Countering the Radical Right

Eco-fascism: justifications of terrorist violence in the Christchurch mosque shooting and the El Paso shooting

Ecofascism can be understood as a radical blend of ethnonationalism and authoritarianism, rooted in a belief that the land and the people form an organic whole.

Bernhard Forchtner
13 August 2019
Tablet in Kobersdorf marking the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz,(Reich Nature Protection Law of 1935).
Tablet in Kobersdorf marking the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz, (Reich Nature Protection Law of 1935).
Bwag/Wikimedia.Some rights reserved.
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The murder of 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019 has led to a gun reform bill in New Zealand and renewed interest in the notion of ‘the great replacement’. Gun reform seems unlikely to happen following the mass shooting in El Paso, US, in August 2019, which resulted in 22 deaths. However, the idea of ‘the great replacement’ did play a role in this shooting too. Both terrorists also feature in their manifestos the nexus between the extreme right and the natural environment, sometimes referred to as ecofascism. Even prior to the Christchurch mosque shooting, media commentary occasionally mentioned ecofascism (for example here, here and here), but it was after this attack that the concept received particular attention (for example here, here and here). It is this dimension of the two manifestos that I explore here.

At time of writing, on social media shortly after the El Paso shooting, ecofascism has already been connected to the attack in the US city. And the ‘ecological component’ of the Christchurch mosque shooting manifesto was perhaps most famously noted by counsellor to US president Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, who, however, referred to the shooter as an ‘eco-terrorist’ – trying to put some distance between the administration and him. Against this background, a brief definition of ecofascism may be useful.

Peter Staudenmaier speaks of ‘actually existing ecofascism’ as the ‘preoccupation of authentically fascist movements with environmentalist concerns’. Staudenmaier focuses on the so-called ‘green wing’ of German National Socialism, pointing to (the antecedents of) National Socialism’s blood and soil mystique, support for organic agriculture and the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz 1935 (Reich Nature Protection Law) of 1935. Indeed, Thomas M. Lekan has characterized this law as the ‘most stringent and comprehensive environmental protection law in the world’.

However, the goals of autarky, economic revival and war preparations ultimately collided with environmental concerns and led to their repeated subordination. Furthermore, Michael E. Zimmermann claims that in addition ‘to portraying ecological despoliation as a threat to the racial integrity of the people, an ecofascist movement would have to urge that society be reorganized in terms of an authoritarian, collectivist leadership principle based on masculinist-martial values’. In sum, ecofascism can be understood as a radical blend of ethnonationalism and authoritarianism, rooted in a belief that the land and the people are symbiotically interwoven, and form an organic whole.

Turning to the recent terrorists’ manifestos, The Great Replacement. Towards a New Society We March Ever Forwards (Christchurch) and An Inconvenient Truth (El Paso), the former (TGR in the following) puts a particularly strong emphasis on environmental protection. Indeed, TGR highlights the importance of the natural environment on the document’s cover: arranged around a Black Sun, a circle is divided into eight segments. Each segment features one topic, such as ‘Environmentalism’ (others are ‘Worker’s Rights’, ‘Anti-Imperialism’, ‘Responsible Markets’, ‘Protection of Heritage & Culture’, ‘Ethnic Autonomy’, ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Addiction-Free Community’). Similarly, the manifesto’s final page presents images of woman and man in nature.

The manifesto published in the wake of the attack in El Paso (AIT in the following) is much shorter – four pages in comparison to TGR’s 74 – but it contains a substantial paragraph on environmental depletion.

Given the prominence TGR attaches to the environment right from the outset, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Christchurch terrorist, in contrast to the El Paso terrorist, refers to himself an ‘eco-fascist’. More precisely, he describes himself as an ‘Ethno-nationalist Eco-fascist’, calling for ‘Ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on the preservation of nature, and the natural order’, and subsequently argues for an ‘environmentally conscious’ society not at war with the environment – as globalized capitalist markets will always be.

In AIT, corporations are identified as ‘heading the destruction of our environment’, pointing to, for example, overharvesting and the pollution of water. Such stances are not limited to these two manifestos, to be sure, but in parts of the extreme right take positions which offer grounds for a substantive (though non-universalist, non-Enlightenment) green agenda that is very different from mainstream-liberal environmentalism.

Indeed, TGR reveals this stance in a section entitled ‘Green nationalism is the only true nationalism’. It includes a romantic vision of the future, ‘not one of concrete and steel, smog and wires but a place of forests, lakes, mountains and meadows.’ Moreover, the section includes classic extreme-right claims regarding the symbiotic relationship between the land and the people, such as ‘the natural environment of our lands shaped us just as we shaped it. We were born from our lands and our own culture was moulded by these same lands.’

Countering the left

It is also in this section in TGR that the author positions his type of environmentalism (or, better, ecologism) in opposition to the left, designating the latter’s efforts to protect the natural environment inconsistent due to their acceptance of ‘mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization’. ‘Mass immigration’ and the protection of the natural environment, constitute a classic topic across the radical-right spectrum, ranging from anti-liberals to anti-democrats (for the United States, see here; for Germany, see here; for a critical perspective on this argument which focuses instead on social and economic factors, see here) – as does urbanization that it is out of control.

Indeed, criticism of urbanization and industrialization in TGR coincides with a celebration of the countryside (‘already ours’) where people are ‘already close to nature’. Similarly, AIT points to urban sprawl that ‘creates inefficient cities which unnecessarily destroys millions of acres of land’. Although originating in an increasingly urban-industrial period, or perhaps exactly because it did so, (ultra-)nationalism has long idealized the countryside and a ‘natural’ life. As such, it has articulated the countryside as that which is authentic and serves as a bulwark against the materialism linked to the city. In TGR, these stances are present too, here linked to a call to take back the cities, and to heroically wrestling with ‘the pollution’, ‘the cultural filth’ present there.

Pollution and overpopulation are also present when the author of TGR turns to climate change. Based on his wider ecologist stance, and different from many other actors on the radical-right spectrum, he does not deny anthropogenic climate change (the latter is not explicitly addressed in AIT). However, in line with traditional arguments regarding the protection of the natural environment, the author of TGR links climate change to overpopulation by non-Europeans. It is thus by getting rid of overpopulation that he intends to ‘save the environment’.

Similarly, the author of AIT claims that ‘we’ need to ‘get rid of enough people [and], then our way of life can become more sustainable’. Interestingly, this is preceded not only by a critique of corporations being responsible for immigration, but also by a critique of the ‘people of this country’ as being ‘too stubborn to change’ their lifestyle. Indeed, lifestyle features prominently in AIT – and is described as ‘destroying the environment of our country (…) creating a massive burden for future generations’. This is linked to a critique of consumer culture which results in unrecycled waste.

Taking classic ecofascist thinking seriously

In sum, both manifestos contain classic ecofascist thinking. And engaging with these arguments demands more than moral repulsion and/or ridicule. Indeed, one has to understand these claims within their wider, radical-right ideology. They are a particular articulation of an ecological perspective which starts from premises different from those shared by many contemporary greens, and carries political implications not liked by those actors either, but which have to be taken seriously nevertheless.

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