With the world in crisis and belief in democracy crumbling, extremists are starting to embrace green politics. Writer at Large Neil Mackay reports

IT’S just over a year since the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, when 51 people were shot dead at a mosque and Islamic centre – the killings live-streamed online.

What marked the atrocity out as different from other white supremacist attacks, was that a manifesto believed to have been connected to the gunman spoke of the acts being inspired by "eco-fascism". The manifesto talks of environmentalism and population growth. It states that: “Continued immigration into Europe is environmental warfare.”

Christchurch, however, wouldn’t be the last time that far-right violence intersected with the environment. Four-and-a-half months after Christchurch, on August 3, 2019, a gunman shot and killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas. The killings were the deadliest attack on America’s Latino community in history. A manifesto, which police believe is connected to the alleged gunman, said the El Paso killings were inspired by what happened in Christchurch and motivated by “the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

The El Paso manifesto is called "An Inconvenient Truth" – mirroring the title of Al Gore’s 2009 documentary on the threat of climate change. In the manifesto, the writer says the people of America are “too stubborn” to change their lifestyles “so the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using its resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable”.

The writer also talks of oil, agriculture, and recycling; the destruction of the environment; and the impact of environmental degradation on future generations. “Our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country,” the manifesto reads. “The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly over-harvesting resources.”

One man has pleaded guilty to the Christchurch killings, and one man is awaiting trial for the attack in El Paso.

Are these shootings the canary in the coal-mine, however? Are they warning us that the most extreme elements of the far-right are starting to co-opt environmentalism? Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, who knows how politics will realign and ideology shift and change.

With climate change denial now recognised widely as an untenable scientific position, some extremists have latched on to environmental concerns, added them to racism and anti-immigration beliefs, and created a curdled form of eco-fascism.

Professor Gary LaFree, from the University of Maryland and a former director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, has studied the role of environmentalism for a new breed of far-right extremists.

“They’re building an ideology,” he says, adding: “You notice they’re referring to each other … which to me makes it scarier. It’s more like a social movement.”

Academic, activist and author Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case For A Green New Deal, warns of the growth of eco-fascism. Klein has been called “the intellectual godmother of the Green New Deal Movement”. The Green New Deal envisages a greening of the economy, and reforms creating a fairer job market.

Klein says: “My fear is that, unless something significant changes in how our societies rise to the ecological crisis, we are going to see this kind of white power eco-fascism emerge with much greater frequency, as a ferocious rationalisation for refusing to live up to our collective climate responsibilities”.

At the heart of the problem is this: what if today’s idealistic climate campaigners fail to change things? What if activists like Greta Thunberg don’t succeed in making governments act for the good of the world? Could environmentalism then be hijacked by the far right?

As the climate deteriorates, and governments fail to act, the far-right is already starting to seek to exploit public fears and discontent. There has long been academic theorising that in order to fix an almost insurmountable problem like climate change, society might find itself turning to some form of authoritarian "strongman" party or government, as liberal democracy may be too weak to take the measures required.

Professor Michael E Zimmerman, a philosopher and environmental historian, describes eco-fascism as "a totalitarian government that requires individuals to sacrifice their interests to the well-being of the ‘land’ ”.

It is easy to see how the far-right could manipulate environmental issues and pit them against immigration. So far, the far-right has been pretty much in the climate denial camp – but it looks as if that’s starting to change. In France, Marine Le Pen, leader of National Rally (RN) – until recently the National Front – has started to go green. France and Europe, says Le Pen, should be the world’s “first ecological civilisation”.

One prominent member of RN, Jordan Bardella, said that “borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it’s through them that we will save the planet”.

Le Pen has said the individual is “not simply a consumer or producer” but “someone rooted, someone who wants to live on their land and pass it on to their children”. She says someone “who is rooted in their home is an ecologist” and that those who are “nomadic … don’t care about the environment; they have no homeland”.

The French thinker Jean-Yves Camus, who specialises in the extreme right, says environmentalism has “become part of the RN’s political agenda, but it’s a specifically far-right form of environmentalism – very identitarian”.

Camus believes many far-right voters “see society as like a biological organism that should be kept in its original state. According to this line of thinking, when a foreign body is introduced, it causes disorder – hence the anti-immigration stance. Logically, the same goes for nature: we must respect the natural order”.

The hardline Alternative for Germany Party has also seen an environmental shift. The youth wing of Germany’s anti-immigrant party has been urging its leaders to drop climate denial.

Naomi Klein says: “There is rage out there that is going to go somewhere, and we have demagogues who are expert at directing rage at the most vulnerable among us while protecting the most powerful and most culpable.”

Perhaps one of the biggest potential recruiting sergeants for the far-right when it comes to the environment would be any greening of industry which hurts rather than helps ordinary workers. Extremists could step in and say that they are the ones who can offer ecology and protect the poor.

Already, there’s widespread suspicion across the west that some environmental policies have done more for big business and the middle classes than either the planet or the poorest. The Yellow Vest protests in France were triggered after a backlash against green taxes which were seen to hurt the worse off in society.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s new foreign policy chief, was recently attacked for comments he made about young climate activists. He said: “I would like to know if young people demonstrating in Berlin … are willing to lower their living standards to offer compensation to Polish miners, because if we fight against climate change for real they will lose their jobs and will have to be subsidised.”

Borrell may have offended supporters of Greta Thunberg, but there is a genuine risk that if any Green New Deal is executed in a way which isn’t socially fair, this would be a fatal error easy to exploit by a far-right movement that’s starting to embrace environmentalism.

The concerns about Polish miners are on point. Poland is heavily dependent on coal, and Warsaw has refused to sign up to the EU’s 2050 climate targets, which would lead to coal mining being phased out.

There are complaints in Romania that plans to reskill miners have benefited decarbonisation firms rather than workers. Firms are making money from the "reskilling" market, but jobs and investment in new sectors haven’t appeared.

Larry Fink, head of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset management companies, has said that because of decarbonisation “we are on the edge of fundamentally reshaping finance”. Could the creation of a post-pandemic green economy benefit the rich, not the poor?

“The danger is that the public money … put into greening the European economy will instead merely subsidise greenwashing,” says Daniela Gabor, professor of economics and macrofinance at UWE Bristol.

In other words, taxes pay for big business to show off green credentials. Meanwhile, jobs are lost, no new jobs are created, and the planet isn’t helped.

It’s a recipe for public cynicism, and risks a popular rejection of mainstream political attempts to fix the climate crisis.

Labour’s Keir Starmer has warned that any Green New Deal must “mean good jobs in new green industries”. Starmer says we need to recognise that “the poorest bear the least responsibility and the heaviest burden of climate breakdown”.

The development of eco-fascism also coincides with the growing crisis for democracy in the western world. Dissatisfaction with democracy is at a record high, particularly in Britain and America. One study by the University of Cambridge found that 58% of those questioned were dissatisfied with democracy.

“Across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise,” said the report’s author, Roberto Foa. Ominously, the economic crash and the refugee crisis are both seen as contributing to dissatisfaction with democracy. Now coronavirus has arrived as a new peril.

The study suggests that the rise of populism is not a cause of dissatisfaction but a symptom.

In the UK, for example, satisfaction with democracy rose steadily from the 1970s for some 30 years – peaking just after the millennium.

At the same time as the appeal of democracy waned, fears over the climate rose sharply. Developed and industrialised nations are feeling the effects of climate change now, with floods and fires, droughts and other wild weather.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, says the world is “way off track” when it comes to dealing with the climate emergency, and time is running out.

The UN’s assessment of global climate found that 2019 was a record-breaking year for heat. More people are also on the move due to extreme temperatures and flooding. Once again, the connection between the environment and migration is there waiting for the far-right to step in and exploit it.

In 2019, the world’s oceans were the warmest on record, with at least 84% of seas experiencing a heatwave. Surface air temperatures were the hottest ever recorded. For the 32nd year in a row, more ice was lost from glaciers than gained – this caused sea levels to go up to their highest since records began.

Before the postponement of the UN climate summit in Glasgow due to coronavirus, Guterres was setting some hope on Scotland. “We need more ambition on [emission cuts], adaption and finance in time for the climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow, UK, in November,” he said, prior to the lockdown. “That is the only way to ensure a safer, more prosperous and sustainable future for all people on a healthy planet.”

COP26 stands for the 26th Conference of the Parties – the UN’s Climate Change Conference. When the conference was held in France in 2015 it adopted the Paris Agreement and signalled a step-change in how the world looked at the climate crisis, with nearly 200 nations agreeing ambitious goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit temperature rises.

The Glasgow climate conference is now delayed until 2021, but calls remain for it to kickstart a new green tech revolution. Researchers at Oxford University, led by Mike Mason of the School of Enterprise and the Environment, believe harnessing new technology could reduce carbon emissions by at least one billion tonnes a year.

Examples of new green technology include converting cheap renewable energy – from wind, sun or wave – into zero-carbon fuel.

But any Green New Deal needs to work for people as well as the planet. Unless ordinary workers are brought along, with new jobs and decent wages, then the fracture point between the economy and ecology will be a gift to extremists.

Too often green measures are seen as hurting the poorest. A ban in England on the sale of wet wood and coal for domestic fireplaces, for example, was criticised for pushing people in rural areas into poverty.

For Naomi Klein the rise of eco-fascism means that while there’s a growing tendency among far-right extremists to no longer deny climate change, what they will continue to deny is any common humanity between people across the world.

A far-right vision of environmentalism will be Darwinian, a brutal case of "us versus them", of pulling up the drawbridge. If we don’t act quickly and intelligently, then race and immigration could soon come to contaminate the debate about the environment.

“Let there be no mistake,” says Klein. “This is the dawn of climate barbarism. And unless there is a radical change not only in politics but in the underlying values that govern our politics, this is how the wealthy world is going to ‘adapt’ to more climate disruption: by fully unleashing the toxic ideologies that rank the relative value of human lives in order to justify the monstrous discarding of huge swathes of humanity.”

Klein wants to douse the flames of eco-fascism. The way to do that is to create well-paid, secure jobs for anyone whose livelihood is put at risk by the turn away from fossil fuels – and for the state to take on the burden of retraining workers of all ages. That’s the real Green New Deal. That’s the way to kill off eco-fascism while it’s still in its cradle.


The far-right’s move to embrace the environment as part of its ideological agenda is nothing new. It’s just been dormant for a long time.

As with much of modern fascism, its roots lie in Nazi Germany. Nazi ideology hinged around the concept of "Blood and Soil" – the idea that Aryans had a mystical connection to their nation and a duty to protect the land.

There was an almost romantic obsession with rural life in Nazi Germany, and it was seen as superior to urban living. Many Hitler Youth were sent to work on farms as “only those of German blood may be farmers”.

The Blood and Soil ideology found its most perverse outlet in the shape of both Nazi eugenics and lebensraum, the idea that German people should expand into lands once owned by their German ancestors. Nazi art and film also glorified nature.

The first eco-terrorist was neither right nor left. Ted Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber, was a former mathematics professor who left society and his career to live off grid in the wilds of Montana.

He saw himself as a revolutionary destined to overthrow “the system” and despised technology. Between 1978 and 1995, he killed three people and injured 23 others in a series of bomb attacks across the USA against universities, airlines and other industrial targets. Kaczynski even tried to bring down a passenger jet.

Like today’s eco-fascists, Kaczynski wrote his own manifesto entitled Industrial Society and its Future, in which he justified his bombings by saying that modern life was destroying humanity. The manifesto begins: “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”

Kaczynski was arrested in 1996 by the FBI and is now serving life without the possibility of parole in a federal supermax prison.