Last year, a newly formed group calling itself “Local Matters” (LM) began distributing leaflets and dropping banners in town centres across the north of England, urging the public to “Stop Global Abuse – Shop Local”.
LM described itself as a group of “activists agitating for radical, cross-spectrum policies for an environmentalist, regionalist, direct-democratic England,” outlining its views in a document, Localism: Manifesto for a Twenty-First Century England, which it claims was “printed in England using recycled paper”. The group’s propaganda encouraged the home-growing of vegetables, and railed against global corporations for greenhouse gas emissions, among other environmental concerns.
Beneath this inoffensive green sheen, however, lies something nastier. LM is spearheaded by former members of Generation Identity, a European far-right network that promotes “identitarianism”, a form of racial segregation. In an email obtained by the anti-fascist group Red Flare and published by VICE, co-founder Charlie Shaw describes LM as “a political project with a softer face […] The ideas are certainly identitarian, but it’s [sic] presentation removes any interest that a group like Hope Not Hate or Antifa might have”.
Unsurprisingly, the group blames overpopulation – and in particular immigration – for the UK’s environmental decline, proposing a solution: “Comprehensively put a stop to immigration in its entirety.” While LM is a microscopic effort, its selective environmentalism points to a wider trend. As public concern over the looming ecological catastrophe builds, the radical and far right in the UK, as elsewhere, are seeking to rebrand themselves with a green tinge.
Right-of-centre groups have historically been closely associated with the denial of anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change, despite the human role in global warming no longer being a matter of contention among the wider scientific community. However, forms of “green nationalism”, focusing primarily on conservation rather than climate action, are in vogue.
Particular strains of green thought have deep roots in far-right traditions, and longstanding anti-globalist, ruralist and environmental politics have been revitalised in the hope of capitalising on the popular sentiment and protest movements of the moment. In doing so, elements of the far right seek to justify their hatreds, and to redirect legitimate concerns for vital causes towards anti-minority sentiment.
In the UK and across the globe, much of the populist radical right continues to reject the scientific consensus on climate change, a position often inflected by conspiracy thinking, anti-progressivism and contrarianism.
Most visibly, global far-right figurehead and former US President, Donald Trump, sought to undermine transnational efforts to combat climate change, and has spread conspiracy theories on the matter, for example alleging global warming to be a Chinese plot to undermine American industry. Meanwhile, a 2019 study by the climate think tank adelphi found that a majority of European right-wing populist parties espoused ideas that conflicted with the scientific consensus on ongoing, human-induced climate change.
In the UK, Nigel Farage, the just-retired leader of Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) and a close Trump ally, has long expressed such scepticism, telling the European Parliament in 2013: “We may have made one of the biggest and most stupid collective mistakes in history by getting so worried about global warming.” Numerous leading figures of his various vehicles have taken similar or more extreme stances, and under his leadership UKIP pushed for repealing the Climate Change Act.
There remains an audience for this position. While HOPE not hate’s 2019 polling found that 74% of Britons agreed that “the world is facing a climate emergency”, 19% agreed that “there is no evidence that humans are influencing the Earth’s climate”. This group leans right, and is significantly more prone to conspiracy thinking. The overwhelming majority of climate deniers also agreed that climate change “is a propaganda campaign by mainstream media and global elites”, and were far more likely to support the statement “Jewish people have an unhealthy control over the world’s banking system” than society as a whole. This group also had more negative attitudes towards immigration and Muslim populations.
The knee-jerk rejection of climate science among sections of the right stems, in part, from the perception that climate change activism is dominated by liberal/left progressives and “elites”. Conspiratorial thinking is fuelled by an instinctive distrust of established authorities and official narratives which, on the radical and far right, coincides with a deep hostility towards left-wing positions, and oftentimes a contrarianism towards the mainstream. Efforts to combat climate change have therefore been portrayed as a left-wing, globalist scam to weaken the sovereignty of the nation, restructure society, and suppress the freedoms of ordinary people.
For example, the anti-Muslim UKIP splinter group, For Britain, states:
Particular scorn is heaped on radical environmental movements, most recently the global environmentalist campaign Extinction Rebellion (XR) and teenage environmental activist
Greta Thunberg. The far-right conspiracy theorist and former UKIP figure and InfoWars editor, Paul Joseph Watson, claims:
Despite this strong tradition, populist parties are increasingly adopting selected green policies as public concern swells. Nigel Farage appears to have softened his stance on global warming, for example, while remaining highly critical of environmental movements. In 2019 his Brexit Party promised to “Invest in the Environment” by “planting millions of trees to capture CO2”, and introducing new recycling policies.
On the populist extremes, the fascistic British National Party (BNP), long claiming to be the UK’s “only true green party”, has moderated its former unequivocal rejection of human-caused climate change:
However, the adoption of green policies does mean necessarily entail the relinquishing of climate contrarianism. UKIP’s 2020 manifesto makes an explicit division:
The denial of climate change allows for the denial of responsibility, which is instead placed on immigrants and progressive politicians. UKIP’s manifesto continues:
The blaming of immigration for overpopulation, and therefore environmental destruction, is near-ubiquitous across radical and far-right groups that delve into green issues.
UKIP, like the BNP, applies a “localist” approach to environmental concerns defined by a narrow conservationism. As my colleague Patrik Hermansson explains, localism: “…selectively focuses on the national context while disengaging from transnational cooperative projects, and expresses opposition to climate action more generally”.
There is ample reason to support conservationist efforts in the UK, which has suffered some of the most severe cases of deforestation and declining biodiversity in the Western world. However, radical and far-right localist approaches tend to be highly selective in order to advance protectionist and nativist goals, and can play into very ugly politics indeed.
Local Matters (LM) defines its localism primarily through anti-globalism. However, a core facet of the Identiarian ideology that underpins LM is “ethnopluralism” – the idea that different cultures and ethnic groups should not mix in order to “preserve” them. The more overtly fascistic Patriotic Alternative (PA) has also adopted localist approaches, using “The Great British Clean-Up!” litter picking campaign to push its agenda, stating:
Far-right localism taps into a certain regressive romanticism as well, aiming to return to an idealised past rather than working towards a sustainable future, and views the landscape not only as a point of national pride, but intimately entwined with British identity. Darker, but related forms of nature mysticism rooted in the völkisch movement of the late 19th century were adopted in Nazi Germany, giving rise to the “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil) doctrine expounded by “Reich Peasant Leader” Walther Darré, which emphasised a mystical connection between race and land.
In far-right thought, modernity and its urban and industrial aspects are associated with liberalism, which constitutes an assault not only on landscape and wildlife, but on nation/race itself. Therefore, national and racial health can only be restored through ruralisation and the adoption of a barrage of regressive and racist policies.
Shades of this doctrine can be detected in Patriotic Alternative’s manifesto, which states:
In engaging in green politics, far-right groups and individuals present themselves as the defenders of the nation/race: “Our land is steeped in our history and only we can preserve it,” PA pronounces elsewhere. Alongside litter picking efforts, PA has adopted countryside hiking as a key activity, functioning as a form of exercise and community building, but also in the hope of reconnecting with the land.
Overall, the Blood and Soil mantra remains popular among the British extreme right. An article on the PA website names Walther Darré as part of “a rich pedigree” of far-right environmentalist thought. The small National Mountaineering Initiative group use it as a primary slogan, as did the National Action (NA) splinter Scottish Dawn, and the Hundred Handers propaganda campaign, which is headed by PA’s Yorkshire organiser Sam Melia, himself formerly involved in National Action.
Unsurprisingly, such ideologies are steeped in antisemitism and racism, with Jews and immigrant populations portrayed as cosmopolitan, rootless, urbanising people, devoid of respect for, or spiritual connection with, the land, and so posing an intrinsic threat to nature and rural traditions.
This rhetoric often overlaps with the “White Genocide/Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which alleges that sinister, often-Jewish elites are encouraging migration into the West as part of a plot to destroy the white race. An article on the PA website titled “Ecocide” takes aim at George Soros, a frequent target of antisemitic conspiracy theory, and his “co-conspirators”:
This vicious passage misapplies ecological concerns about the impact of “invasive” species to immigration, a common far-right tactic. For example, the red squirrel, which has declined in the UK in part due to the introduction of its American grey cousin, has become a British far-right mascot, used by PA and various “Trad” (Traditionalist) projects. The Hundred Handers has used the slogan “White Brits a Minority by 2066/Preserve an Endangered Species” in posters emblazoned with the branding and typeface of Extinction Rebellion (XR).
This latter case points to a less common, but longstanding far-right tactic – infiltrating, or otherwise subverting, legitimate environmental movements and radical subcultures. The Hundred Handers’ appropriation of XR branding simultaneously aims to insert fascistic talking points into environmental discussions, and to smear XR with association to hateful politics; other such posters produced by the group read “House the World/Destroy the Environment”, and “Save the World. Sink the Boats”.
In recent years, former leading members of NA have sought to infiltrate branches of the direct action wildlife protection group, the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA). Marginal far-right actors have sporadically attempted to infiltrate the HSA since the 1980s, as well as other radical groups.
Several of the slogans used by the Hundred Handers are also used by a loose accelerationist, eco-fascist subculture that has emerged across the globe in recent years. This advocates a genocidal revolution in the face of looming ecological collapse.
Strains of eco-fascism draw on “deep ecology”, a current of thought that regards humans as just a part of global ecosystem and no more important than any other. One extreme deep ecologist is the late Finnish fisherman Pentti Linkola, who followed the Malthusian theory that overpopulation has brought us to the cusp of an “imminent ecological holocaust”.
Linkola’s answer was drastic depopulation and the installing of brutal dictatorships to safeguard the planet. The first English translation of Linkola’s work was published in 2011 by Arktos Media, the premier alt-right publisher, which is registered in the UK, and has since become a key influence on modern eco-fascist thought.
Eco-fascists promote violent direct action, drawing influence from a terroristic style of extreme-right politics that has proliferated online, and on the messaging app Telegram. Drawing on Blood and Soil traditions, Jews and immigrants are viewed as parasites and invaders, and are particular targets for violence: “Love Nature, Kill Non-Whites” and “Save a Seal, Club a Kike” are common slogans.
While extremely marginal, there have been eco-fascist attempts to organise in the UK. In 2019, a short-lived, cross-border eco-fascist group, The Green Brigade, emerged, combining Nazism with the desire to destroy “the system that exploits our land, animals and people”. The group has been linked to the arson of a mink farm in Sölvesborg, Sweden. Activists have also distributed posters in London and Scotland.
The violent rhetoric of proliferating eco-fascist online spaces may seem overblown, but there is good reason to treat it seriously. Both the Christchurch and El Paso terrorists, who murdered scores of victims in twin attacks in 2019, framed their murderous hate crimes as solutions to environmental issues. The El Paso killer even named his manifesto The Inconvenient Truth, an apparent reference to Al Gore’s 2006 environmental documentary, and the Christchurch killer explicitly identified himself as “an Ethno-nationalist Eco-fascist”. His heinous attack took place on 15 March, coinciding with a global school strike to protest climate change, headed by Greta Thunberg.
Growing public concern for environmental issues is both welcome and long overdue. However, we must remain vigilant of the bigoted fringe that seeks to corrupt noble causes, shift blame towards minorities, and divert good intentions into destructiveness of another kind.
At best, the radical right and far right’s green sheen provides a softer face to divisive politics. At worse, it can elevate gutter prejudices and violent impulses to a sacred mission to defend one’s spiritual home.