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On March 15, 2019, an Australian neo-Nazi in Christchurch, New Zealand, began a livestream in a mosque parking lot. What followed were some of the most horrific images ever recorded.
The video, which would be shared en masse by keyboard Nazis across the globe, showed a 28-year-old armed to the teeth killing 51 people. Less than five months later, a 21-year-old Texan gunned down 23 people in an El Paso Walmart.
The two gunmen were examples of many terrible things: Lone-wolf terrorists killing on behalf of their race, the international spread of extreme-right ideology, the gamification of right-wing terrorism, and the use of livestreaming murder as a propaganda tool.
They were also examples of the relationship between environmentalism and fascist ideology: Both of the shooters left manifestos online meant specifically for propaganda and to inspire other shooters; both manifestos cited the environment as a contributing factor to their shooting spree.
“I am an ethno-nationalist eco-fascist,” the Christchurch shooter wrote in his manifesto. “Ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on the preservation of nature, and the natural order.”
Extreme-right ideologies are an obvious and growing threat. Eco-fascism—broadly, the desire for a totalitarian regime to force sacrifices from (usually minority) populations to protect the environment—is a subsidiary of that threat. While it’s not a particularly popular movement, people shouldn’t overlook it, said Alex Amend, who recently wrote an in-depth article on the modern state of eco-fascism for the research group Political Research Associates.
“Eco-fascism has an explanation for why somebody like (the Christchurch shooter) should go and kill immigrants because they are a threat (in their mind) to both the white body politic and the white homeland,” Amend told VICE News. “So it’s already proven to be deadly. It’s going to be deadly still.”
In encrypted and now leaked chats, neo-Nazis and other adherents of the far-right routinely discuss the environment and how it plays into their plans.
“As climate change is causing more environmental distress and anxiety,” said Alexander Reid Ross, a scholar who studies fascist movements, “ecology (is) playing a bigger role in fascist ideology across the board.”
Much like the term “alt-right,” eco-fascism has lost some of its meaning in recent years, having been thrown around so much that it’s become a pejorative.
“An eco-fascist might focus on ecological politics, so-called overpopulation, and maybe some deep ecology and the rejection of human rights, whereas there would be other fascists who might focus more on worker planks of the white working class,” said Reid Ross.
Amend described an eco-fascist as a fascist that has “a conception of white identity that is basically one and the same, or is directly tied to, what they view as the historical landscape that’s important to that identity.”
Some eco-fascists argue that the environment is being destroyed by overpopulation and blame the global south for it. (This idea, quietly taking hold in some traditional right-wing circles, was directly referenced by the Christchurch shooter.) Others believe that consumerism in the West explains the razing of the environment, and is the fault of Jewish elites.
Bernhard Forchtner, a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right and associate professor at the University of Leicester, told VICE News that an eco-fascist typically has a fear of ecological degradation or disaster. ”That fear is connected to a threat to (a fascist’s) racial integrity,” he said. “To deal with this threat or this danger, what needs to be done in a professional space is to reorganize society around authoritarian principles.”
Eco-fascism isn’t new. The infamous neo-Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil”—chanted by the tiki-torch marchers in Charlottesville—directly references the connection of an ethnic group to the land itself. There is no shortage of far-right leaders who have used the environment or some tenets of eco-fascism in their teachings and recruitment, among them David Lane, a member of the neo-Nazi terror group The Order and the man who coined the 14 words, and William Pierce, the man who wrote The Turner Diaries.
For years fascists attempted to infiltrate eco-movements, sometimes successfully. Part of the attraction may have been that eco-fascism shares some similarities with some controversial but recognized schools of environmental thought. Deep ecology—the belief that all living things are equal, and so humanity’s existence is inherently harmful—resonates deeply with certain kinds of fascists.
“We see a lot of far-right actors taking up a lot of these same positions and discourses,” said Blair Taylor, the program director of the Institute for Social Ecology. “Deep ecologists portray humanity as a tick or a parasite on nature the same way a fascist would project Jews as parasites on the economy or people of colour and welfare recipients as a parasite on the body politic.”
While deep ecology isn’t a fascist ideology on its face, there are connections between the two lines of thinking. When the Finnish deep ecologist Pentti Linkola, best known for musing about the benefits of genocide to help Mother Earth and his hardline anti-immigration ideas, died earlier this year, some of the eco-fascist community went into mourning and posted glowing tributes.
“He criticized modernization, humanism, and globalism in a way that was charming even in its most extreme and provocative forms,” one tribute said.
In recent years, several groups of dedicated eco-fascists have formed online, the two most prominent being the now-defunct Green Brigade and the almost defunct Greenline Front.
The Green Brigade was deeply tied to The Base, a now disbanded neo-Nazi terror cell. It took responsibility for the arson of a mink farm in Sweden—a typical target for eco-extremists in the country—last October.
According to a former member, the group started as a simple server on Discord (a chat platform designed for gamers) that circulated among the “eco-extremist community.” He said that while they weren’t courting neo-Nazis, they weren’t turning them away, either.
“So long as you like trees and hate corporations you could get in. Whether you call those corporations capitalists or Jews it didn’t matter,” the former Green Brigade member told VICE News. “We had everything from socialists to anarchists to fascists.”
He said that most of the members were pagans and from the United States, although they had a few international members too. He described the majority of them as “keyboard warriors” who primarily made propaganda together.
Some, however, took it a step further: The Green Brigade member who allegedly burned down the mink farm was also active in The Base and posted bomb-making tutorials on the meme website iFunny.
Eventually, the brigade’s leadership became more intertwined with The Base and even sent the neo-Nazi group an email outlining how the two groups could help each other recruit.
That offer didn’t sit well with some brigade members.
“We started out as just a general eco-terror group, not specifically eco-fascist. The distinction is important because eco-terror takes in people regardless of primary political ideas so long as they will save the environment through force,” said the former member. “We had roughly 30 members before we merged with The Base. The Base are mainly Nazis, which led to a lot of us leaving the Green Brigade, me included.”
The leader of the Green Brigade never denied the group’s links to The Base but said the cell remained autonomous. Other than the arson, the member said, the group was only planning small-scale actions like seed bombings, which he described as packing “a ball of fertilized dirt with the seeds of notoriously hard to kill weeds and just throw(ing) them into lawns.”
The Green Brigade went defunct shortly after the FBI arrested several members of The Base in connection to murder conspiracies.
”The Base are mainly Nazis, which led to a lot of us leaving the Green Brigade, me included.”
The Greenline Front was founded in Eastern Europe in the mid-2010s, and then spread to numerous countries. Forchtner said the group was actively meeting, showing up at rallies with flags, and collecting data during its run. On its website, the Front said it participated in cleanups and other activism, like planting trees, but did not claim it was behind any large action.
Today, the most prominent social media page of the Greenline Front is a mishmash of animal and Hitler photos. Forchtner said this is indicative of other groups which, like many fringe communities, can’t sustain themselves nor continue to amass members over a long period.
It’s more for pragmatic reasons why they are largely defunct, said Forchtner: “It’s not ideological why they don’t take off.”
In the first week of September, after my interview with Forchtner, the Greenline Front posted a photo of a group of eight men with blurred faces holding a Greenline Front flag in front of what appears to be ancient ruins.
There are young fascists who have built their entire brands off preaching a watered-down version of eco-fascism. They focus on a simple life in which a fascist lives off the land and becomes in touch with it, similar to the “Völkisch” philosophy that predates Nazism of young Germans attempting to connect with their motherland. Plenty of far-right environmental propaganda has been spread by groups centred around these ideas.
“There’s liberals, there’s conservatives, and there’s the Pine Tree Party. Only one has the badboy fortitude to survive culture’s coming collapse,” wrote one young man on Instagram to his followers.
Other fascists have seen the environment as a modern-day recruiting tool, one they’re willing to exploit.
“PUT THE FASCIST BACK IN ECO-FASCIST! Honestly, far-right environmentalism is an untapped market,” wrote one fascist on the far-right forum Iron March in 2016.
Amend said the younger generation of right-wingers, who haven’t grown up on the toxic soup of climate-change denialism found in mainstream conservative media, might be particularly vulnerable to this line of thinking.
“They know that it’s real. They know that it’s getting hotter. They know that this is their future. So young conservatives, the future of the right, could turn quickly,” said Amend. “What their solutions most likely are going to look like, is more hardcore, militarized anti-immigration policies.”
Amend said that green thinking and tendrils of eco-fascism ideology can easily be found in “young fascist groups” like Patriot Front or Identity Evropa (now American Identity Movement) that wouldn’t necessarily call themselves eco-fascist.
Within its encrypted chat, the neo-Nazi group The Base pushed books written by writers influential in eco-fascism about recruiting and used eco-fascism for propaganda. A similar group, Atomwaffen, has used the face of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, to spread its messages.
In one far-right forum leaked by Unicorn Riot on Discord, a fascist describes how a person could easily go from an eco-fascist viewpoint to an accelerationist one (aiding in society’s collapse so they can build a society they want):
“Those who subscribe to an eco-fascist world view, while not directly linked to any known acts of violence, are increasingly calling for violence against those whom they believe pose a threat to the environment,” they wrote last year. “This perceived threat most often comes from Jews, whom eco-fascists believe care only about making money, even at the cost of the environment. As such, the siege pill (accelerationism) may follow the green pill (eco-fascism).“
Nature as a justification for hierarchy
It would be foolish to think that as climate change intensifies fascists wouldn’t respond to it. We’re almost certainly going to see the ideology grow.
Taylor told VICE News he believes there are three reasons eco-fascism will become more popular: The newest right-wingers grew up in a world where environmentalism is normalized; the whiteness of the environmental movement; and the far-right’s tendency to look for thinkers different from traditional conservatives, who tend to deny climate change.
“I don’t think we’re in danger of eco-fascists seizing power,” said Reid Ross. “But we should be concerned…with lone-wolf attacks from them.”
On the cover of his manifesto, the Christchurch shooter presented readers with a segmented wheel reaching out from a sonnenrad, each portion representing a different part of his philosophy. The first from the right is environmentalism. This perhaps is the best way to think about eco-fascism when it comes to the current resurgence of the far-right—as a part of a larger whole, but also a branding tool.
As the world burns, sea levels rise, and whole communities get displaced, people are going to be searching desperately for answers that those in charge won’t or can’t give. Some will find answers in the linkages between the idea of a pure race and the idea of a cleansed land. For Taylor, who has been an environmentalist for his entire life, he said this is just the latest battle in what seems to be an never-ending culture war.
“Nature is an important weapon in this war for the hearts and minds of people.”
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.