What knowledge about eco-fascism and far-right political ecology is necessary for knowing where it comes from, how it has evolved, and how best to combat it?
///

Eco-fascism unveiled: Ethnonationalist and authoritarian responses to climate change

What knowledge about eco-fascism and far-right political ecology is necessary for knowing where it comes from, how it has evolved, and how best to combat it?

This article has been written by a third-party author independent of The Academic. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of The Academic, and solely reflects the opinions of the article’s authors.

The ongoing environmental crisis, intensified by significant global heating, has triggered worldwide concern. Experts warn that exceeding a 1.5-degree Celsius increase since the pre-industrial era could lead to dire and catastrophic environmental consequences, including rising sea levels, ecosystem collapse, and the displacement of millions due to more frequent and severe natural disasters. Far-right actors have seized upon this crisis, exploiting global climate anxiety to push authoritarian and xenophobic agendas, a phenomenon increasingly referred to as ‘eco-fascism.’ These groups, entrenched in extreme political ideologies, attribute the climate crisis to the Global South and call for drastic actions such as widespread population control, the creation of ethnostates, and the hastening of societal breakdown.

How far-right survivalism – based on exclusion, white supremacy and a fortress mentality – reverberates through the cybersphere and resonates at ground level among those desperate for answers to global heating. What knowledge about eco-fascism and far-right political ecology is necessary for knowing where it comes from, how it has evolved, and how best to combat it?

Emeritus Professor Rob White

The rise of eco-fascism in online platforms

Eco-fascism combines a declared concern for environmental issues like pollution and climate change with xenophobic and ethnonationalist ideologies. Leveraging online platforms, far-right groups have exploited environmental concerns to propagate eco-fascist messages. These include calls for significant population reduction in the Global South, radical anti-immigration stances, and the promotion of eugenicist and spiritualist notions of a connection between land and people, often referred to as ‘blood and soil’ politics. Despite growing recognition of this trend, the mainstreaming of eco-fascist ideas through online media and their appeal to a wide far-right audience, along with the far-right exploitation of mainstream climate change narratives, has been relatively under-explored.

To address this gap, researchers from Victoria, Australia analysed engagement with eco-fascist themes on Stormfront, the first dedicated international online white nationalist forum. We conducted a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative examination of user interactions with eco-fascism, focusing on resource consumption, population control, and the portrayal of migrants as ‘invasive species’.

Conceptualising eco-fascism

Eco-fascism, historically a radical blend of ethnonationalism and authoritarianism, emphasises a profound connection between land and people. In limited cases, it has referred to far-right entryism in environmentalist spaces. In modern contexts, it tends to refer to far-right reactions to climate change, characterised by extreme, often genocidal, ideologies. Unlike the ‘radical right,’ which usually operates within the confines of liberal democracy, focusing on ultra-nationalism and anti-immigration, the ‘extreme right’ incorporates neofascist, accelerationist, or neo-Nazi ideologies. The far right is usually seen to sit at the intersection between the two, crossing over with both and having institutional and extra-institutional elements. Eco-fascists, typically classified as part of the far and extreme right, are distinguished by their rejection of institutional and parliamentary politics, favouring instead, violent, revolutionary methods.

Our study on Stormfront employed web scraping to gather data on discussions about eco-fascism, concentrating on popular threads and influential users. The researchers analysed more than 94 threads and 10,000 comments from a period spanning 2006 to 2022, identifying key themes and patterns in the discourse.

Diverse perspectives and media impact

The analysis of data from Stormfront threads revealed diverse perspectives on climate change among platform users, with approximately 16% expressing denialist views, 70% acknowledging climate change and exploiting it for their agenda, and 14% remaining neutral.

A significant finding was the prominent role of news media in discussions about eco-fascism on Stormfront. Users frequently shared recent articles from mainstream media that reported on the resurgence of popular interest in eco-fascism. These articles elicited a wide range of reactions from platform users, being both embraced and criticised. This illustrates the varied responses to the issue of eco-fascism’s existence and its utility for the far right.

Consensus-building through debates on the meaning and implications of news articles about eco-fascism was evident in the comments sections. Users actively engaged in discussions about the potential political impact of eco-fascism across various regions, including Europe and beyond, speculating about its future. These discussions were often animated and showcased diverse perspectives on the subject. In a utilitarian manner, users focused on the most effective strategies to leverage the popular interest and mythology associated with eco-fascism to recruit for white supremacist causes, rather than on formulating meaningful responses to environmental issues.

Climate change-sceptic commenters on Stormfront, who identify as eco-fascists, argue that genocidal population control measures are essential for sustainable human existence. They often claim that climate change issues are symptoms of pre-existing problems related to ‘globalism,’ ‘race-mixing,’ or ‘racial miscegenation.’

References to economic and cultural globalisation as ‘globalism’ typically carry implicit or explicit antisemitic connotations. Many of these commenters also depict non-white migrants as invaders in majority-white countries, especially in contexts like Australia, Canada, and the United States, which have European settler colonial histories. By referencing Renaud Camus’ Great Replacement theory, some commenters insist that white populations are being replaced by non-white populations through policies promoting high birth rates and migration, supported by elites. They also argue that non-white people do not respect ‘native’ European environments. Several proponents of this conspiracy theory also advocate for ‘ethnocultural separation,’ implying the preservation of cultural differences and ecological purity through the forced and violent separation of people. These arguments often overlook the histories of cultural exchange between peoples and regions, as well as the histories of exploitation and labour and resource extraction from the Global South by wealthy Global North states.

In some discussions, users critiqued and voiced concerns over environmental damage and inequality resulting from detrimental industrial and agricultural practices in developing countries, often in the Global South. They highlighted the viewpoint that industrial development methods in these regions contribute to environmental issues related to land clearing and high greenhouse gas emissions. However, they typically overlooked how corporations based in the Global North drive these problems by dominating global neo-colonial industrial supply chains, while per capita energy consumption in the Global North remains high. These discussions often also linked neoliberal and neo-colonial global economic practices to a conspiracy theory involving corporations allegedly controlled by Jewish individuals, which several site users accused of being responsible for environmental degradation.

Leveraging eco-fascism

Discussions around environmental challenges, such as ocean plastic pollution, revealed a consensus among a significant number of users about their potential effectiveness in far-right recruitment efforts. Some advocated for embracing concepts like eco-fascism to leverage a pseudo-progressive and counter-cultural appeal, also supporting ideas and policies such as hipster fashions, student loan forgiveness, universal healthcare, and a high minimum wage in an effort to attract younger generations and ‘normies‘.

Some individuals on Stormfront, who identify as eco-fascists, acknowledge climate change and are in strong favour of reducing the global population to combat it. This concept has also surfaced in mainstream environmentalism, including liberal circles, which argue that humans in general, rather than high emitters specifically, are accountable for the depletion of the natural environment. The version adopted by the white supremacist far and extreme right is marked by more overt racism and supremacy than mainstream ‘populationist’ arguments, however. They believe population reduction should be achieved by sterilising non-white populations globally, promoting mass death through various methods, and expelling non-white people from predominantly white or European countries. This latter idea echoes the European New Right and identitarian concept of ‘remigration,’ advocating for migrants in the Global North to be sent back to their presumed ancestral homelands.

For eco-fascists who acknowledge climate change, genocidal population reduction is sometimes viewed as already happening amidst societal collapses, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many who subscribe to an eco-fascist viewpoint, as revealed in our analysis, also endorse future genocidal policy responses to climate issues tied to the ‘blood and soil’ ideology. This belief system is typically characterised by an aim of eliminating harmful human and non-human impacts on the environment, the eugenicist interpretation of’species’, convictions in a mystical bond with people and land, and genocidal policies based on social Darwinist ideas. These concepts and policies can also be broadly aligned with the German Nazi ideal of national socialism.

Across the spectrum of commentary on eco-fascism, various groups on Stormfront presented differing views on climate change, ranging from belief in human-induced change to scepticism or outright denial. Regardless of their positioning, environmental issues were consistently recognised across the threads examined and were rarely dismissed as unimportant, perhaps indicating their growing significance among reactionary and revolutionary right-wing online audiences. Whether site users acknowledged climate change or offered dubious explanations for its occurrence, they broadly used the term ‘eco-fascism’ to describe a far-right ideological stance that considers environmental concerns a valuable recruitment asset.

A bricolage of eco-fascism

Our analysis of the discourse on Stormfront reveals a culture that blends environmental and political issues in a distinctive manner. Unlike members of extreme right spaces such as ‘Terrorgram’ on the platform Telegram, who more openly identify with eco-fascism and right-wing accelerationism, Stormfront users engage with a broader spectrum of far-right ideologies. They are also actively exploring the integration of environmental themes into their white supremacist and nationalist ideologies, making Stormfront and other similar platforms both an ideological incubator and a recruitment hub for extreme right eco-fascists. Proponents of eco-fascism on Stormfront, echoing a wider neo-fascist milieu, demonstrate a readiness to synthesise and superficially merge elements from both left and right-wing ideologies in their propaganda and strategic methods.

This syncretic approach to propaganda is driven by a longstanding ambition among fascists and neo-fascists to erroneously position themselves as ‘beyond left and right,’ a notion also echoed in contemporary neo-fascist ‘third positionism’. Syncretism in the data examined here may also reflect Stormfront’s wider context and its reputation for stimulating debate and consensus on white nationalist issues under the guise of democratic political expression. Through a process described as ‘bricolage,’ the users we studied adapt and reframe various concepts and ideas that resonate broadly to champion supremacist and exclusionary white nationalist political ideologies.

The cynical uses of environmentalism by far-right actors could also be viewed as adopting a Nietzschean perspective on political discourse, where ‘truth’ is valued solely for its utility in achieving political and material ends. This approach is amplified in neoliberal informational ecosystems, characterised by the instrumentalisation and viral monetisation of online media. On Stormfront and the ecosystem to which it belongs, violent and exclusionary white nationalist ideologies with eco-fascist elements are beginning to fill the gap left by the decline of more collective approaches. The right-wing narratives of eco-fascism thereby also undermine one of the few paths available for generating meaningful responses to climate change.

🔬🧫🧪🔍🤓👩‍🔬🦠🔭📚

Journal reference

Richards, I., Jones, C., & Brinn, G. (2022). Eco-Fascism Online: Conceptualizing Far-Right Actors’ Response to Climate Change on Stormfront. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 1-27. https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2022.2156036

Imogen is a lecturer in Criminology at Deakin University. She researches social, new, and online forms of media, as well as the political economy of terrorism and counterterrorism. She has books with Routledge exploring public criminology and far-right political ecology in Australia, and with Manchester University Press exploring the propaganda and financial practices of US counterterrorist and neo-jihadist organizations.