“The Washington Post” beat me taking a closer look at the Christchurch, NZ, and El Paso, Texas, terrorist attacks carried out this year by two white supremacists against Muslim and Latino targets respectively; the common thread of the perpetrators’ ecological concerns. Kudos to the WaPo for doing a reasonable work discussing this topic – no doubt a controversial one for their woke readership – though with some qualifications.
As Joel Achenbach writes:
The alleged Christchurch shooter, who is charged with targeting Muslims and killing 51 people in March, declared himself an “eco-fascist” and railed about immigrants’ birthrates. The statement linked to the El Paso shooter, who is charged with killing 22 people in a shopping area earlier this month, bemoans water pollution, plastic waste and an American consumer culture that is “creating a massive burden for future generations.”
The two mass shootings appear to be extreme examples of ecofascism – what Hampshire College professor emeriti Betsy Hartmann calls “the greening of hate.”
Many white supremacists have latched onto environmental themes, drawing connections between the protection of nature and racial exclusion. These ideas have shown themselves to be particularly dangerous when adopted by unstable individuals prone to violence and convinced they must take drastic actions to stave off catastrophe.
As the article points out, eco-fascism has got a long history, growing out of the Romantic German “blood and soil” movement of the nineteenth century, which strongly influenced the subsequent Nazi ethos with its idealised vision of the pastoral homeland cleansed of Jewish and environmental pollution, the latter created by the capitalist modernity, another bete noire of the nostalgic inter-war European fascism.
But the return of eco-fascism in recent years has arguably less to do with modern-day fascists going back to their intellectual roots than with the cross-pollination between various kinds of more modern extremism.
In recent years, the mainstream environmental movement has moved strongly in the direction of social justice – the very opposite of what hate groups seek. Now the leaders of those organizations fear white nationalists are using green messages to lure young people to embrace racist and nativist agendas.
“Hate is always looking for an opportunity to grab hold of something,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, a vice president of the National Wildlife Federation and an expert on environmental justice. “That’s why they use this ecological language that’s been around for a while, and they try to reframe it.”
Michelle Chan, vice president of programs for Friends of the Earth, said, “The key thing to understand here is that ecofascism is more an expression of white supremacy than it is an expression of environmentalism.”
This is all happening in a rhetorically and ideologically overheated era in which public discourse is becoming toxic, not only in the dark corners of the Internet but among those occupying the highest elective offices. Environmental activists want to create a sense of urgency about climate change, the loss of biodiversity and other insults to the natural world, but they don’t want their messages to drive people into deranged ideologies.
There is a danger of “apocalypticism,” said Jon Christensen, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who has written extensively on the use and misuse of dystopian environmental scenarios.
In this context, it is interesting – though not surprising – that the left has latched onto Christchurch and El Paso terrorists as a cudgel to bash the mainstream right for supposedly enabling today’s fascists and white supremacists with their rhetoric about immigration and multiculturalism. It is equally not surprising that the left has failed to similarly condemn the extremist environmental rhetoric for contributing to radicalisation and normalisation of this sort of Malthusian violence we have seen in New Zealand and the United States. Apparently, Trump’s tweets directly lead to white supremacist mass shootings, but the misanthropist philosophy of the deep greens is somehow unconnected to the ecofascism’s obsession with over-population, pollution and resource exhaustion.
The alleged Christchurch shooter began his online screed by writing, “It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates,” and then warned of the “invasion” by immigrants who will “replace the White people who have failed to reproduce.”
The document believed posted by the alleged El Paso shooter cites birthrates among the “invaders” trying to enter the U.S., and asserts, “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”
This line of thought is dismaying to Paul Ehrlich, 87, a professor emeritus at Stanford whose 1968 bestseller “The Population Bomb” proved hugely influential.
“They often cite me, even though I’ve spent my life trying to fight racism,” Ehrlich said.
Maybe, but Ehrlich and his ilk have spent decades stirring up baseless hysteria and advocating fascistic solutions to non-existent problems.
In the 1970s, Ehrlich himself supported the idea of cutting off food aid to developing countries so that starvation would reduce excess population (and according to Ehrlich, there was a lot of excess). In this brave new proposal, he was merely endorsing an idea previously mooted in, among others, a 1967 bestseller “Famine 1975!” by Paul and William Paddock.
Around the same time, Robert McNamara, then the president of the World Bank, was discouraging the financing of health programs in the Third World, “unless it was very strictly related to population control, because usually health facilities contributed to the decline of the death rate, and thereby to the population explosion”. In other words, if you can’t make them starve, make them die off from disease.
This sort of eliminationist thinking is not just a bad nineteen-seventies thing like flared jeans or disco. In the eighties, Dave Foreman, the founder of Earth First! was also arguing against food aid for the famine-stricken Ethiopia because “the best thing would be to just let nature seek its own balance, to let the people there just starve.” Feeding the starving will just postpone the inevitable; “what’s going to happen in ten years time is that twice as many people will suffer and die.” The starving Ethiopians arguably knew it was Christmas time at all (it is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world) but fortunately didn’t know who Dave Forman was, and neither did many other people.
In 2007 Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society wrote: “We need to radically and intelligently reduce human population to fewer than one billion… Curing a body of cancer requires radical and invasive therapy, and therefore, curing the biosphere of the human virus will also require a radical and invasive approach.” In other words, we need to somehow exterminate up to seven billion people. Perhaps even Sea Shepherd has been subsequently taken aback at this sort of extremism, as the original column by Watson has been deleted from the Society’s website (thank God for caches). Still, save the whales, kill the humans is quite a position to take.
All this is rather reminiscent of the Nazi anti-humanism, which saw so many races (other than the “Aryan” one) as subhuman vermin and deadly bacilli infecting the world. Just as the Nazis had plans to withhold food from the newly conquered Russians so as to starve 25-30 million people and thus make room for German settlers, so are today’s environmental radicals pining for lebensraum, but one without humans altogether.
Is it any wonder that having been fed for decades on the diet of misanthropic catastrophism, with its myths about “the population bomb”, “the limits of growth” and a Malthusian apocalypse, some individuals take the messages sufficiently seriously to act on them? Thing globally, kill locally.
All in all, another useful illustration of the fact that the reality of politics is more complex than the rhetoric of political labels. The left passionately hates the idea that fascism has historically taken a lot from socialism or statist collectivism, arguing instead for the designation of “far right” (the term now virtually meaningless as it means anyone to the right of the far left), as if a classical liberal keeps moving further to the right, he or she will end up wearing jackboots and a snazzy black uniform designed by Hugo Boss, instead of becoming a libertarian. But then as now, fascism is a toxic melange of ideas from varied sources, defying simplistic pigeonholing. Sometimes, even “The Washington Post” will notice.
Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.
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