On 15 March this year, a young Australian man entered a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and murdered 51 worshippers. On 3 August, a young American man walked into a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and gunned down 22 people.
Prior to their attacks, both killers posted their manifestos on the website 8chan, and of the multiple similarities between the atrocities one feature in particular has caught the attention of the press: each voiced concern for environmental issues and framed their murderous hate crimes as solutions.
The El Paso killer, who stated that his attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”, named his manifesto The Inconvenient Truth, in apparent reference to Al Gore’s 2006 environmental documentary. He railed against corporations “heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources,” polluting water, plastic and electronic waste as a result of consumerism, use of paper towels, insufficient recycling, and urban sprawl which “unnecessarily destroys millions of acres of land”.
The Christchurch killer’s screed had a more mystical aspect, decrying: “Rampant urbanization and industrialization, ever expanding cities and shrinking forests, a complete removal of man from nature” and proclaiming that: “Green nationalism is the only true nationalism.” Unlike the El Paso killer, he also labelled himself “an Ethno-nationalist Eco-fascist” describing his views as: “Ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on the preservation of nature, and the natural order.”
While both killers drew their ideologies from numerous far-right wellsprings, including “identitarianism” (which propagates a ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory), both also employed the tropes of eco-fascism, a loose far-right scene which has become increasingly visible online over the past year.
Murky nazi forums are now often flooded with propaganda produced by the so-called “Eco Gang”, referencing a mystical connection to the land, the violent enforcement of animal rights, the dangers of overpopulation, and a looming ecological collapse.
While this propagandising remains niche and at times appears a shallow online fad, eco-fascist ideas have roots in the dogma of the Nazi’s Third Reich and, as brought into sharp focus by the Christchurch and El Paso terror attacks, pose a very real terrorist threat.
As Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier argue in their illuminating work Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience, the marriage of racist, reactionary politics and environmentalism stretches back to the genesis of the study of ecology itself.
The term “ecology” was coined by Ernst Haeckel in 1867 to describe the study of how organisms interact with their environments. Haeckel was also a keen Darwinist, a believer in Nordic racial superiority and eugenics, and later in his life, was active in the esoteric proto-Nazi Thule Society.
Staudenmaier writes that Haeckel and his disciples:
“profoundly shaped the thinking of subsequent generations of environmentalists by embedding concern for the natural world in a tightly woven web of regressive social themes”.
These themes included advocating the: “direct, unmediated application of biological categories to the social realm”, which fed into an emerging racial pseudo-science, and notions of “natural laws” and “natural order” that regarded humanity as an insignificant part of a wider ecosystem.
Such notions blended with an anti-rationalist romanticism that flourished in the late 19th century Germany, notably the volkisch movement, which “united ethnocentric populism with nature mysticism”, advocated the rejection of urban cosmopolitanism, and contained strong currents of antisemitism.
This milieu provided a fertile ground for Nazism’s almost religious green streak, which as Staudenmaier puts it:
“was a volatile admixture of primeval teutonic nature mysticism, pseudo-scientific ecology, irrationalist anti-humanism, and a mythology of racial salvation through a return to the land”.
These notions were deeply held by SS head Heinrich Himmler, as well as ideologue Alfred Rosenberg and “Reich Peasant Leader”, Walther Darré. Darré especially fetishised agrarianism and the peasantry, and popularised the volkisch slogan “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil), the notion that landscape is spiritually connected to race, and that ruralisation would restore the health of the nation. In stark contrast to the Nordic race, Jews were presented as cosmopolitan wanderers without a land of their own, referred to by Darré as “weeds”.
Darré was a proponent of the eastward imperialism of “Lebensraum” (living space), a key factor in the Holocaust, and sponsored programmes for biodynamic farming and conservation. Staudenmaier concludes that the green tendencies within Nazism constituted a radicalising force, and that “their configuration of environmental politics was directly and substantially responsible for organized mass murder.”
The environmental and nature-worshipping aspects of Nazism have remained a potent strain in the post-war extreme right, particularly the concept of blood and soil.
Recent British far-right groups emphasising this mystical connection to the land include Legion Martial Arts Club, which organised hiking trips in the UK to “gain an intimate knowledge of the land that shaped you,” and the National Action (NA) splinter Scottish Dawn, which used used “Blood & Soil” as a primary slogan.
Chants of blood and soil were also heard at the 2017 alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which culminated in the murder of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer, after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors. The environmental pedigree of Nazism is such that some neo-nazis have dismissed the label “eco-fascism” as meaningless, believing that such issues are already integral to the fascist worldview.
For self-identifying eco-fascists, blood and soil remains a key tenet, and is discernible when the Christchurch gunman claimed:
“the natural environment of our lands shaped us just as we shaped it. We were born from our lands and our own culture was moulded by these same lands”.
His vision of rescuing Europe from perceived decline and restoring it to glory is couched in anti-urban terms:
“The Europe of the future is not one of concrete and steel,smog and wires but a place of forests, lakes, mountains and meadows”.
The doctrine frames the urban and industrial aspects of modernity as an attack on the white race, and presents Jews and immigrants as parasites and invaders, elevating the gutter prejudice and violent impulses of eco-fascists to a sacred mission to defend one’s spiritual home, and turning mass murderers into martyrs for a “higher” purpose.
The modern eco-fascist subculture also draws from a far-right tradition of support for animal welfare, containing strong anti-humanist and often misanthropic tones.
For example, Hitler and Himmler followed vegetarian diets and opposed vivisection, and alongside figures such as Alfred Rosenberg, simultaneously objected to animal cruelty while formulating plans for genocide.
One notable figure who continued this vein post-war was the nazi zealot Savitri Devi, who remains best known for merging elements of Hinduism and Hitler-worship to form the quasi-religion “Esoteric Hitlerism”.
In the words of her biographer Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Devi had a “cloyingly sentimental love of animals” that “stood in marked contrast to her misanthropic contempt for non-Aryan humans, the weak, and infirm”. Devi formulated her views on animal welfare in Impeachment of Man, in which she argues that while traditional societies were nature-centred, the man-centred outlook of the West originated with Judaism, essentially laying the blame for millennia of animal cruelty at the feet of Jews.
“A ‘civilization’ that makes such a ridiculous fuss about alleged ‘war crimes’ – acts of violence against the actual or potential enemies of one’s cause – and tolerates slaughterhouses and vivisection laboratories, and circuses and the fur industry (infliction of pain upon creatures that can never be for or against any cause), does not deserve to live.”
Devi has gained a renewed popularity in recent years, thanks in part to the American white nationalist and alt-right publisher Greg Johnson, and eco-fascists today frequently allude to the nature-focused aspects of Esoteric Hitlerism, which adds an Eastern, almost New Age flavour to propaganda.
Importantly, Devi’s belief that animal abusers deserve violent retribution is commonplace among modern eco-fascists. It’s used in slogans such as “there’s only one way to deal with animal abusers” alongside images of lynchings. Animals are blameless and undeserving of violence, and so misanthropic eco-fascists can present humans, in contrast, as deserving of it. This narrative allows the violent fantasies of eco-fascists to be presented as a noble defence of defenceless innocents.
Devi’s view that the anthropocentric (man-centred) aspect of society is the cause of environmental crisis chimes with “deep ecology”, a strain of thought that regards humans as just a part, no more important than any other, of an often violent global ecosystem.
An extreme deep ecologist and a key influence on the modern eco-fascist scene is the Finnish fisherman Pentti Linkola, who follows the Malthusian theory that overpopulation has brought us to the cusp of an “imminent ecological holocaust”.
Linkola’s answer is drastic depopulation, infamously claiming that:
“I would sacrifice myself without hesitating, if it meant millions of people would die”. He also advocates the destruction of “everything we have developed over the last 100 years.”
He has claimed that:
“Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy … [the] Best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and government would prevent any economic growth.”
Linkola’s thesis – that populations must be reduced drastically, even if by enormous violence – is commonplace among modern eco-fascists.
While the first English translation of Linkola’s work was published by alt-right publisher Arktos Media, the modern eco-fascist scene largely rejects the alt-right’s ‘metapolitical’ approach, which aims to shift the mainstream through cultural means, in favour of ideological purity and forcing change through direct action. This is partly fed, as The Washington Post has suggested, by a sense of urgency fostered by the belief in imminent environmental apocalypse, but also draws from a terroristic style of extreme-right politics that has proliferated the internet.
Modern eco-fascist aesthetics and rhetoric has also been influenced by the “terror wave” scene that percolated on the now-defunct nazi forum Iron March, a website linked to neo-nazi terrorist groups National Action (NA) in the UK, and Atomwaffen Division (AD) in the US.
The stark visual style and celebration of terrorism that was rife on the forum has infected sections of the wider extreme right, including bleeding into the online eco-fascist subculture, with images of heavily armed, masked paramilitaries in woodlands and calls for violence being widespread on eco-fascist forums. Iron March’s brutal politics also appear to have influenced the Christchurch killer, with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reporting that he used slogans shared on the forum in his manifesto, and as well as employing ‘accelerationist’, anti-capitalist, and anti-global economy themes that are prevalent on the site.
The combination of this terroristic rhetoric with the belief in the urgent need for depopulation has resulted in a subculture which is, at times, nothing short of death-worshipping. As Sarah Manavis wrote in The New Statesman, the phrase “Ecofascist Death Squads” (EFDS) is commonly used by eco-fascists as a shorthand for violent solutions to overpopulation and other environmental issues.
Alongside animal abusers and corporate executives, the targets for this violence are, following the “blood and soil” concept, typically immigrants and Jews, with slogans such as “Love Nature, Kill Non-Whites” “Save a Seal, Club a Kike” and “Save Bees, Plant Trees, Shoot Refugees” proliferating eco-fascist forums.
Protecting the environment from overpopulation was also used as a justification in the manifestos of both the Christchurch and the El Paso gunmen, the former writing: “Kill the invaders. Kill overpopulation and by doing so save the environment,” the latter setting out to “decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”
The Christchurch massacre has also drawn more violence-fetishising extremists to the eco-fascist subculture, seeking to capitalise on its increased visibility. For example, one poster on a nazi forum claimed that the eco-fascist brand was worth exploring “because Brother Tarrant made it topical again. We should take advantage of that, and find new ways to communicate our environmental goals”. Whilst eco-fascism undoubtedly remains a niche pursuit, confined the extreme fringes, it is certainly true that the movement has become both more visible and more attractive to dangerous extremists over the past year.
As public concern with legitimate environmental issues continues to grow, some right wingers across the West have sought to capitalise on this shift in awareness, with far-right populist parties such as France’s National Rally attempting to rebrand themselves with a green tinge.
As shown, sections of the poisonous fringe are up and running with the most extreme right-wing interpretations of such concerns possible, with strong veins of anti-humanism, antisemitism and racism cloaked in nature mysticism and notions of “natural order”. And whilst this movement remains small, it carries with it a potential for further violence.
David Lawrence is a researcher for HOPE not hate