On 15 March 2019, Brenton Tarrant live streamed himself gunning down 50 Muslims in Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand.
He posted a manifesto online proclaiming himself as “just an ordinary white man,” an “Ethno Nationalist” and “Eco-Fascist” who was fighting for the “existence of our people and a future for white children, whilst preserving and exulting nature and the natural order” who saw himself as attacking “invaders” who he said “seek to occupy my peoples lands and ethnically replace my own people.”
There is much to unpick in the identities Tarrant ascribed to. My interest here is in him ‘activating’ his eco-fascism. Tarrant’s actions have brought the term into the open, making explicit attitudes I have seen before in people involved in the environmental and outdoor field. There are many for whom their racism manifests in idealism about nature, land, purity.
Eco-fascism has had differing connotations since it’s emergence as a term in the 1980’s; it has been used as a political epithet towards typically left wing environmentalists who are authoritarian or willing to use violence for their cause, but is now more commonly used to describe a far right ideology in which the protection of the white race is seen as synonymous with protection of nature. It is based on a racist ideal contrasting the purity of the white race and countryside with the dirtiness of the city and non-whites. And of perceiving higher birth rates of people of colour as a threat to the white race and to the environment.
For Eco-Fascists racial purity is not only necessary for Aryans to prosper, it’s necessary to save the planet. Eco-Fascism is the hate child of environmentalism and white supremacy, and an increasingly common position amongst the alt right/Neo-Nazi/fascist movements.
What is curious and perhaps uncomfortable about the movement is how many points of commonality it has with many of us that enjoy and care about nature – a desire for a simpler life, the preservation of natural habitats, the revival of traditional crafts and skills, the tranquility of small communities closely connected to the land. The Eco-Fascist’s vision of this enjoyment excludes people of colour, we must be forcibly removed or killed.
The similarity to otherwise left or liberal views about nature allows them to hide in plain sight within nature based groups, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. People of colour are very under represented in environmental organisations and movements and so their racism might not be triggered until there is a black presence in the space. Because until that point the racists has the same concerns as other white environmentalists. But when we take up space and are involved, their differences are triggered – this is something I have encountered first hand having grown up in the countryside and in leading experiences in nature. From snubs to overt racism, including from leadership teams within outdoor professionals’ membership bodies. An instructor who was ex-military bragging openly in front of me about ‘dealing with’ indigenous people who objected to their lands being taken, having chosen to join the South African army during apartheid, intimating killings and saying what bastards they were; to a group of fellow bushcraft teachers pining for ‘the good old days when you could be racist’ and launching into racist impersonations. In the woods, the only black person in a group of shaven headed white men in camo, it was intimidating, as I expect it was meant to be. I wonder how they talked without a black person there?
Tarrant’s attack is the first mass killing in the cause of eco-fascism since the term was coined in the 1980’s.
There has long been an undercurrent of fascism and chauvinism within movements that appreciate and protect nature.
Although revered for his articulation of the value of beauty in nature and a return to traditional ways, influential Victorian writer John Ruskin was a racist Chauvinist who considered Indians an inferior ‘diabolical race’ who needed to be ruled for their own good.
Madison Grant, a conservationist influential in the creation of US National Parks was a racist who advocated eugenics, his work was admired and followed by the Nazi’s. He was a big game hunter whose interest in pioneering human free parks was about conserving herds and maximising hunting potential by removing indigenous people who relied on the animals for subsistence. His 1916 book, “The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History,” lamented the decline of ‘Nordic’ peoples. He co-founded the American Eugenics Society.
Alexander Graham Bell, one of the founders of National Geographic was a racist who supported eugenics. The magazine only recently apologised for it’s long history of racist depictions of indigenous peoples and other people of colour.
The much revered environmentalist Muir had a disregarding attitude to the plight of First Nation peoples and African Americans, reporting on the “laziness” of Sambos and the “dirty and irregular” life of Native Americans and has been accused of caring more for “animal people” than fellow non white humans. In 1892 Muir co-founded the Sierra Club along with several racists, Joseph Leconte considered black people to be an inferior race, David Starr Jordan was a eugenicist.
Robert Baden Powell, founder of the Scouts was a racist who supported Italian fascism. He admired Hitler, calling Mein Kampf “a wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc.” There were requests from the Nazi’s for the scouts to be connected with the Hitler Youth, having met the German ambassador in London he was invited to meet Hitler, however the war prevented him from travelling to meet the Third Reich.
The German Nazi party immersed their propaganda in idealised imagery of the land and blonde people, as pristine. The Nazi slogan “Blood and soil” incorporates the idea that Aryan people needed a protected area in which to live out their utopia, free from the contamination of non whites and ‘imperfections’. Nazi ideologist, Richard Walther Darre, who popularised the term argued that Nordic people were superior to southeastern Europeans due to their connection to superior land. For the national socialists a rural lifestyle was superior to the immorality and ‘race chaos’ of the city contrasted between Germans and Jews.
The WWF for Nature was founded by a former Nazi Party member and has persistently pursued policies which demonise and marginalise local communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas, forcing people from ancestral lands.
In the 1970’s, John Tanton, the head of the Sierra Club’s National Population Committee advocated eugenics and organized an anti-immigration movement, concerned with overpopulation on environmental grounds.
In the 1980’s Pentti Linkola, founder of the Finnish Nature Heritage Foundation openly declared his Eco-Fascism calling for a ban on immigration, ‘downsizing’ the population and killing disabled people. Another admirer of Hitler, he called for a new fascist party to be formed and for members to be prepared to be feared and hated – with a part of the movement who would murder “corporation officials and other major criminals”.
Today’s Eco-Fascists on social media can often be identified by profiles depicting remote log cabins, norse mythology, Runes, knives and weapons, references to Teutonic Knights and calls to revert to ‘old gods and old ways’ – Blood and Soil. Timelines are typically clogged with pro Trump, anti muslim rhetoric alongside posts about nature.
There is also a link to preppers, who use survival skills and traditional crafts to prepare for civil unrest (a race war) or natural disaster. Last year The Vice reported that bushcraft networks in the US such as The Base are becoming means for people to prepare for violent insurgency, “I’m all about violence, but I want to gather with people and plan something out.”
Such news doesn’t help our cause of encouraging people of colour to spend more time in nature and to feel welcome in natural spaces, but emphasises the importance of having a secure base and sense of community in enjoying nature and feeling that you belong.
When I complained about the racism I experienced from a membership body, I got a reply from the leadership team directly involved which literally said they were ‘scratching their heads’ about what the problem was and the CEO did not bother to reply at all. Meaning that these respected professional membership organisations are currently safe harbours for racists, who are not just within the membership, but help lead them.
If we want to create the feeling of safety in nature this is something we as a community, environmental and people of colour, need to reflect on. We want to avoid creating another bogeyman that keeps us away, but to also acknowledge that as people of colour there are very real issues around race.