The rising threat of eco-fascism: Far right co-opting environmentalism to justify anti-immigration and anti-Semitic views

Exclusive: New research, shared with The Independent, says that while the populist radical right largely continues to reject scientific consensus on the climate crisis, there is a concerning rise in so-called ‘green nationalism’, writes Louise Boyle

Saturday 20 March 2021 13:14 GMT
A Trump supporter wearing a “White Pride” tattoo and a hate message for The Left in August 2020. A new study claims that far right movements are seeking to co-opt environmentalism to push anti-immigration views
A Trump supporter wearing a “White Pride” tattoo and a hate message for The Left in August 2020. A new study claims that far right movements are seeking to co-opt environmentalism to push anti-immigration views (AFP via Getty Images)

The far right is co-opting environmentalism to fan the flames of hatred, using a professed desire to protect the planet as a veneer for anti-immigration and anti-Semitic views.

New research, shared exclusively with The Independent, has found that while the populist radical right around the world largely continues to reject scientific consensus on the climate crisis, there is a concerning rise in so-called “green nationalism”.

The study, conducted by anti-racism and anti-fascism advocacy group HOPE not hate (HNH), warns that as climate impacts become more extreme, there will be an insidious attempt by fascistic groups to “rebrand themselves with a green tinge”.

The paper highlighted a number of alleged hate groups which have sprung up in recent years. For example, the paper claims one small outfit in the north of England has been handing out leaflets, calling out global corporations over emission levels while encouraging people to grow vegetables at home.

But Hnh researcher David Lawrence writes, in HNH’s opinion: “Beneath this inoffensive green sheen, however, lies something nastier... a European far-right network that promotes ‘identitarianism’, a form of racial segregation.”

The far right have also adopted the idea of “localism”, the study says, tapping into a “regressive romanticism” of returning to an imagined past of untouched nature and landscapes, rather than building a sustainable future.

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The chilling underbelly of the views, however, is that industry and urbanisation are linked with liberalism, and not only an attack on the environment but also on nation and race. The apparent concern for the environment on the far right is a tool being deployed “to justify their hatreds, and to redirect legitimate concerns for vital causes towards anti-minority sentiment”.

The research highlights a link to the 19th-century movement of nature mysticism which was picked up by the Nazis, “giving rise to the “‘Blut und Boden’ (Blood and Soil) doctrine... which emphasised a mystical connection between race and land”.

HNH claims that radical and far right groups are intentionally linking environmental destruction with overpopulation, specifically immigration, according to the findings.

Mr Lawrence, who monitors far right movements, told The Independent that eco-fascism is a global problem which has the potential to escalate as the climate emergency worsens.

“This is something that’s happening internationally,” he said. “Across Europe, for example, lots of the right wing populist parties are adopting environmental causes as in the [United] States.”

While these right-wing movements espouse conservation, many are simultaneously denying the scientific reality of the climate crisis, or else dance around its causes, due to “conspiracy thinking, anti-progressivism and contrarianism”.  (Some 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing the emissions which are driving global warming).

Perhaps the world’s most high-profile climate denier is former president Donald Trump, whose administration spent four years stalling on climate action and pulled the US out of the multilateral Paris Agreement, designed to reduce planet-heating emissions.

Over the years, Mr Trump called climate change a “hoax” and told the Washington Post he was “not a big believer in man-made climate change”. Mr Trump also blamed China for the climate crisis (then later said it was a “joke”); blasted California for the state’s devastating forest fires; and claimed freezing conditions were evidence against global warming.

“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? [sic] Please come back fast, we need you!” he tweeted in January 2019. (A day later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appeared to respond with a tweet that read, “winter storms don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening” and a link to an explainer).

He’s not the only populist figure pushing this message. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has undermined efforts to tackle climate change’s impacts on the Amazon, blaming a “lying and sensationalist media” and “fake news” about the fact that large areas of rainforest were burning to the ground.

Meanwhile, the hardline British National Party (BNP) now “accepts that climate change, of whatever origin, is a threat to Britain” but offers itself a convenient escape hatch. Equivocating on climate change allows for denial of responsibility and space in which immigrants and progressives can be blamed.

And Ukip’s manifesto reads: “The most significant threat to the Green Belt, and the UK environment in general, especially England, is unsustained population growth, which is predominantly fuelled by uncontrolled mass migration.”

Polling by HNH in 2019 found that 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.

“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,” Mr Lawrence wrote.

This group also had negative attitudes towards immigration and Muslim populations, the research notes, and on the far right “a deep hostility towards left-wing positions and oftentimes a contrarianism towards the mainstream”.

Therefore climate action has been painted as a “left-wing, globalist scam” with particular vitriol directed towards movements like Extinction Rebellion (XR) and activist Greta Thunberg.

Far right groups were also discovered to be organising events like litter-picking campaigns and hiking in nature, to build community and promote their cause.

There is also increasing concern about direct violent action as has been used in recent years by the alt-right group, the Proud Boys, in the US, including during the deadly pro-Trump riots at the US Capitol in January.

Eco-fascists are “drawing influence from a terroristic style of extreme-right politics that has proliferated online, and on the messaging app Telegram”, the study notes.

It pointed to “extremely marginal” attempts made by eco-fascists to organise in the UK but warned that such efforts should be taken seriously, noting that both terrorists who committed the atrocities in Christchurch, New Zealand and El Paso, Texas, “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 Ecofascist’”, the study said. (The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, also published a manifesto which was adopted by the eco-fascist movement.)

Mr Lawrence said that there was a real danger that as the climate crisis intensifies, there would be an increase in the number of people who would seek to corrupt the environmental message.

“If you take the long view, as we see more extreme weather, extreme politics will come as a natural result of that,” he said. “We’re facing devastating effects on both the world’s poorest people but also on wealthy nations and there’ll be a volatile social situation, potentially destabilizing economies and unemployment. Of course this will be something that the far right will seek to capitalise on.”

He added: “Anti-racism has to be woven into environmental action. This is the vital cause of our time, and we have to be very vigilant to combat the spread of divisive and hateful movements, stopping them co opting those issues for their own ends.”

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