solution resides not in a genocidal reordering of the nonwhite populations, but in female empowerment. Education of girls, greater reproductive rights and increased opportunities outside the home reduce birth rates and make for a more gender-equitable society.
There are solutions to the environmental crisis that do not involve a genocidal racial reordering of the world. Bold climate justice policies, such as the Green New Deal, provide initial steps in challenging the capitalist production system that places profits over people’s lives.
Those who campaign for environmental justice must not allow the white-supremacist right to pervert that struggle for their own racist ends.