Amid the global response to COVID-19, you may have seen the Facebook posts or tweets, saying something along the lines of ‘Humanity is the virus’.
The internet being what it is, has seen many people making serious comments about the implications of the “the world is healing, we are the virus” narrative and this way of thinking.
Among these comments were responses calling out the statements as a stepping stone to ‘eco-fascism’ or ‘eco-fash’.
If you’re like me, this combination of terms would have sat a bit strangely.
It seems rather counterintuitive and just plain nonsensical. Greenies and Nazis coming together for the good of the environment?
What is Eco-fascism?
Eco-fascism refers to the combination of conservationist thinking and far-right authoritarian white supremacist ideology. It’s more of an umbrella term than a distinct set of ideas and has a long and convoluted history, from early American conservationists, to Hitler’s Nazi party, through to more modern influences such as The Unabomber and Finnish naturalist Linkola. The combination of fascist or neo-Nazi thought and environmental concerns has seen a growth in popularity in the last few years as general community awareness about green issues has heightened in an era of higher frequency of natural disasters.
In 2018, Sarah Manavis, a digital culture and tech writer for the New Statesmen investigated online eco-fascism in great detail. She discovered a movement comprised of an online white supremacist subculture, identifiable on Twitter by the use of pine trees or mountain emoji’s next to their usernames. The group is also known for the use of Nordic runes, pagan beliefs, anti-Semitism and hate of multiculturalism. Members of this online community believe that the only way to save Mother Earth is through racial purity an end to immigration. The perpetrators of the mass shootings in Christchurch and El Paso last year held similar beliefs, calling for an end to multiculturalism and attempting to justify racism as conservationist and for the good of the environment.
Eco-fascism is not just isolated in the fringe and finds itself edging its way into mainstream politics abroad. The French National Assembly Party is making efforts to use the environment as justification for hard borders, saying that “borders are the environments greatest ally”. Party leader Le Pen is making sure to paint those who attempt to move across borders as having no interest in green issues, saying that people who are “nomadic” don’t have a homeland and therefore don’t care for the environment. The party is promoting environmental protection via “localisation”, part of which is the desire to lower emissions through reducing imports.
Where did eco-fascism originate?
The 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, was a keen hunter and outdoorsman who held conservation as a top priority during his time in government, developing an expansive network of national parks, national monuments, game preserves, bird reserves and national forests. He also oversaw the establishment of the 1908 National Conservation Commission, a group whose 1909 report declared the maintenance of (white and Nordic) racial stock by preventing further immigration as integral to their goal of the protection of natural resources. These comments are revealing of a system of beliefs that compared “invading races” to non-native species, seeing both as detrimental to the environment they entered.
One of Roosevelt’s friends and shooting buddies was Madison Grant, heralded by some as the “most important environmentalist of his generation”. As well as saving several notable animal species from extinction, Grant wrote a book, The Passing of the Great Race: Or The Racial Basis of European History, espousing the Nordic race as ‘natural aristocracy’. Roosevelt featured on the blurb of later additions of this book, where he heartily endorsed it. Grant’s writing also caught the attention of a young Adolf Hitler, who referred to the book as his “bible”.
Given the name, it’s perhaps unsurprising eco-fascism has roots in Nazism. One of the clearest ideological links between Nazism and current-day eco-fascism is the ideology of ‘Blut und Boden’ or Blood and Soil. ‘Blood and soil’ is a favourite refrain of the online Twitter subculture researched by Manavis, as is the Nordic rune which was favoured by the SS. Conceived by SS member Richard Walther Darré, ‘Blood and Soil’ refers to an inherent bond between a race and their historical territory. The concept was part of a Nazi trend of glorifying rural life and connection to the land as opposed to urbanisation.
A more recent source of eco-fascist inspiration is The Unabomber – Ted Kaczynski, Harvard graduate and maths professor turned eco-terrorist. Kaczynski abandoned the world to live in a simple cabin in the woods of Montana in the 70s and mailed letter bombs to those he held responsible for the evils of industrialism. His manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future was stringently anti-industrialist and anti-technology and saw humanity as having lost their autonomy and freedom through their obedience and willingness to live within the structures of the modern world. In 2017, Netflix released Manhunt: The Unabomber, a fictionalised series based on Kaczynski’s capture. The show has gained popularity and is credited by some in increasing interest in the eco-fascist movement, particularly in certain online circles, where Kaczynski earned the affectionate nickname of Uncle Ted. Kaczynski’s conservationist and environmental beliefs combined with his violent methods have appealed to some and acted as an introduction to the more extreme possibilities of environmentalism, eco-fascism included.
Another figure linked to the increased prominence of eco-fascist ideology is Finnish naturalist Pentti Linkola who self-identifies as an eco-fascist and promotes the idea of ‘lifeboat ethics’. “What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides.” His website sprouts a myriad of horrifying beliefs, including the need for a dictatorship, violence as the only effective method of gaining influence, and the danger of technology.
Where does this leave us on the Tweets?
When we look at the history of eco-fascism, and the figures and ideologies that have influenced it over time, we can see tweeting “we are the virus” although problematic, can’t be put in the same category as comparing the earth to a lifeboat, mailing innocent people letter bombs, actively practising eugenics, writing a book that inspired Hitler, or promoting white supremacy alongside natural conservation.
It’s also not of the same ilk as far-right political parties using environmentalism to justify border control, or Vikings-obsessed members of Twitter who openly promote Nazi beliefs and wish minority groups dead.
The extent to which people are merely ‘shit posting’, stirring the pot, or alternatively attempting to start a discourse regarding environmental policy and climate change is also unclear and warrants consideration.
But the potential eco-fascist connotations are still problematic. Writer Jeff Sparrow explained that only a small proportion of the world’s population are responsible for the majority of emissions which are driving climate change. Climate change is driven by rich people and rich countries, rather than poor ones. More than a third of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to just 20 fossil fuel companies. Attributing the cause of climate change to humanity as a whole lets these big corporations and the political entities who support them off the hook and feeds into a denial of the deep and systemic causes of the current environmental crisis.
In line with this, it’s important to keep in mind the power differential we see in the world today. Ultimately, if any sort of action was to be carried out following the “humanity is the virus” line of thinking, you can bet your bottom dollar the unempowered and disenfranchised of society would be the first to suffer. The power dynamics we see, both locally and globally, will naturally have a huge impact on how any environmental discourse translates into action.
With environmental disasters likely to increase in frequency in coming years as a result of climate change it is important to consider what political views may gain traction as the effects are felt closer and closer to home. Times of crisis tend to lead to radicalisation and by identifying and calling out any early signs of extremism, be it left or right, society is in a better place to combat these problematic ideologies and proceed in a manner that minimises harm to all. After a logical and educational approach to this important topic via the twittersphere, we got to the memes.
Because if there’s one thing 2020 has been good for, it’s the memes.