How can we effectively deal with ecofascism?
Ecofascism is the dangerous ideology behind some of the worst terrorist attacks in recent history. Without meaningful resistance, it will only keep spreading.
Leila Sackur and Editors
06 Jul 2022
Content warning: racism, death, violence.
On 14 May, a white teenager from Conklin, south-east New York – a town in which 92% of residents are white – donned military gear and a helmet camera to travel 200 miles upstate. At a Tops supermarket on the east side of Buffalo, in a predominantly black neighbourhood, he first opened fire in the car park, killing four people and wounding three, before moving into the supermarket itself and shooting dead six more shoppers. Every person he killed was African American.
The massacre in Buffalo was the latest in a series of mass shootings driven by the white nationalist ‘replacement theory’, which claims that there is an orchestrated attempt by non-white immigrants – and complicit political elites – to demographically and culturally replace white people in Europe and North America. It’s the same theory cited by the killer who orchestrated the Christchurch shooting in a mosque in New Zealand in March 2019, and the murder of 23 Latinx people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in August that year, and the murder of three Jewish shoppers in a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City in December just three months later.
In the Buffalo shooter’s 180-page manifesto, uploaded online before he carried out the attack, he not only cited the Christchurch massacre as direct inspiration, but also presented himself as driven by environmental concerns, arguing that “there is no Green future with never ending population growth” and described mass migration as “environmental warfare”. This discourse isn’t entirely novel; the El Paso manifesto was titled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, recalling the 2006 climate change documentary of the same name by U.S. politician Al Gore. The text’s pretensions to environmentalism were again derived from the Christchurch shooter, whose manifesto explicitly blamed the climate crisis on ‘overpopulation’ by non-European people. In acting on their racism, all claimed to be saving the planet.
“In acting on their racism, all claimed to be saving the planet”
This ideology of ‘ecofascism’, which blends together far-right authoritarianism with climate concerns, is an increasingly common thread in contemporary alt-right terrorism. Political actors in the mainstream may distance themselves from illegal violence, but ecofascist discourse isn’t new to mainstream politics; in April last year, Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich brought a lawsuit against the Biden administration, claiming that the president’s suspension of work on Trump’s border wall had impacted Arizona’s environment, increasing demands on infrastructure, hospitals and schools. In Austria in 2020, a groundbreaking coalition government was formed between the right-wing people’s party and the centre-left Greens, promising to tackle the dual ‘threats to Austria’ of illegal immigration from the Mediterranean and the climate crisis.
What is ecofascism?
For Sam Moore and Alex Roberts, authors of The Rise of Ecofascism, a book which traces the history of the far-right’s relationship to environmentalism, fascism itself is a political phenomenon with three distinct characteristics: an authoritarian state, a racialised mass-movement, and the use of extrajudicial violence to achieve these ends. Ecofascism is an ideology that therefore blames the climate crisis on ethnic minority communities, and attempts to use violent and authoritarian means to solve the crisis as the right sees it. Although ecofascism has its roots in European ‘race science’, with Western nationalists linking together ‘blood and soil’ (the belief that state borders should coincide with ‘natural’ ethnic communities), ecofascism is also on the rise in non-Western countries that have adopted hardline nationalist policies. In India, nationalist president Narendra Modi has also appealed to a discourse of ‘natural purity’ and harmony between Hindus and nature as a means of justification for his restriction and oppression of Muslims throughout the nation.
Speaking on the Buffalo mass shooting, President Joe Biden described the racially motivated mass attack as “abhorrent to the very fabric of our nation”. But looking more closely, the Buffalo shooter was acting out a fantasy that could be seen as distinctly American. The genocidal threats in his manifesto to erase “non-white people from white lands” recall Manifest Destiny, a cultural belief in the 19th century that white Americans were destined to settle and spread over the North American continent, redeeming and remaking Western land in the image of the ordered and agrarian east coast, displacing and violating indigenous people along the way.
“Looking more closely, the Buffalo shooter was acting out a fantasy that could be seen as distinctly American”
Madison Grant, a leading figure in America’s Progressive Era (1896-1916), is often cited as the earliest example of an ecofascist. A conservationist who helped to create the Bronx Zoo and America’s national park system, including Glacier National Park in Montana, he also believed that his generation held “the responsibility for saying what forms of life shall be preserved”, as he wrote in 1909. As well as acting as steward to American public land, he wrote ‘The Passing of the Great Race, or the Racial Basis of European History’, a book that influenced the 1924 Immigration Act, which was later heavily relied upon by the liberal Franklin Delano Roosevelt to ban migration from the Middle East and Asia to the US and restrict it from Africa. The book was also described by Adolf Hitler as a “bible”, and later inspired Anders Breivik, a far-right extremist who murdered 77 young Labor Party socialists in Norway in 2011.
How is ecofacism linked to colonialism?
According to political scientist and activist Françoise Vergès, contemporary ecofascism is the logical end point of centuries of colonial extraction and domination by European nations. “The West has long made a connection between reproduction among women of colour, migrations, protection of the environment and health. Migrants and refugees ‘bring disease’ and don’t know how to keep their environment clean.” she tells gal-dem. “The tonnes of waste that capitalism produces are dumped in the Global South or near poor and minority neighbourhoods in the north.” By dumping waste elsewhere, making it invisible to the white gaze, the North is able to keep telling itself that it is the clean custodian of environmental purity, and that people who live in the Global South are inherently filthy.
In contrast to claims by ecofascists and others on the right that it is the global poor who are the sole contributors to human-caused climate change, racial capitalism and the ongoing legacies of colonialism have always been linked to the destruction of the climate. “Racial capitalism was from the beginning about extraction until the exhaustion of the sources of extraction,” says Françoise.
“Racial capitalism and the ongoing legacies of colonialism have always been linked to the destruction of the climate”
For climate activist Mikaela Loach, this system of imperialism is contemporarily re-enacted through the practice of nations in the Global North attempting to offset carbon emissions by buying land and offering conditional financial aid packages in the South for the purposes of enacting climate initiatives beyond their borders. “Green capitalist food planting initiatives have taken land from indigenous communities and instead planted trees that are monocultures that aren’t helpful for the climate in these areas. It’s just a form of grabbing and seizing land”, she tells gal-dem.
How can we collectively resist ecofascism?
In 1935, seminal historian and writer W.E.B DuBois wrote that slavery and colonialism are the foundations on which modern capitalism is built. Today, the use of environmentalism as a justification for capping migration at home and pursuing resource extraction abroad, makes it particularly vulnerable to be co-opted by the right – in spite of strong denialist traditions among conservatives that climate change is even happening. Internationalist resistance to capitalism, unsustainable extraction, the ideology of the nation state, and the immensely destructive act of war, therefore are all ways of standing up against ecofascism.
Moore and Roberts also warn that there’s a danger of environmentally authoritarian narratives being tacitly mainstreamed in public culture. Beloved environmentalist David Attenborough has previously claimed human beings have “overrun the world”, and Prince Charles, and his son, William, have separately both called for population control in the developing world. According to Roberts, the climate movement often risks giving too much ground to the right by pushing ideas of hardening borders and controlling migration. “If you don’t have a built-in anti-imperialist aspect to your movement, you tend to start thinking, ‘the way we protect this land of England is to stop people coming into it’,” says Moore.
“Simply put, collective resistance to ecofascism is informed by anti-racism, anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism”
Simply put, collective resistance to ecofascism is informed by anti-racism, anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. Although Moore and Roberts see ecofascism as a fringe ideology – albeit one that is gaining traction – they warn that British politics is still increasingly broken and authoritarian. Thus, resisting racist border policies is key to resisting the encroachment of ecofascist ideology into the mainstream. For climate activism to be meaningful, it must see opposition to Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act as well as the ongoing attempts to deport migrants to Rwanda, as part of the same goal.
“It’s crucial for climate justice movements to refuse any measure that strengthens the border regime or pours resources into securitised, carceral solutions,” says Mallika Balakrishnan, a digital organiser with Migrants Organise. “If the so-called solution is actually increasing the capacity of the state and private actors to control and surveil the movement of people, it’s not a solution.” After all, structural oppression determines the conditions of all of our communities, from those who live on global floodplains, to homes besides motorways, to fire zones, to prisons. Environmental justice and advocacy therefore requires an abolition of unjust living conditions, including the apparatus of the modern border state.
“We need to live meaningfully and in solidarity beyond our borders,” says Moore. “We [also] need to understand [the climate crisis] as a product of a 400-year-old system of civilisation. That’s how we’ll make our climate politics resiliently in favour of justice.”
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