In early 2021, two Swedish youngsters were prosecuted for carrying out an arson-attack against a mink farm in Sweden, motivated by eco-fascist, accelerationist ideas. With obvious links to online support communities ‘The Base’ and ‘The Green Brigade’, the attack was the first of its kind in Sweden. However, it is not the only indication that eco-fascism gains ground within the Swedish radical right. A new report, authored by Hannah Pollack Sarnecki at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), sheds light upon a new trend and its manifestation in the radical milieu. What makes the report particularly thrilling is that it also investigates how the ongoing COVID-19-pandemic has propelled some eco-fascist ideas into the mainstream by tapping into narratives of nature as a superior force determining the political fabric of human societies. These ideas – that the laws which govern nature also govern human societies – resonate well with the ecological roots of fascism.
A considerable part of Pollack Sarnecki’s report covers how parts of the fascist and national socialist movements have approached issues concerning nature, the climate, ecology and the environment. Historically and in present times, green issues have frequently been linked with racial ideology and racism. At the latest starting with Christchurch in 2019, a number of terrorist attacks have been carried out by individuals motivated by green fascism and conspiracy theories concerning the doom of the white race. Accelerationists have stepped up global recruiting, and ideas are circulating in these movements that have turned into an ideological glue – strengthening alliances between radicalized groups during COVID-19 protests, “self-proclaimed freedom- and truth-movements” (p. 7).
Corona as the ‘revenge of nature’
In her introduction, Pollack Sarnecki points out that a typical trope in radical mobilization against COVID-19 is the idea of nature’s revenge against humanity. For those who claim that the pandemic is ‘only is a flu’, counter measures in politics and public health are rather seen as a tool of dictatorial governance. Instead, according to radicals in this space, COVID-19 has to be embraced as the supra-human manifestation of nature and can be combatted best by the inner power of ‘natural healing’. This is why anti-corona protests go so well hand-in-hand with health and wellness entrepreneurs and peddlers of alternative and natural cures (e.g. colloidal silver, snake oil, detox and the like) against any imaginable ills. These ideas resonate however also well with “green fascist ideology to which concepts about originality and purity are central” (p. 8). Green fascism opposes a presumed golden age of the pristine national past with contemporary multicultural decadence, dirt and corruption and projects utopian ideas of renewed racial purity into the future. Scapegoats are named, blamed and demonized in conspiratorial imagination as having orchestrated the decline of nation and nature, alike.
Such imageries were also used as a shorthand in connection with the execution-fantasies circulated by the so-called Finspång-meme. Pollack Sarnecki asserts that the noticeable green shift of the Swedish radical right might be a strategy to attract a younger generation of followers. On the other hand, there is a long ideological legacy of a “romantic and mystifying attitude towards nature” in fascism (p. 9).
A Note on Methodology: Researching Eco-Fascism
Pollack Sarnecki has gathered her material between 2020 and 2021 in an ethnographic and qualitative approach combining observations, fieldwork and qualitative text analysis. She analysed and coded prosecution investigation reports, podcasts, editorial material on various websites, videos and a variety of ecofascist manifestos. A note on method seems particularly relevant to share: “knowledge about the ideological context is necessary in order to be able to adequately interpret content in this type of material” (p. 12). Pollack Sarnecki also carried out fieldwork in connection with the trial against the perpetrators of the previously mentioned ecofascist attack (a separate part of the report is devoted to this issue) and anti-corona protests in Stockholm. The different parts of her study were triangulated against each other and available research literature.
The ideological roots of far right ecologism
With roots in romantic nature mysticism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Pollack Sarnecki points out, ‘green’ ideas have always been an integrated part of fascist ideology (or what CARR-fellow Balsa Lubarda calls ‘far right ecologism’). Sticking to Griffin’s definition of fascism as popular ultranationalism paired with the idea of national re-awakening, the author places several groups and phenomena under the same umbrella. Pollack Sarnecki then productively combines her definition of fascism with scholarship into conspiracy theories and conspiracism. Regardless of eco-fascism’s (ambivalent) views upon modernity, the author explains that what sets it out in particular – from other forms of green thought – are ideas of blood and soil, inherited essence connected to a territory: “The (clean) white race is linked to clean nature which in turn is linked with the clean (ethno-)state or nation” (p. 17). One central concept is that modern society has to vanish in order to leave room for a new and better world to come.
Neo-Malthusianism strikes a chord in green fascist world explanations since considerable portions of the world population are seen as a liability for the planet. The need to depopulate Germany and the world violently from parts of society deemed as inferior also motivated the Hanau-terrorist in his lethal attacks. Overpopulation and migration are reinterpreted as ecological threats causing uprooting that goes against a climate theory of natural population habitats (or ‘Lebensraum’). These ideas are reinforced by the ‘völkisch’-element of fascism, i.e. the obsession with an essential overlap between ‘the people’ and ‘its territory’, fused by blood ties.
Moreover, promoted by Haeckel and other early ecologists, Social Darwinism was opened up in order to include racial hierarchy and purity into concepts of a holistic natural harmony. In more occult circles, like the German Thule Society, racial supremacy, natural mysticism and ecological purity (re-connecting with nature) were merged into the ideology of ‘ariosophy’. Within the German ‘Wandervogel’ movement, civilizational criticism and anti-modernity were cultivated in a spirit of presumed ‘authenticity’ which also hailed the ‘natural’ lifestyle of indigenous populations in European colonies. Moreover, traditionalist philosophers such as Heidegger attacked central tenets of Enlightenment-thought, heavily blended with anti-Semitic ideas. Concepts of race and territory were interwoven with the worship of nature, a critique of industrialization and urban life, but also of enlightened philosophy. Protection of nature and conservationism gained ground, placing wilderness above humanity and its spirit superior to human exploitation.
Closely following Biehl and Staudenmaier (2011), the author argues that green elements were incorporated into Nazi ideology and politics, promoting vegetarianism, ecological agriculture and alternative medicine. The rooted Germanic ‘tiller of the soil’ was opposed to the rootless cosmopolitan Semite, very similar to Goodhart’s ideas of ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’, the opposition between locally rooted people and ‘globalists’ (a radical right codeword for Jews). These opposition were interpreted in racial terms: nature had selected the Aryan race to dominate all others in an ever continuing struggle. A key component of this conflict is racial ‘hygiene’ – aiming to eradicate those degenerate elements of the population who are not considered worth living – paired with ideas that racial purity can be promoted by a healthy and natural lifestyle beyond the downsides of modernity.
After the Second World War, central concepts of green Nazi ideology were rebranded by Savitri Devi (1905–1982) who “combined the belief in a superior Aryan race with Anti-Semitism, Hinduism and social Darwinism while at the same time propagating for animal rights and biocentrism, the belief that all parts in nature are of the same value” (p. 28). Devi – popular in violence-endorsing radical nationalist circles – also believed in the necessity of violence in human development and the advantages of eugenics and natural selection among human races. Also in Italian fascism, promoted by Traditionalist philosophers like Evola, the countryside was hailed as superior, as an expression of true civilization opposed to the corruption of urban culture and modernity.
Deep ecology – deep fascism
A particularly strong component of green fascism is constituted by ‘deep ecology’, a term coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912–2009). Deep ecology implies a radical redefinition of the human being in relationship to nature, as an embedded and not separated part of it. Ecology is seen as a holistic meta-system in which life itself and what sustains it (also matter like water or rocks) are central. Nature has a value in itself, independent of human interest. This leads to the conclusion that human life has to be reduced to a ‘sustainable’ level.
Green fascism has interpreted deep ecology as a support for its assumptions about a natural order of races and their territorial habitat. A more radical reading is represented by Finnish ornithologist Pentti Linkola (1932–2020), who is well received in radical-right circles. Linkola proposed a totalitarian society safeguarding the survival of natural species (and supremacies). He also suggested population control and authoritarian nationalist rule with a strong defence against everything foreign and a draconian punitive system. In this vein, Linkola argued against containing diseases and pandemics since they were needed to purge the earth from weak elements – a way of nature restoring balance. Necessary wars over hunger and malnutrition will be fought and Linkola also argued that the Second World War (including the Holocaust) was a positive event and that those millions lost not are missed.
Pollack Sarnecki then continues with describing how contemporary post-fascist parties have rebranded themselves and adapted green positions in – for instance – interpreting ecology as a culturally and locally determined value and in opposition against the decadence of globalization and migration (a motif also circulating in the German PEGIDA-movement). Again, global rootless nomads are opposed to the locally rooted and settled. Mass immigration is interpreted as a threat against the nation state, contributing to pollution and overpopulation. The protection of ‘indigenous’ nature is reframed as a part of protectionist and anti-globalist politics. Closely connected to these ideas is the conspiracy theory of the Great Replacement.
Conspiracy theories as drivers of terrorist radicalization
The terrorist manifestos of Christchurch and El Paso (2019) clearly demonstrate the convergence of several central concepts uniting green civilizational and globalization critique with ideas about ‘blood and soil’ and the presumed replacement of the white race. In turn, these conspiratorial imaginations are based on the writings of Renaud Camus and earlier proponents of the ‘Eurabia’-theory. The Christchurch-terrorist was explicit with calling himself an ‘ecofascist’, his manifesto and its visuals are saturated with obvious references to ecofascist figures of thought. Also the El-Paso-terrorist promotes the idea that pollution and migration are related phenomena. Lethal violence is motivated against the backdrop of the coordinated attacks against the white race and its natural, national habitats.
These ideas are also well represented in the terrorist organization Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) and its digital platform, Nordfront. Liberal elites have plotted to destroy the white race and its specific natural habitats by importing ‘surplus populations’ (or ‘invasive species’) to the Nordic countries. Harmony with nature is what characterizes the Nordic race and is opposed to the dirt and decadence of an alienating urban lifestyle. Following the logic of ethnopluralism, ethnic population groups have to be kept separated from each other in their respective (socio-cultural) ecosystem – in the eyes of radical-right extremists, all forms of blending is evil. Yet another powerful figure of thought is accelerationism, the belief in the necessity of an imminent social collapse, ‘prepping’ for the anticipated and desired period of crisis and racial war. Imagining the downfall of civilization – in the eyes of these extremists – necessitates the return to nature, survival skills and self-sustaining local agriculture – an active resistance against the world manipulated by evil globalists. It is obvious that the Swedish ecofascist terrorist attack in 2019 was motivated by these ideas.
In a separate chapter, Pollack Sarnecki investigates green fascist elements of recent conspiratorial (anti-Corona) protest movements and “self-declared freedom and truth-movements”. Individual representatives of these groups, like Jake Angeli, the ‘QAnon Shaman’ or Attila Hildmann (a German antisemitic vegan chef), entire segments such as people believing in alternative medicine and natural health cures and people driven by ‘conspirituality’ (the overlap between conspiracism and spiritualism) share the same viewpoint on the pandemic that: if not imagined as a complete hoax, it is a natural event that only can be cured by nature itself. From this follows that those who attempt to counter the pandemic with political measures based upon expertise in public health. In the eyes of these extremists, they are seen as traitors of the people and who only aim to poison and harm their own population.
Conclusion: Green fascism as an object of defence analysis
With great erudition, Pollack Sarnecki is able to demonstrate the potential of green fascism as a driver of radicalization into violent extremism. She carefully reconstructs the ideological context of contemporary movements in the immediate and recent past, which helps to explain their salience in our own times, deeply affected by climate change and the implications of the Anthropocene. Swedish cases are analysed and presented clearly and transnational connections and networks are covered extensively.
Although not a scholarly paper per se, there are a number of unanswered questions that are left unaddressed in the report. According to its own definition, the Defence Analysis Division produces “tools for decision-making” in areas like “security policy, civil and military crisis management, command systems and defence economy”. Analysis aims to “ensure that questions are considered from a range of different perspectives”. Following the imprint of the report, it is located within the research area “crisis preparedness and civil defence”. Whereas individual researchers attached to the division explore their subjects independently, the author could have stated more clearly about her target audience and how green fascism as such constitutes a subject for defence analysis. A similar report, released by the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB) earlier in 2021 was, for instance, clear in pointing out the danger of conspiracy theories to open democracies.
Since the reader is left without a succinct definition of the risk potential of green fascism, I propose the following reading of the report. Defence doctrine holds since a long time that a combination of ‘hard’ (e g military) and ‘soft’ (e g social) domains definine national security. Each of these domains is in turn determined by different dimensions: physical, cognitive and information. As Marco Cagnazzo has pointed out, war in the postmodern era is characterised by a “battle of perceptions” in which cognitive dimensions play an increasingly significant role. As with COVID-19, it is not difficult to imagine that environmental or climate-related issues will constitute a considerable area of future global crises and conflicts, spilling over into domestic politics. External actors will be able to exploit societal polarization around these issues as has happened previously during the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015-16 or the internationally lesser-known forest fires in Sweden in 2018. The Swedish radical right – as demonstrated by Pollack Sarnecki – is already internationally connected with transatlantic and Russian extremist links. It is therefore vital that Swedish stakeholders, media, judiciary and the general audience are aware of this potential of an increased spread of divisive dis- and misinformation and conspiracy theories in a contested area of public discourse and thus civil defence, particularly when fused with the highly charged tropes of immigration and integration.
If defence capacity of (inter)national security in the information-domain has to consider cognitive dimensions, it is of essential importance to be able to identify and counter the threat of green fascism and its ideas, hijacking an ecological agenda for its own radical ends.
Dr Andreas Önnerfors is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Professor in Intellectual History at the University of Erfurt, Germany. See full profile here.
© Andreas Önnerfors. 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).