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

Tablet in Kobersdorf marking the Reichsnaturschutzgesetz, (Reich Nature Protection Law of 1935). | Bwag/Wikimedia.Some rights reserved.

The murder of 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019 has led to, for example, a gun reform bill in New Zealand and renewed interest in the notion of ‘the great replacement’. Given longstanding debates in the United States, gun reform seems unlikely to happen following the mass shooting in El Paso, United States, in August 2019 which resulted in 22 deaths. However, the idea of ‘the great replacement’ did play a role in this second shooting too which undoubtedly invites further scrutiny. Both terrorists presented this and other ideas in manifestos which also thematise the nexus between the extreme right and the natural environment, what is sometimes referred to as ecofascism. In the following, it is this ecofascist dimension of their justification of their actions, which I will discuss.

Even prior to the Christchurch mosque shooting, media texts occasionally addressed ecofascism (for example here, here and here), but it was after the attack that the concept received particular attention (for example here, here and here). Similarly, already shortly after the El Paso shooting, ecofascism was connected to the attack on social media. Furthermore, the ‘ecological component’ of the Christchurch mosque shooting manifesto was noted perhaps most famously by the 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, I now turn to a brief discussion of ecofascism before looking at the two manifestos in detail.

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 (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, forming an organic whole.

Turning to the terrorists’ manifestos, The Great Replacement. Towards a New Society We March Ever Forwards (Christchurch) and An Inconvenient Truth (El Paso), I will focus in particular on the former (TGR in the following) due to the particularly strong emphasis it puts 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, one of them being ‘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 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. Importantly, such stances are not limited to these two manifestos, but present in parts of the extreme right – stances which offer grounds for a substantive (though non-universalist, non-Enlightenment) green agenda that is very different from mainstream-liberal and left-wing 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 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 molded by these same lands.’

It is also in this section that the author positions his type of environmentalism (or, better, ecologism) in opposition to the left, rendering the latter’s efforts to protect the natural environment inconsistent due to their acceptance of ‘mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization’. The former, ‘mass immigration’ and the protection of the natural environment, represents 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) – and so does the latter. Criticism of urbanization and industrialization is also present elsewhere in TGR and 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’. Indeed, although originating in an increasingly urban-industrial period, or perhaps exactly because it did so, (ultra-)nationalism has long idealized the countryside and ‘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, this is visible too, and linked to a call to take back the cities, to heroically wrestle 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.

In sum, both manifestos contain classic ecofascist thinking. 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.

Dr Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in the School of Media, Communication and Sociology, University of Leicester. See his profile here.

© Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

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