The rising threat of ecofascism

Illustration of social media post reading "Humans are the virus" looming over a man
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

Related Posts

As an active Twitter user, I was one of many to see a viral tweet about wild swans returning to the canals of Venice as a result of decreased traffic and pollution from the COVID-19 crisis. While this claim was quickly debunked (the photos attached to the tweet were of non-Venetian canals), the sentiment remained. This quickly spiralled into multitudes of tweets, most popularly concluding with some variation of the statement, “Nature is returning. We are the virus.”

These tweets were very quickly buried in an avalanche of memes riffing off the phrase, including everything from photos of sharks flying through the air in New York City to green Minecraft worlds claiming to be a renewed Los Angeles. The original tweets, however, spawned a conversation that brought into the public eye what had previously been a relatively niche far-right ideology: ecofascism. Loosely defined, ecofascism melds environmental problems and solutions into a fascist worldview, claiming that environmental problems are caused by overpopulation, globalization and liberalism and can be solved by population control, eugenics, control over movement and other fascist measures.

Ecofascism has made some headlines in the past few years in connection to two mass shootings, the Christchurch and El Paso massacres. The manifestos allegedly released by both assailants mention ecofascist ideologies as well as more specific derivatives as primary motivations for the attacks. Given the dramatic increase in mass shootings over the past decade, however, these connections went largely overlooked by most people despite the efforts of journalists chronicling far-right activities.

As someone interested in researching far-right extremism, ecofascism is an ideology that has been on my radar for a while. This surge in conversation around it motivated me to take a closer look, however. I’m interested in the spread of ideas and how people are swayed to certain ideological positions, so it made sense to dig into Reddit and 4chan, a couple of the websites most commonly associated with the spread of alt-right ideas.

4chan’s /pol/ board had few recent mentions of ecofascism or prominent ecofascist writers that were attached to any substantial content. Since the deplatforming of 8chan, the site where both the El Paso and Christchurch shooters allegedly posted their manifestos, many more open online supporters of ecofascism and other far right ideologies have migrated to private chats or other sites rather than return to 4chan, which has a relatively higher level of censorship. Reddit, however, is still a popular platform for alt-right users to both network and recruit others.

Reddit has recently been cracking down on many of the subreddits associated with the alt-right. Around a month ago, the subreddit r/eco_fascism was banned, along with several other subreddits popular among alt-right users. A subreddit dedicated to Pentti Linkola, an ecofascist ecologist, was banned only a couple weeks after being created. And while many not on the right may hail this as Reddit finally taking concrete action to regulate its site more strongly against hate, there are still substantial pockets that exist on Reddit where these ideas are shared and discussed. New codes and language are developed to evade censorship, and strategies are passed around for how to “redpill” or recruit outsiders to the alt-right. The persistence of these ideas and their continued spread makes it all the more important for people to learn more about how to spot these ideas and the potentially harmful outcomes of this ideology.

The persistence of these ideas and their continued spread makes it all the more important for people to learn more about how to spot these ideas and the potentially harmful outcomes of this ideology.

For such a commonly used term, it can be a bit difficult to pin down a useful definition of “fascism.” While dictionary definitions point to nationalism, autocracy and authoritarianism as key elements, these characterizations miss some of the more subtle elements of fascism that make it particularly dangerous. In his essay “Ur-Fascism,” Umberto Eco outlines the universal characteristics of fascism, as well as explains the popular appeal and consequences of these ideas. The first two features of fascism he lists, the cult of tradition and the rejection of modernism, are particularly relevant to discussions of ecofascism.

The cult of tradition and the rejection of modernism go hand-in-hand. The cult of tradition idealizes and elevates aspects of the past, be it specific philosophies, empires or ways of life, while the rejection of modernism claims that aspects of the modern world are “where we went wrong” from that glorified past.

These elements are part of why white supremacist ideas mesh so well with fascism — the idea that the “white race” was once great but has been brought low by globalization, “race-mixing” and conspiracies is the foundation of many white supremacist beliefs. Similarly, ecofascism fundamentally claims that humans are ruining the world and society needs to return to a “natural order” to avoid the problems of modernization.

There are several different ideas that overlap under the umbrella of ecofascism that make it difficult to pin down. This is intentional, as ecofascists can point to the more harmless or seemingly uncontroversial aspects of their ideology as unobjectionable. Upon closer inspection, however, even these aspects can be dangerous.

As the name would imply, there are two main components of ecofascism: environmentalism and fascism. While it may be difficult to imagine a downside to environmentalism of any sort, ecofascism does not represent an apolitical environmentalism, but one that incorporates Eco’s characteristics of fascism. Not only is the solution fascism, but the problem is presented according to a fascist worldview. This is why the idea referenced above, of a return to a “natural order,” is one of the more insidious ideas of ecofasicsm. While the ecology aspect of ecofascism may appear harmless or even beneficial at first, the further you get into it, the more apparent it becomes that it rests on a foundation of white nationalism and fascist ideals.

The idea communicated in the phrase “The Earth is healing. We are the virus,” implies that simply killing people off Malthus-style would be enough to repair damage to the Earth. This places blame for environmental degradation not on the harmful processes and systems humans have put in place, but the existence of humans themselves.

From there, the next logical step becomes discerning which humans are worth living and which are not; this is where the fascist ideology fills in to establish those who are considered valuable and those who are not. Those initial Twitter memes spread ecofascist rhetoric by indicating that the environment can be improved by people dying, and the consequences of that, as we’ve seen in the Christchurch and El Paso attacks, can be horrifying.

Ecofascism is dangerous because it’s close to being a good idea.

Ecofascism is dangerous because it’s close to being a good idea. This is the most powerful strategy in the alt-right’s arsenal: many of its ideas contain a grain of truth. In addition to making these ideas harder to refute, this also grants it a wider appeal because far-right ideas tend to provide easy, reactionary solutions to real problems. Rather than denying global warming, ecofascists accept that it exists and is one of the most pressing issues of our time.  

Rather than trying to make human systems more sustainable or create scientific solutions, however, the ecofascist response is generally some form of population control or eugenics, restoring what they see as the “natural world order” and combating an imagined conspiracy of “white genocide,” which they claim to be an attempt to replace the white population with people of color. The overlap of ecofascism’s perception of environmental problems with this white nationalist fear of a “Great Replacement” demonstrates how fascism’s hypernationalism and fear of “the Other” make these ideologies inseparable. Ecofascism and white nationalism come to the same conclusions through their end goals, but ecofascism has the added existential threat of environmental catastrophe to motivate extremist action on the part of believers.

This makes ecofascism a dangerous ideology, and one that inspires violence, which is why we should all be concerned about the lurking threat of ecofascism in our midst.

Contact Saya Abney at [email protected].