As we’ve all scrolled social media during these first few weeks of quarantine and confinement, we’ve all likely seen posts of a certain sort: those proclaiming that “maybe people are the real virus after all,” often accompanied by photos of nature seemingly recovering after reduced human presence. Other posts might joke that “the weak,” who aren’t following social/physical distancing rules, or who spend too much time in public, deserve what they get, whether that be illness or death–or that all of this is “Mother Nature’s way of taking out the trash.” However innocuous or joking these posts may seem on the surface, intentionally or not, they can sometimes play into a destructive ideology which serves to foster hate and violence despite the film of environmentalism laid over top of it: ecofascism.
Put simply, ecofascism is a hate movement with a green hat. It combines the extremist ideology of alt-right and Neo-nazi movements with a veneer of environmental concern, resulting in an ideology that blames minorities, immigrants, and anyone not in a limited “in-group” of the movement for “overpopulating” and using up the resources of the Earth, and threatens violence and death against them.
Although the ecofascist movement has gained more attention and traction in recent years, paralleling the rise of “alt-right” extremists, the concept is not new. The ideology of Nazi Germany also seized on these ideas and linked fascism to the desire to preserve the environment, creating a sort of environmental nationalism–and of course, that desire to “protect the environment” was driven by the goal to reserve it only for white people. The Unabomber, whose terrorist bombing campaign was active from the ‘70s to the ‘90s, also shared some of these ideas, blaming “industrial society” but in particular various minorities for the destruction of the Earth. In more recent news, the shooters in the Christchurch and El Paso mass shooting attacks in 2019 both cited ecofascist ideas in their manifestos.
As an ideology, ecofascism overlaps with other white nationalists extremist movements in that it blames marginalized populations for the problems of society and fosters distrust, violence, and hatred towards anyone not included in a typically white, male, rich in-group. But on the surface, the hate it fosters is not always visible, because ecofascism’s more environmentally conscious ideas can superficially align with the ideals of modern ecological movements–a desire to protect the earth, avoid pollution and exploitation of natural resources, and even stop climate change.
Why is it so dangerous?
“Hate is always looking for an opportunity to grab hold of something,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of the National Wildlife Federation, in a 2019 Washington Post article. “That’s why they use this ecological language that’s been around for a while, and they try to reframe it.”
While it might seem aligned on the surface with modern environmentalist movements, at its core ecofascism is about hate and violence, not taking care of the Earth. In its attempts to blame minorities for climate change, it disregards the fact that marginalized populations are usually the most at risk to be harmed by the effects of rising seas, increasing global temperatures, and a less stable world caused by climate change, and that the majority of harm to the environment is done by large corporations, not individual people. In aligning itself with white supremacist violence, it contradicts the very thing that environmentalism is supposed to do–make the planet a better place for everyone on it.
Climate change, natural disasters, pandemics, and other long-term catastrophes are events that shake and shape society. After many such events in the past, large scale social changes went into effect–after plagues, a higher awareness of cleanliness; after the Great Depression, a larger emphasis on social safety nets. At the same time, disasters like these also served as opportunities for greater evils to find footholds in society. The economic downturn after World War I in Germany was one window that the Nazis used to gain power. We cannot allow a crisis like COVID-19 to be an entrance point for hate, even if that hate looks like environmentalism on the surface.
What can we do to stop it?
Fact checking: During this time of crisis, many people may be sharing ecofascist ideas unintentionally. Most people who post memes about how “the Earth is healing” and “humans are the real virus” aren’t violent extremists, but such sentiments can still be dangerous and can make the slide into alt-right spaces easier. One way to stop the spread is to keep an eye out for misinformation, misleading statements, or inaccurate memes on social media, and to give your friends a heads-up if they post or share something that doesn’t seem right. In general, it’s always a good idea to fact-check anything you post, and to be aware of “dog whistles,” or seemingly normal phrases that might have a second, hateful meaning, but right now, when misinformation continues to run rampant, it’s more important than ever. Approaching posts like these with a clear head and cautious mindset can help stop misinformation in its tracks.
Centering real environmentalism, particularly marginalized voices: There are plenty of scientists, environmentalists, and activists who are not aligned with ecofascism. Youth climate justice activists like Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg are bringing attention to climate injustices across the world, and science communicators are sharing research, new discoveries, and initiatives to adapt to mitigate climate change every day. Instead of spreading the ideologies that foster hate, one way to re-center the discussion around environmentalism is to highlight the voices and activism of the people who are most affected by climate change–activists of color and indigenous activists in particular. This effort can help focus the conversation on the problems at the heart of climate change and encourage diverse leadership and ideas across the board. Although times are frightening right now, we can all help by promoting viewpoints that help prevent, not foment violence, and by keeping a clear view towards solutions that will help make the world a better place.
Achenbach, J. (2019, August 18). Two mass killings a world apart share a common theme: ‘ecofascism’. Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/two-mass-murders-a-world-apart-share-a-common-theme-ecofascism/2019/08/18/0079a676-bec4-11e9-b873-63ace636af08_story.html
Darby, L. (2019, August 7). What Is Eco-Fascism, the Ideology Behind Attacks in El Paso and Christchurch? Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://www.gq.com/story/what-is-eco-fascism
Waiganjo, N. (2020, February 9). Opinion: Eco-fascism is closer than you think. Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://thevarsity.ca/2020/02/09/opinion-eco-fascism-is-closer-than-you-think/
Riley, T. (2017, July 10). Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says. Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change
Wilson, J. (2019, March 19). Eco-fascism is undergoing a revival in the fetid culture of the extreme right | Jason Wilson. Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2019/mar/20/eco-fascism-is-undergoing-a-revival-in-the-fetid-culture-of-the-extreme-right
Lennard, N. (2019, August 5). The El Paso Shooter Embraced Eco-Fascism. We Can’t Let the Far Right Co-Opt the Environmental Struggle. Retrieved April 12, 2020, from https://theintercept.com/2019/08/05/el-paso-shooting-eco-fascism-migration/?comments=1