Opinion

Fascists' Terrifying Solution to the Climate Crisis

White-nationalist terrorists have cited concern for the environment as justification for their decision to kill, signalling the rise of eco-fascism

An improvised memorial outside the El Paso, Texas, Walmart where a massacre took place on August 3, 2019.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images/AFP

“Our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations… Consumer culture is creating thousands of tons of unnecessary plastic waste and electronic waste, and recycling to help slow this down is almost non-existent. Urban sprawl creates inefficient cities which unnecessarily destroys millions of acres of land. We even use god knows how many trees worth of paper towels just to wipe water off our hands. Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. The government is unwilling to tackle these issues beyond empty promises since they are owned by corporations.”

That text is part of a manifesto that was uploaded to the web about two weeks ago. Most of the claims are familiar and appear in innumerable ecological screeds penned over the past few decades. Even the title, “The Inconvenient Truth,” refers to a well-known film, starring former U.S. vice president and environmentalist Al Gore, which deals with the dangers posed by climate change. But the author of the above words is not a Greenpeace or Extinction Rebellion activist, or an admirer of the Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg. The manifesto was written by Patrick Crusius, the white college student who went on a shooting spree on August 3 at an El Paso Walmart, targeting Latinos and murdering 22 people.

Even if the description offered by the killer resembles that of well-known environmentalists, the author’s conclusion is radically different. The environmental crisis is getting worse by the year, Crusius adds, but “most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

In fact, the ecological message is just one element of this text. It also sounds xenophobic notes about “race mixers” and “the Hispanic invasion.” Amid the jumbled ideas is a warning about workplace automation, which will destroy the livelihood of millions. Crusius’ ideological inspiration derives from the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which is popular among far-right circles. It holds that the white race is being replaced by migrants of other races under the aegis of the liberal elite. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” the mass murderer writes.

But the centrality of environmental messages in Crusius’ manifesto is a disturbing sign of the rise of racist, murderous, ecological fascism. No less worrisome is the fact that similar content has appeared in such documents written by other white mass murderers. Brenton Tarrant, the Australian who gunned down 51 worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last March, dubbed himself an “eco-fascist” and asserted that “the environment is being destroyed by over population, [but] we Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world.” Accordingly, groups that are contributing to the situation should be done away with.

Thus, like other issues that in the past were promoted by the left, such as anti-globalization, the environmental cause is now being appropriated by the right. True, the extreme right in the West tends to shrug off environmental warnings and view them as another way to impose “liberal” regulations on society. Prominent in this regard is U.S. President Donald Trump, who denies the existence of climate change, is expanding oil drilling to protected regions and has recently come out against protection of species that are in danger of extinction.

But ecological ideas have taken root among the right-wing parties in Europe, and their young supporters in particular. France’s Marine Le Pen, for example, has called for Europe to be transformed into an “ecological civilization” and accuses migrants of having no homeland and of being unaware of environmental damage they cause. In this context, it’s worth noting that the environmental damage caused by an average middle-class European is sometimes as great as that caused by an entire family in an African or Latin American country.

Looming specter

The American branch of Extinction Rebellion, a resistance movement that uses nonviolent means to protest climate breakdown, has added to its agenda a demand for priority to be given to “the most vulnerable people” and for the establishment of “reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities.” The list of demands ends with a call for “a just planet for all.” The subtext of all this is that this organization, which has acquired momentum in recent months, is clearly adopting an agenda that is identified with the left and with movements like Black Lives Matter.

Thus, the tendencies to ignore and deny the climate crisis are giving way to political polarization over the desired types of solution. This divide basically reflects the familiar left-right political split. Right-wingers, too, are fearful for the future of humanity, but the majority of them are unlikely to join so-called green organizations such as Greenpeace or FridaysForFuture. They are creating organizations of their own, which blend religious, conservative or ultranationalist ideology with ideas regarding the environment.

The climate crisis and the specter of mass extinctions are becoming a central issue on the global agenda. In the future, these will become existential issues that will occupy humanity more than any other problem. But for a long time already, discussion of the environmental crisis has not necessarily been subject to the control of climate scientists or even environmental activists. In order to reach people’s core identity in a way that will spark them to act, the environmental issue has to touch upon their political and cultural anxieties.

The connection between extreme rightists, fascists and neo-Nazis and environmental ideology is not a new phenomenon. Nazism itself was based partially on quasi-ecological ideas that were fused with glorification of the rural landscape and enmity toward the Jewish race, which was seen as detached from the soil. At the same time, the combination of racist ideology and fear of environmental destruction is particularly volatile and dangerous, because it stirs primal fears that haunt many on our warming planet, especially young people in the West. It attaches itself to an array of conspiracy theories and philosophies drawing on social Darwinism. The result is that the climate emergency is taking on a harrowing interpretation. And because in our time marginal ideas tend to enter the political mainstream rapidly, it is disturbing to realize that eco-fascism is likely to accompany us in the decades ahead.