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Why U.S. conservatives are flirting with eco-fascism
As we approach Earth Day, it’s worth remembering that not everyone shares the same view of what "environmentalism" means.
For the last couple weeks, I’ve been trying to get back into a regular practice of monitoring conservative news sites for climate content. So far, I’ve mostly just come across your garden-variety climate denial and fossil fuel talking points.
I recently came across one article, however, that was both alarming and unlike anything I’d ever read. And though I don’t normally like to amplify batshit stuff like this, a prominent researcher on the topic convinced me it was worthy of discussion.
It was an op-ed considering the potential upsides of eco-fascism.
Eco-fascism, for the uninitiated, is best known as the ideology embraced by the mass shooter who killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket last year. The shooter, as E&E News reported at the time, was motivated by “the racist conspiracy theory that the ruling class is using immigration to politically and culturally ‘replace’ white people.”
The Buffalo shooter called on others “to view immigration as ‘environmental warfare,’” and to “reclaim environmentalism in the name of white nationalism.” His calls echoed those of the mass shooter who killed 23 people in an El Paso, Texas Walmart in 2019, who was also a self-proclaimed eco-fascist.
In the aforementioned April 9 op-ed for PJ Media, conservative journalist Ben Bartee condemned these murders. But he also questioned whether the ideology that motivated them “might inject some new, much-needed perspective on the merits of ecological conservation into the zeitgeist.”
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Bartee said conservatives need to embrace environmentalism—but not the climate-focused, social justice-motivated environmentalism of the Left. Liberal environmentalism, he argued, contains no “sincere environmental concern” and is merely a “pretext to shut down industrialized Western economies.”
Eco-fascists, on the other hand, “take their mandate to conserve the natural world from the ravages of humanity’s industrial machinations in a more militant and sincere, if misguided, direction,” Bartee wrote. And while eco-fascism does have some problems, he said, it’s a “smear” to label it racist or white supremacist.
“Some racist mass shooters might nominally be eco-fascists, but not all eco-fascists need necessarily be racist mass shooters,” he said. (Congratulations to anyone who had “Eco-fascists getting the #NotAllMen treatment” on their 2023 bingo card.)
Bartee ended his piece by lamenting that eco-fascism has become “tainted by association” with mass murderers and white supremacists. For that reason, he concluded, the ideology will “forever likely remain on the margins of politics, unembraced by any mainstream movement.”
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The rise of eco-fascist rhetoric at home
Peter Staudenmaier, a professor of history at Marquette University, has written two books on the history of eco-fascism. He believes Bartee’s op-ed is more than just a fringe news site’s flirtation with eco-fascism, but emblematic of a broader struggle happening within conservative U.S. environmental politics.
“It read to me like a person who's sort of struggling within himself to define his environmental message,” he said. “He does not want to be directly associated with [eco-fascists], because they're terrorists and bombers. But he is drawn to some of those ideas, to some of those forms of environmental thinking.”
This struggle, Staudenmaier argues, is born from U.S. conservatives realizing they need to do more than simply deny and/or ignore climate change. To solve this problem, some U.S. conservatives are going the way of market-based solutions. But others are going the way of nationalist ones.
They’re not all just small op-ed writers like Bartee, either. Here are some examples from the last few months of prominent conservative individuals and organizations spouting fascist-inspired environmental thinking:
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the government and media don't care about the environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio because the residents are "overwhelmingly white and politically conservative.” He added: “In both cases, had it affected the rich or the favored poor, it would be the lead of every news channel in the world.” (February 2023).
Popular right-wing pundit Charlie Kirk said President Biden does not care about the environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, because it happened primarily to white people. "It's because the war on white people continues,” he said. “Why would you care for the white working class voters in eastern Ohio?" (February 2023).
The House Judiciary Committee tweeted a clip from a hearing, claiming "Illegal immigration damages our ENVIRONMENT every single day." (February 2023).
The Federation for American Immigrant Reform (FAIR) published a blog claiming Biden’s family planning and immigration policies would harm the environment because they would lead to population growth in ecologically sensitive areas. (February 2023).
The conservative Center for Immigration Studies published an article claiming immigration harms the U.S. environment. "One of the problems with bringing in new people is that while their negative impact on the environment is minimal in their home countries, after they arrive they start acting like Americans, driving cars, using fossil fuels, and thus damaging the environment just like Americans do." (December 2022).
The rise of rhetoric like this is why Staudenmaier thinks Republicans may only be a few years behind other countries’ conservative parties that have more openly embraced eco-fascist ideals.
“I can't say for sure, but that's where I think things are trending right now,” he said. “And that's a big deal.”
The rise of eco-fascist rhetoric abroad
A primary example is Germany’s anti-immigrant far-right party, Alternative for Germany. For many years, its environmental politics were similar to the American right-wing: based mostly on climate denial and support for coal.
But after the 2019 elections saw the country’s Green Party surge, the youth wing of AfD recommended moving away from climate denial, noting that climate issues move “more people than we thought.” Instead, they recommended using concerns about the climate and environment to further promote their anti-immigrant rhetoric. This includes instilling more fear about non-white outsiders; linking the preservation of the environment to the preservation of “culture;” and building border walls around their country to keep their environment clean.
Since then, the AfD youth wing’s position “has slowly won out within the party as a whole,” Staudenmaier said. “I think for the next set of elections, it may become the official stance.”
Germany isn’t the only country greenwashing its racist and xenophobic rhetoric in a bid to sway voters. Writing for Dissent, Kate Aronoff noted it happening in France’s far-right National Rally, under Marine Le Pen’s leadership. “Le Pen herself has argued that concern for the climate is inherently nationalist. Those who are ‘nomadic,’ she said, ‘do not care about the environment; they have no homeland.’”
While this global rise in eco-fascist rhetoric is deeply concerning, it’s not inevitable. But the only way to prevent it is to understand its potential power.
“For those of us who are committed environmentalists, we can't get complacent. We can’t simply assume that environmental ideals automatically go hand in hand with a commitment to social justice or equality,” Staudenmaier said. “If we want to see those things go together, then we need to work to make them go together, because it's never going to happen naturally.”
Arielle Samuelson contributed reporting.
Catch of the Day: Today’s article made us particularly in need of an emotional support animal. So since it’s nearly Earth Day, we’re bringing you potentially the cutest thing we’ve seen on Earth:
Coming to us from reader Thomas, Wallace is a 5-year-old brindle boxer/bulldog mix, who is generally well-behaved except in the presence of squirrels, rabbits, cats, small dogs, medium dogs, and large dogs.
Wallace does, however, love people—unless, of course, said person is carrying a rake, a shovel, a large plastic bag, or a cardboard box, or makes a loud noise or a sudden move.
Wallace is the biggest, toughest, most dangerous scaredy-cat dog in the neighborhood. Wallace—he’s just like us!
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