How Real is the “Eco-Fascist” Threat?

Mt. Hood, early morning. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In a manifesto that was posted to 8Chan just before he carried out his murderous attack on Walmart shoppers in El Paso, Patrick Crusius expressed “Green” values that are widespread on the left:

The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources. This has been a problem for decades. For example, this phenomenon is brilliantly portrayed in the decades old classic “The Lorax”.

Dr. Seuss wrote “The Lorax” in 1971 as a protest against corporate despoliation of the environment. The contrast between a racist mass murderer and a gentle children’s book could not be starker. It is no wonder that there have been multiple attempts to come to terms with his eco-fascism.

This is not the first amalgam of Green and Brown values from a neo-Nazi terrorist. On March 15, 2019, an Australian named Brenton Tarrant killed 50 Muslims in a New Zealand mosque justifying his attack on the “replacement” theory that motivated Patrick Crusius. Crusius paid tribute to Tarrant in the first paragraph of his manifesto.

In his 70-page manifesto published on Scribd, Tarrant also described himself as an eco-fascist. Like Crusius, he tied environmental degradation to immigrants flooding into white nations: “There is no Green future with never ending population growth, the ideal green world cannot exist in a World of 100 billion 50 billion or even 10 billion people. Continued immigration into Europe is environmental warfare and ultimately destructive to nature itself.”

Responding to Tarrant’s screed in The New Statesman on April 3rd, Richard Smyth’s article “Nature writing’s fascist roots” tied it to Oswald Moseley’s fascist movement in the 1930s that championed a ruralist “back to nature” ethos that sounds quite a bit like Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” except overlaid with the same kind of nativism expressed by Crusius and Tarrant. For example, Henry Williamson, a Moseleyite, wrote a book titled “Tarka the Otter” that lovingly described the life of an animal widely regarded as vermin in England. This nature-lover had more affection for otters than for the unnatural Jews.

Turning his attention to Nazi Germany, Smyth finds the same kind of back to nature mystique at the bottom of Hitler’s movement. The German romantic anti-industrialism of the 19th century inspired the Nazis to pass environmental protection legislation in 1935, and so on.

Crusius’s manifesto has sparked even more warnings about the threat posed by eco-fascism than Tarrant’s. Jeet Heer wrote a piece for The Nation titled “After the El Paso Massacre, the Choice Is Green Socialism or Eco-Fascism” that warns about the possibility of neo-Malthusianism environmentalism splitting the far right. He predicts that it will produce an eco-fascist movement of the young that rejects the Trump administration’s pro-corporate agenda. “This combination of a white nationalism with angst about the prospects for human survival is a perfect recipe for radicalizing young right-wingers and taking Trumpian themes to a new level of extremism.”

Natasha Lennard’s Intercept article titled “The El Paso Shooter Embraced Eco-Fascism. We Can’t Let the Far Right Co-Opt the Environmental Struggle” goes a step further. She targets “deep ecologists” like Dave Foreman who welcomed famine as a means of depopulation. While Foreman’s ideas are toxic, one might have hoped that Lennard could have expanded on her observation that “The so-called deep ecology movement, claiming to argue for the intrinsic value of all living things, insists that the flourishing of nonhuman life is impossible without decreasing the human population.” As it happens, there are ecological limits. Socialism can provide answers to all sorts of questions but it is not capable of rewriting the laws of natural science. Groundwater is rapidly disappearing around the world and there is nothing in Marx that will explain how to replenish it in the face of unsustainable population growth. A world socialist government might enforce an agricultural policy that minimizes the resources allocated to beef, pork and poultry production, which place an enormous strain on water usage, but we will always need water for sanitary and nutritional health.

Finally, there is “Eco-Fascism: The Racist Theory That Inspired the El Paso and Christchurch Shooters” Tess Owen wrote for Vice that warns about the latest iteration of eco-fascism. It is typified by the slogan “Save Trees Not Refugees.” This subculture, according to Owen, includes “the pine tree gang” that have pine tree emojis in their Twitter bios. A cursory search for “the pine tree gang” turns up a reference to their main accomplishment, namely creating a website called “Eco-Fascist Order”. Good luck finding it. Also, good luck finding any presence of the pine tree emoji on Twitter. If this is a threat to American society as great or even greater than the people Trump hired to run the EPA and the Department of the Interior, call me a skeptic.

This is not the first time I have run into people on the left harping on the eco-fascist threat. When I first ran into the people now associated with Spiked-Online, they had the distinction of labeling all Green thought as reactionary, even containing fascist elements. In 1997, some of their members, who had gone to work for Channel 4 in England, produced a documentary titled “Against Nature” that was based on the following premise:

What we today call “environmentalism” is … based on a fear of change. It’s based upon a fear of the outcome of human action. And therefore it’s not surprising that when you look at the more xenophobic right-wing movements in Europe in the 19th century, including German fascism, it quite often had a very strong environmentalist dynamic to it. The most notorious environmentalists in history were the German Nazis. The Nazis ordered soldiers to plant more trees. They were the first Europeans to establish nature reserves and order the protection of hedgerows and other wildlife habitats. And they were horrified at the idea of hydroelectric dams on the Rhine. Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis were vegetarian and they passed numerous laws on animal rights.

The real history of Nazis and the natural environment was anything but ecological. If you consult Arthur Schweitzer’s “Big Business and the Third Reich”, you get a different picture. Yes, the Nazis promoted the view that the class-struggle in the city could be overcome by returning to the villages and developing artisan and agricultural economies based on cooperation but the policies did not necessarily follow that script.

The core of Nazi rural socialism was the idea that land-use must be planned. Gottfried Feder was a leading Nazi charged with the duty of formulating such policy. He made a speech in Berlin in 1934 in which he stated that the right to build homes or factories or to use land according to the personal interests of owners was to be abolished. The government instead would dictate how land was to be used and what would be constructed on it. Feder next began to build up elaborate administrative machinery to carry out his plans.

Not surprisingly, Feder earned the wrath of the construction industry. This segment of heavy industry had no tolerance for any kind of socialism, even if it was of the fake, nutty Nazi variety. Hitler had promised the captains of heavy industry that the “rabble-rousers” in his party would be curbed and Feder certainly fell into that category.

Hjalmar Schacht was a more reliable Nazi functionary who agreed with the need to curb Feder’s excesses. After Hitler named Schacht Minister of Economics on November 26, 1934, he gave Feder the boot and assured the construction magnates that business would be run as usual.

Consider also Walter Schoenichen, an aide to Herman Goering who in his capacity as Minister of the German Forests supervised the “Germanization” of forests in conquered territories. In 1941, the Nazis took control of the Bialowieza forest in Lithuania and decided to turn it into a hunting reserve for top officers. Open season was declared on the Jews, who made up 12 percent of the population in this region and who violated the ethnic purity of the proposed game farm. Five hundred and fifty Jews were rounded up and shot in the courtyard of a hunting palace operated by Battalion 332 of Von Bock’s army division. Goring decided that the purified forest should be altered into an extension of the East Prussian forests. An SS team led by Konrad Mayer, who had been Minister of Agriculture at Berlin University, planned a colonization program that would “Germanize” the forest. Poles, and any remaining Jews, were reduced to the status of barnyard animals to be penned up or slaughtered.

Schoenichen jumped at the opportunity to administer this program. This “total landscape plan” would first empty villages and then the unpopulated forest would be stocked with purely “Teutonic” species, including eagles, elk, and wolves. Since there was a painting of a bison on Goring’s wall, it was crucial to include this beast in the menagerie. The notion of importing “Teutonic” animals into the Lithuanian forest is antithetical to genuine ecology, which attempts to preserve the natural balance between indigenous species and their environments.

Any reasonable person would understand that the gangsters terrorizing Jews and Poles to make way for a “Teutonic” zoo have nothing in common with today’s Greens, even those who embrace some of the more reactionary aspects of deep ecology. Nazi “ecology” is a contradiction in terms. The Nazis did not want to protect nature, but to transform large swaths of it into something resembling Wagnerian opera backdrops. Furthermore, the murderous assault on peasants who had the misfortune to live in these vicinities is just the opposite of what groups such as Greenpeace or Survival International fight for today. They seek the right of indigenous peoples to live in peace in their natural surroundings. While some conservative, well-financed environmentalist groups have unfortunately neglected the rights of indigenous peoples in campaigns to protect endangered species, the more radical groups have a relatively spotless record.

The best way to understand this fixation on the “Green” sentiments of the El Paso and Christchurch mass murderers is as just another misreading of the political climate in the USA today. As horrid as these attacks are, the real agenda of the Trump administration is to continue the wanton assault on the environment that despite the howls in the liberal press will continue unabated until a Democrat is elected. Under a Biden administration, expect someone like Lisa Jackson to run the EPA. As Obama’s EPA chief, Jackson authorized BP to use Corexit to disperse oil in the Gulf of Mexico, an agent that reduces oil slicks to tiny particles that remain in the water with disastrous results for marine life. The entire history of Obama’s environmentalism can be described as a “lesser evil” to Trump but even if it is lesser, it is still evil.

If the fondest wishes of the DSA materialize and we end up with Bernie Sanders in the White House, what is the likelihood of a Green New Deal being implemented? On his website, Sanders calls for a Green New Deal to “save American families money and generate millions of jobs by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100% energy efficiency and sustainable energy.” This, of course, is necessary but can we expect Exxon-Mobil to give up fracking unless it is forced to by an act of Congress? There are only 13 Senators and 4 House members who support such a measure. Nancy Pelosi has said she supports “all the enthusiasm” behind it but added, “we have to operate in a way that’s evidence-based, current in its data.”

There is almost a dead certainty that future white supremacy terrorist attacks will take place under Trump and any Democrat who replaces him. Like a chronic illness that is drug-resistant, people intoxicated by “replacement” theory and even worried about the future of the planet under capitalism will use an automatic weapon against Muslims, Latinos, Jews, gays or anybody else that doesn’t conform to their idealized notion of how to make America great again.

Less dramatically, climate change will kill far more people with less fanfare through forest fires such as those that devastated Paradise, California or floods that can strike southern coastline cities with growing intensity. You might reduce fatalities through a ban on assault weapons, conceivably a realizable goal in the face of the NRA’s utter contempt for the opinions of average Americans, but if you want to reduce carbon emissions to the point of allowing American society to continue into the 22nd century and beyond, you need to take on the system through direct action up to and including the kinds of militant protests taking place in Hong Kong today. If and when such protests reach a critical level that threatens the petrochemical giants like Exxon-Mobil, you will see a true fascist movement having as much commitment to Green values as the billionaires who run the country and probably sooner than you might expect. Keep your powder dry.

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Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

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