Environmentalists already face an uphill political climb in the Trump era while working to enact policies to combat the massive challenge of global climate change—most notably an administration prone to dismissing the phenomenon as a “hoax,” suppressing scientific data, and openly hostile to any efforts to combat it. And then there is the army of climate denialists who swarm social media in support of those right-wing politics.
What they may not be prepared to deal with, as a recent piece by Alex Amend at Political Research Associates on the rise of eco-fascism in America explores in detail, is finding their own ideals, rhetoric, and agendas hijacked by far-right elements that seem to share their goals, but whose own long-term vision of “protecting the environment” would be profoundly destructive both to the project of saving the planet and the democratic institutions necessary to enable it.
Amend’s piece describes how eco-fascism and its attendant violence has spread from Europe to not just the United States but has become, with the help of the Internet and social media, a global phenomenon. It has evolved into a driving force in the darker reaches of the alt-right online, particularly among “accelerationist” white nationalists and neo-Nazis whose bleak view of the world has led them to work toward hastening the end of world.
As Amend explains, its solutions ultimately are only secondarily “green” in nature. Eco-fascists’ primary solution to environmental problems is genocide.
The devaluing of human life—particularly of populations seen as inferior—in order to protect the environment viewed as essential to White identity is at the core of Far Right environmentalism and ecofascist thought. The ecofascist dream is a not just a White ethnostate but a “green” one too.
Eco-fascists have been trying to make hay during the COVID-19 pandemic, leveraging the spread of the disease with their own apocalyptic fearmongering to draw new recruits. In some cases, white nationalists have even discussed literally weaponizing the virus in order to spread it among nonwhite populations.
The spread of eco-fascism online has contributed to a number of major terrorist events around the world—beginning, as Amend explores, with Anders Breivik’s 2011 attacks on Oslo and Utoya Island in Norway. Breivik’s meandering manifesto contained a number of eco-fascist themes, even though he considered climate change mostly a “Communist hoax.” More recently, violence fueled by eco-fascist ideas has exploded globally—from Christchurch, New Zealand, to El Paso, Texas, and many places in between.
However, eco-fascists often express goals similar to that of environmentalists, especially so-called “deep ecologists,” such as the alt-right Counter Currents editor Greg Johnson’s arguments about “the centrality of nature” as a core value—a theme that he then twists into a eugenicist argument about preserving the white race—from which “follows an organic, hierarchical view of society, the rejection of egalitarianism, the rejection of modern technology and capitalism.”
One of white nationalists’ eco-fascist ideas, widely embraced within the alt-right, is “human biodiversity,” a kind of ideological successor to eugenics. It embraces the scientifically proven genetic differences between groups of humans and exalts them beyond what gene scientists conclude—to claim, namely, that the dissimilarities they outline (all gene-driven, they claim) are “non-negligible” or “non-trivial,” and so must have deep social policy implications.
It’s fundamentally an argument for a nationalist worldview. As Johnson puts it, “you get the outlook of somebody like Savitri Devi … who said that her dream is of a world where you have many races and each race has its own place in the world where it can live according to its own lights.”
One of the chief challenges environmentalists face is recognizing that not only are these would-be allies unbelievably toxic, but that they share some roots with far-right white nationalists and eugenicists—even though environmentalism since the 1960s has been largely a left-wing domain. This enhances their ability to embed themselves within the climate-change movement, often undetected.
As Amend also explores, the early conservationists and environmentalists—including the German romanticists who coined the term “ecology”—were also avid eugenicists who would have found “human biodiversity” arguments appealing. These came to include Theodore Roosevelt, whose friend Madison Grant penned a massive bestseller titled The Passing of the Great Race warning of the threat of “race suicide.”
These deeply bigoted roots came creeping back into national view just this week when the Sierra Club began publicly exploring the racist beliefs of some of its most lionized founders, particularly John Muir. As the club’s president noted, Muir’s writings sometimes characterized Black Americans and Native Americans as “dirty and lazy,” and considered their presence in the Sierra Nevada as “a blemish on an otherwise picturesque landscape.”
“The Muir ideal of the lone white man at one with nature in the wilderness excludes all kinds of people from that relationship,” Jon Christensen, an environmental historian and professor at UCLA, told The New York Times. “That ideal has caused a lot of damage.”
The genocidal nationalism that is eco-fascism’s solution to global climate change would strand the vulnerable populations most at risk from its lethal effects—particularly those in Third World nations—and leave only a handful of elite places with a semblance of security and well-being, at least in the short term. For eco-fascists, this is a feature, not a bug; these are, after all, the “expendable people.” It’s an utterly illusory solution, not to mention an inhuman and murderous one.
Activist/author Daniel Devnir warns in his book All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It that this nationalism “poses a greater threat to addressing global warming than climate denialism.”
As Amend concludes:
The rise of ethnonationalist movements and groups—inflamed by xenophobia, expressed through violence, and increasingly claiming the mantle of environmentalism—cannot be separated from the challenge of the climate crisis itself. They are—all of them—the same fight.