The commonalities between contemporary green politics and old-fashioned fascism and Nazism are chilling. (Senator George Brandis, October 28, 2003)
When a self-proclaimed ‘eco-fascist’ committed mass murder in Christchurch in March 2019, it drew attention to the influence on the far-right of ecological thought – an ideological tendency most often understood to be of ‘leftist’ derivation.
The killer explicitly framed his supposed commitment to ‘ecology’ as part of his concern for ‘ethnic autonomy’ and quest to preserve a hierarchical ‘natural order’ for the benefit of European nationalisms and ‘Whites’ as a racialised collective. Against a broader history of scare-mongering about the supposed anti-democratic implications of taking ecological values seriously, his proclamation provided commentators further opportunity to speculate on resemblances between ‘green politics’ and ‘old-fashioned fascism and Nazism’.
In light of a series of cascading environmental crises, alongside numerous economic and social ones, it stands to reason that attention to ecological concerns among far-right movements will continue to generate public concern. By the same token, eco-fascist anxieties over immigration and over-population frequently overlap with those expressed within mainstream conservatism. Opportunities for political interventions by far-right actors, including by way of entryism, will as a result likely remain enduring.
Any examination of contemporary ‘eco-fascism’ necessarily requires acknowledging its historical antecedents – especially that of Nazi Germany, alongside German nationalist and ecological thought of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and earlier iterations of German romanticism.
In this context, Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture Richard Walther Darré’s advocacy of Blut und Boden (‘blood and soil’), Ernst Haeckel’s coinage of the term ‘ecology’ (along with his scientistic racism and Social Darwinism) and the German Volkisch movement more generally loom large.
At least in terms of its origins, then, the task of disentangling ‘ecology’ from ‘fascism’ is less straightforward than it might initially appear. The relationship between Nazi ideology and green politics remains highly contentious, with Anna Bramwell’s 1985 text Blood and Soil: Richard Walther Darré and Hitler’s “Green Party” making the strongest case that the two are compatible.
Brandis’ thesis quoted at the top of this piece was politely but firmly rejected by Peter Staudenmaier, the co-author of Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (1995) – the text upon which Senator Brandis’ claim crucially relied.
While in their quest for racial purity fascists will undoubtedly continue to stain the soil of many nations with the blood of Others, the limitations of an ecological perspective which centres authoritarian ultra-nationalism is made evident through the truly global dimensions of anthropogenic climate change. As sociologist Bernhard Forchtner elaborates:
ecofascism can be understood as a radical blend of ethnonationalism and authoritarianism, rooted in a belief that the land and the people are symbiotically interwoven, and form an organic whole.
Although an abundance of references to nature and the natural order in many fascist writings might be interpreted to mean that fascists generally and neo-Nazis in particular place enormous importance on ecology, owing to their ultra-nationalist tendencies, this would be mistaken. The same impulse that drove the Nazi genocide of European Jewry also compelled the Nazis to seek to preserve the soil (and especially the forests) that the regime claimed as its exclusive domain and spiritual inspiration.
Historically, such emphasis upon blood and soil had its Australian exponents. These include PR ‘Inky’ Stephensen (1901–1965), whose Antipodean commitment to ‘Race and Place’ was a more easy-going substitute for Blut und Boden. Stephensen dexterously navigated the obvious difficulties faced by White settler-colonists in this context by proposing ‘Aryan Aborigines’ as ‘a sophisticated, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to articulate the possibility of simultaneous neo-European replication and settler indigenisation’.
Contemporary Nazi Dreamers in (so-called) Australia belonging to the National Socialist Network (NSN) have acknowledged Stephensen’s role in promoting Nazism, and have celebrated the efforts of Stephensen’s colleague Alexander Rud Mills (1885–1964) – an erstwhile member of Arnold Leese’s short-lived ‘Imperial Fascist League’ – to establish racialist Odinism in Australia. While the ‘Soldiers of Odin’ already done come and gone, the NSN recently responded to The Call of Our Ancient Nordic Religion by placing flowers on Mills’ grave; activities reflective, I would suggest, of the minimal role of ‘ecology’ in the neo-Nazi groupuscule’s activities to date, and an indication of the group’s preference for esoteric neo-Nazi doctrines.
Doesn’t the Tarrant example very much exemplify why you need the change [to ASIO’s classificatory system]? Immediately after Christchurch, he was immediately branded right-wing. Yet his manifesto clearly stated that he was a communist, then he was an anarchist, then a libertarian, and then an eco-fascist. Now, how can all of those political spectrums be described as right-wing? (Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, March 22, 2021)
In other settler-colonial contexts, an interest in ‘environmental issues’ on the part of far-right actors is sometimes also attributed to the influence of the (American) ‘alt-right’. Insofar as alt-right ideology has provided an opportunity to euphemistically reformulate white nationalist and fascist doctrines, it’s also allowed for a re-examination of ‘eco-fascism’.
In ‘Alt-Right Ecology: Ecofascism and far-right environmentalism in the United States’, Blair Taylor refers to both Keith Preston’s blog ‘Attack the System’ and to Andrew White’s short-lived fascist groupuscule ‘Bay Area National Anarchists’ as examples. In Australia, by comparison, the ‘neither left nor right’, well-heeled and well-travelled ‘national anarchist’ Welf Herfurth titled his manifesto A Life in the Political Wilderness: a reference both to his political marginality as well as his attachment to ‘wild’ nature.
Taylor also refers to the ‘Wolves of Vinland’, ‘a right decentralist group founded in 2006 which combine quasi-ecological tribalism with masculinist authoritarianism’. The ‘Wolves’ then find their Antipodean equivalent in the Taswegian ‘Waldkampf’ groupuscule; one which has drawn support from the remnants of the tiny ‘national anarchist’ community in Australia, but which also seems likely to generate similar projects in future. Given the fringe nature of these groups, I suppose it’s predictable that – two years after Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg declared that the corporation would be ‘taking even stronger steps to remove hate on our platforms’– ‘Australian Ecofascist Memes’, one of dozens of such pages operated by a small network of Australian fascists, carries on regardless.
As for more practical measures, the Ku Klux Klan once took part in a state-sponsored Adopt-A-Highway program and ‘Patriot Front’ in the United States, along with local members of ‘Identity Australia’ (2018–2020), once enjoyed posing for photos while collecting rubbish.
In light of these cynical displays, there’s reasonable grounds to believe that many fascist claims to be ‘environmentally-conscious’ are primarily marketing exercises intended to greenwash their politics. Further, the Christchurch killer’s obsessive preoccupation with ‘The Great Replacement’ of ‘The White Race’ in Europe and in its various colonial-settler states (including of course Australia, Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand), suggests that such politics are ultimately racial-national.
To put it another way: if ‘pollution’ is a concern, it’s invariably one which revolves around the supposed degradation of the White race.
‘Eco-extremism’ is another, more obscure tendency sometimes invoked in discussions on ‘eco-fascism’, and one which also draws upon a range of ‘anti-civilisational’ thinkers, with Ted Kaczynski (AKA ‘The Unabomber’) being pivotal.
Eco-extremism’s most notorious exponent is the groupuscule Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS), which, since it emerged in Mexico in 2011, has declared war on civilisation and claimed a series of increasingly murderous actions.
Kaczynski has served, both willingly and unwillingly, as a source of inspiration for both ITS and the neo-Nazi terror network Atomwaffen (AW). AW emerged from the same milieu and website, Iron March, as the defunct Antipodean Resistance, which has now been folded into the NSN; Kaczynski features heavily on Facebook’s ‘Australian Ecofascist Memes’ page, and is one of several figures who’ve entered into the pantheon of contemporary esoteric neo-Nazism, whose roots in Australia may be traced back to Alexander Mills.
In terms of situating ecology within the mainstream, historical fascist tradition, while Darré and others were important figures within the Nazi regime, the NSDAP was a largely urban movement. ‘Conservation’ was always subordinate to empire and, if there was a special place reserved for German farmers within the regime, it was expected that the soils they tilled would eventually be expanded into territories in Eastern Europe. That is, once the inferior Slavs had been annihilated.
Of course, Nazi fantasies of a Greater German Reich populated by noble and sedentary German-Nordic peasants also served as a key rejoinder to the rootless, cosmopolitan Jew, an obsession which carries through all subsequent iterations of Nazi ideology, and for whom the desire for ‘racial purity’ assumes a status never granted ‘ecology’. Certainly, for those insistent upon emphasising the ecological imperative in Nazi ideology, members of the Landschaftsanwälte (‘Advocates for the Landscape’, under the command of Reichslandschaftsanwal Alwin Seifert) assisted not only in the planning of the Nazi expansion into Eastern Europe, but also supervising labour commandos in the construction of organic (‘biodynamic’) farms alongside the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau.
To illuminate contemporary ‘eco-fascism’, historical scholarship on fascism, racism and ecology generates a number of insights. Ben Kiernan’s Blood And Soil surveys Nazi ideology and its idealisation of the German peasantry, underscoring the importance of locating political regimes within their historical and social contexts and hence their political expressions. In summarising the impact of the Landschaftsanwälte, Staudenmeier notes that there was ‘a substantive confluence between ecological longings and Nazi policies, with implications that extend beyond Germany and beyond the era of the Third Reich.’ Echoes of this approach, emphasising the logics of capitalism and colonialism to understanding ecological crises, may also be found in contemporary Australia in Ghassan Hage’s Is Racism an Environmental Threat?.
In the context of looming environmental and social crises, if eco-fascism is to be taken seriously in the colonial-settler state of Australia, it might be better understood as the fantasy of a sustainable form of White supremacy.
Image: Mussolini helps out with the harvesting on the cover of La Domenica del Corriere of 20 August 1933