Clelia Frondaroli | Head of Comment
In the months leading up to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, Brenton Tarrant posted a manifesto online that followed classic eco-fascist ideology. His frequent posts largely referred to ‘the birth rates’ and overpopulation; ideas which, after the act of terrorism that would go on to claim 51 lives, the self proclaimed ‘ethno-nationalist eco-fascist’ would use to justify his crimes. This is the legacy of eco-fascism, a radical ideology which combines alt-right fascist beliefs with environmental concerns.
Playing into existentialism, those who subscribe to this ideology argue that the current demise of the environment is largely a result of overpopulation, the blame for which is disproportionately placed on non-white and impoverished communities. Their thinking is rooted in Nazi ideas of ‘blood and soil’, where globalisation and immigration have ‘threatened’ the purity of the white race and believe that white communities are ‘more deserving’ of the planet’s resources. Therefore, at the core of their fascist beliefs, they suggest that immigration should be halted or (at their most extreme) that ethnic genocide take place in order to preserve the earth’s remaining resources. Eco-fascism then can be better understood as an expression of white supremacy rather than environmentalism, where the apparent concern for the environment acts as a guise to justify racist and extremist beliefs.
Yet, Brenton Tarrant was not a lone participant in this ideology. Since the Christchurch shootings, the perpetrators of the El Paso mass shootings in 2019 and the Buffalo shootings in 2022 have also cited eco-fascist values as explanations behind the execution of these attacks. However, as acts of extreme violence against minorities continue to rise, eco-fascism remains a relatively under-reported ideology in the media. Although reports do emphasise these attacks as ‘domestic terrorism’, eco-fascist ideology is often not cited (or barely mentioned) as the cause behind these attacks despite evidence stating so. By failing to understand and reveal the true intentions behind these shootings, eco-fascism continues as a covert ideology which has the potential to carry out future attacks.
Furthermore, the overpopulation argument is repeatedly used within the news media to justify a link between overpopulation and climate change. Although not used within the context of eco-fascist ideology, the argument itself remains problematic and outdated. Initially created by Paul Ehrlich in his book ‘The population bomb’, the author advocated for coercive incentives to control the growth of the population and illustrated this using the case study of India. Since then, the country (and much of the global south) have been plagued with negative associations and misconceptions which border on prejudiced. Although it is clear that population growth has increased the strain on natural resources, it is not fair or accurate to put this blame on the global south- where inhabitants emit 10 times fewer emissions than those in western countries. In fact, the global north continues to emit more than 92% of total global carbon emissions. Environmental degradation is also largely not due to overpopulation, rather it is the result of unsustainable consumption and production practices which have dramatically reduced the earth’s resources. It could be said then that arguments of overpopulation use the global south as a scapegoat and have allowed extremist thinkers (such as eco-fascists) to infiltrate and weaponise these beliefs.
Therefore, radicalism exists within any form of social movement and environmentalism is no exception. Eco-fascists have established themselves as a violent and extremist group, and their ability to effectively weaponise a positive and socially just movement could mean more people may be harmed by their beliefs. It is also especially important that the media recognises and exposes this group of people for what they are (white supremacists) so their crimes do not go unacknowledged and their beliefs do not have the chance to disseminate across similar-minded alt-right groups.