El Paso shooting and the rise of eco-fascism

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'There is no conservatism without nature, there is no nationalism without environmentalism.' Not surprisingly, many people took that line from the Christchurch killer's manifesto as another piece of rhetorical flummery in a document stitched together by an unstable criminal.

President Donald Trump departs the White House en route to Dayton, Ohio And El Paso, Texas following a pair of deadly shooting attacks in those cities. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)We're much more accustomed to think of the far right pushing anti-environmentalism than ecology. An opposition to environmentalism usually facilitates rightwing populist talking points: in particular, the notion of an out-of-touch and treacherous elite, imposing its progressive agenda on the nation's common folk. Yet before the shooter in El Paso opened fire in a Walmart, he, too, released a manifesto in which he voiced his concern about ecological destruction.

'The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations,' he wrote. 'Water sheds around the country, especially in agricultural areas, are being depleted ... Consumer culture is creating thousands of tons of unnecessary plastic and electronic waste ... Urban sprawl creates inefficient cities which unnecessarily destroys millions of acres of land.'  It's rhetoric with which most progressives would agree. So what's it doing in the screed of a racist killer?

The El Paso gunman declared his basic solidarity with the political perspective articulated by the Christchurch murderer. So let's start with that.

In his manifesto, the Christchurch perpetrator declared himself a fascist. In mainstream politics, the word 'fascism' usually gets employed as hyperbole — an insult levelled at anyone with rightwing ideas or authoritarian tendencies. As a result, few commentators tried to understand what the Christchurch killer actually meant. For he didn't use the term loosely but rather in a precise and technical sense: he was, he said, an admirer of the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, a man who sought to apply the principles of Mussolini and (later) Hitler in Britain.

Fascism distinguishes itself from other political tendencies by its commitment to redemptive violence. Fascists seek the physical extermination of those committed to social equality: labour movement activists, socialists, social democrats, immigrants and others whom they deem 'traitors'. They valorise the supposedly natural differences between individuals, between men and women, and between ethnic or 'racial' groups.

The fascist program generally calls for some kind of violent nationalist revolution to purge the nation and restore an organic hierarchy. To that end, they draw upon whatever national myths or ideologies they can scrabble together, without any necessary coherence.

 

"The more we can unite social and environmental justice in a program of hope, the greater the difficulty for fascists seeking a hearing."

 

In Germany, in particular, fascists borrowed heavily from a Romantic understanding of the natural world, one that contrasted the purity of the wilderness with the decadence of the metropolis. In nature, they said, the struggle for survival steeled the dominant races; in the city, an enforced equality allowed social parasites to flourish. They used the slogan 'blood and soil' to stress the alleged relationship between the German people and the German landscape.

Now, this wasn't the only form fascism took prior to the Second World War. It was equally possible for fascists to identify nature as itself an enemy, with the superman of the new order revealing his mastery by his ability to reshape the natural world according to his will. The Italian fascist ideologue Marinetti expressed something of this sentiment, exulting that modernity meant 'no more contact with the vile earth'.

In the second half of the 20th century, fascism in the English-speaking countries remained a tiny and despised tendency, utterly discredited by its association with the Holocaust. The fascist grouplets that did emerge might have paid rhetorical obeisance to the Hitlerite 'blood and soil' doctrine but nature didn't necessarily mean much to bands of urban skinheads intent on bashing immigrants or fighting leftists. In the wake of the social movements of the 60s, they were far more likely to associate environmentalism with the progressives they despised.

Today, however, the situation has changed. The looming climate catastrophe has brought humanity's relationship with nature to the forefront of international politics. Environmentalism no longer manifests as a niche concern — it's a topic that everyone discusses.

Not surprisingly, elements on the right have been re-examining the same kind of reactionary tendencies that attracted Hitler to the early environmental movement. In particular, they're able to exploit the neo-Malthusian doctrines that still retain a currency among those concerned about the destruction of nature. Not everyone who blames population growth for the environmental crisis necessarily identifies themselves with the right, but the doctrine provides a clear opening for fascists.

If, after all, you attribute environmental problems to an excess of people, an obvious question arises: who, precisely, are the people of whom you want to be rid? The Christchurch and El Paso murderers had no problem in providing an answer. Both of them blamed immigrants — and set out to kill them.

You can see, then, why an environmental rhetoric might work for fascists more than it does for rightwing populists. Their enthusiasm for violence as a whole allows fascists to embrace Malthusian 'solutions' at which most populists would baulk. Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump might discuss immigration restrictions but neither would advocate ethnic cleansing, forced repatriation and mass extermination. As we saw in Christchurch and El Paso, ecofascists not only espouse such a program, they're willing to put it into practice, with murderous results.

Ecofascism remains a tiny current. As I've argued elsewhere, the recent gun massacres illustrate the isolation of fascists, not their popularity, with their turn to terrorism a response to their inability to build political organisations.

Nevertheless, the widespread despair about climate change, and the seeming inability of progressives to offer a solution, provides fertile soil for ecofascism to grow. In a sense, given the scale of the crisis, their apocalyptic vision of an environmental race war can sound more realistic than the pallid centrist nostrums that everyone knows won't work.

It's crucial, then, to combat rightwing ideas within mainstream environmentalism and to resist any tendencies to scapegoat ordinary people for a crisis they did not cause. The more we can unite social and environmental justice in a program of hope, the greater the difficulty for fascists seeking a hearing.

 

 

Jeff SparrowJeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and honorary fellow at Victoria University.

Main image: President Donald Trump departs the White House en route to Dayton, Ohio And El Paso, Texas following a pair of deadly shooting attacks in those cities. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Jeff Sparrow, Dayton, El Paso, shooting, gun control

 

 

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Mr Sparrow is correct to say, “the word ‘fascism’ usually gets employed as hyperbole—an insult.” But it’s employed by the Left against any opponent, not just those “with rightwing ideas or authoritarian tendencies.” The ALP’s Arthur Calwell supposedly belonged to a “group who are assisting the development of Fascism” (Victorian Worker’s Voice, 15 April 1939) Like Hitler, communists well knew the psychological effect of constant repetition of falsehoods. Official communist policy was: “Label them Fascist or Nazi or anti-Semitic…the association will, after enough repetition, become ‘fact’ in the public mind.” Vilification of opponents is now mainstream. By 2016, Hillary Clinton declared opponents, “A basket of deplorables…racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.” During the phoney Russia/Trump collusion hearing, Trump was accused of being a traitor; of being a racist—denied by Dr Alveda King, Martin Luther King’s niece; Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was shot by a Bernie Sanders supporter; the “eradication” of Trump supporters is needed says Reza Adlan; fliers reading “Death Camps For Trump Supporters Now” litter New York; and next month Hollywood will release “The Hunt” featuring Leftists hunting Trump supporters for sport. A “climate catastrophe” will also justify extreme measures. See where this is going?
Ross Howard | 09 August 2019


Excellent article. Nut job manefestos are quite revealing once we get over the fear of adding to their popularity and take the time to unpack them
Matthew Davis | 09 August 2019


Thank you Jeff - I did not bother to read the manifesto of the Christchurch killer properly, nor that of the El Paso guy, so I missed the interesting phrase 'no nationalism without environmentalism'. It does make sense for such people to link environmentalism with getting rid of part of the population - a frightening thought, if it spread within some supposedly 'green' groups. I am one of many who fear the consequences of rampant population growth on our fragile planet, but we do know that birth rates have been falling for years in many countries such as Japan and Italy. Apart from all that, these mass shootings should encourage us all to reflect on how respect for the dignity of all human lives - not to mention animal lives - can be instilled in children and young people, throughout their education.
Rodney Wetherell | 09 August 2019


Jeff, serious environmental vandalism is well organised by powerful companies. It has (as you say) nothing to do with immigration or ethnic minorities. Eg LNP scapegoats potential immigrants as terrorists by their method of travel. In the 60s, DDT contamination of the Mississippi was attributed to Shell and Valsicol. Santos has used fracking to produce oil and gas in South Australia and Queensland for nearly 50 years. The biggest manufacturer of plastic bottles in Australia is a Coca Cola subsidiary, and indirectly because people toss them away, the unintentional polluter. Tasmania supermarkets use paper bags. No plastic down there. In UK, the supermarket chains sold 549 million single-use plastic bags in 2018-19, down from one billion in the previous year. But recent studies by Univ of Bermingham suggest the compulsory re use bags in the major supermarkets take 7 years to break down, not 2 as was promised. Fascism on the other hand has characteristics to unify people to a cause. Uniforms, flags, manifestos, vilification of religious or ethnic minorities, the apportionment of blame, appointment of cronies etc. Right wing ecofascism - a system to justify mass murder? Ecofascists attacking immigrants and linking it to environmental degregation is twisted logic.
Francis Armstrong | 10 August 2019


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