April Anson, Cassie Galentine, Shane Hall, Alex Menrisky, and Bruno Seraphin
Far-right, fascist, and white supremacist organizers increasingly attempt to capitalize on widespread climate anxiety. Fictions such as the Great Replacement narrative resonate with the false yet pernicious environmentalist myth that overpopulation is killing the planet. This convergence becomes a nightmare when racist violence is perpetrated in the name of supposedly environmental concerns, a phenomenon often dubbed ecofascism. On May 14, 2022 a white-supremacist, self-identified ecofascist domestic terrorist in Buffalo, New York, copy-and-pasted the online ecofascist screed penned by the 2019 mass murderer in Christchurch, New Zealand, whose work also inspired the 2019 mass murderer in El Paso, Texas, as justification for his attack on a Black American community.
Ecofascism, simply put, is environmentalism that 1. advocates or accepts violence and 2. reinforces existing systems of power and inequality. Self-described ecofascists suggest that certain kinds of people are naturally and exclusively entitled to control environmental resources. These ecofascist ideas serve as inspiration to violent extremists seeking to “heal the Earth” through mass murder. While recent mass murderers have expressed extremist ecofascist ideas, insidious expressions of the same ideology are unfortunately common among some self-proclaimed leftist circles as well. For example, environmentalist writer Edward Abbey’s essay “Immigration and Liberal Taboos” fits the mold of ecofascism in its suggestion that undocumented workers from Mexico are to blame for “rotting cities and a poisoned environment” (Bookchin 1989). More recently, as Deja Newton notes, there has been a resurgence of ecofascist rhetoric in response to COVID-19 such as the publication Common Dreams’s proposition that the pandemic is “nature’s response to human transgression.” In other words, ecofascism hides in plain sight across the political spectrum, and threatens to undermine the critical analysis and diverse coalition-building required in the fight for climate justice.
The specter of ecofascism looms over our pop-cultural imaginations as a malevolent threat for some and a tantalizing fantasy for others. Thanos, the arch-supervillain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is an iconic example. In 2018 and 2019 Thanos appeared in two of the highest grossing films of all time, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Thanos’s name is a wink to thanatos, the psychological death-drive. Embodying that impulse in the films, Thanos offers a simple message: mass murder will fix the universe. With a supercharged fingersnap, Thanos kills half of all life, believing that doing so will create prosperity for those remaining. The Avengers confront and defeat Thanos but fail to address Thanos’s misleading mythology in a nuanced way. Opting instead for a “good versus evil” final showdown, Thanos’s very real concerns about resource consumption were left unaddressed and, as a result, many viewers thought Thanos made some good points. Thanos’ plan doesn’t work because ecofascism never leads to improved environmental conditions. It merely entrenches the inequalities intrinsic to the economic and social relations responsible for climate change. The films defeat the ecofascist but are in some respects sympathetic to ecofascist ideas.
In response to this high-profile ecofascist figure, the five of us, a group of scholars from universities across the United States, formed the Anti-Creep Climate Initiative to expose and dismantle ecofascist discourse that circulates in our everyday lives. In partnership with graphic designer Melody Keenan, we created Against the Ecofascist Creep, a web zine and teaching resource that debunks six of the most widespread “everyday ecofascist myths.” The zine begins by creatively reimagining the ending of the Marvel film Avengers: Endgame in a comic strip-style confrontation with Thanos. Next, the zine offers short essays that consolidate and clarify decades of academic research on why these everyday ecofascist arguments are invalid. For example, one essay takes on the common myth that “overpopulation is an environmental crisis.” We synthesize the extensive research that has disproved the premises and predictions of “overpopulation,” tracing its roots to nineteenth-century imperialist fictions and the ecofascism that emerged from, and continues to depend on, eugenic race “science.” As an easy-to-share community teaching resource, the zine also comes complete with discussion questions, action steps, and suggestions for additional resources.
The project draws inspiration from Alexander Reid Ross’s 2017 book Against the Fascist Creep, which considers how fascist ideas “creep” into power not only via the far right, but through mainstream as well as radical groups, such as Reddit message boards proclaiming that “Thanos had some good ideas.” Though ecofascism is a slippery idea, ecofascist myths always fuel white supremacy, ultra-nationalism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, authoritarianism, and mass murder. While some people proudly self-identify as ecofascists, others unintentionally repeat busted ecofacist myths that support ecofascism. As a result, ecofascist myths can often creep into more progressive environmentalists’ rhetoric and efforts.
Where did this creep begin? Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier cite the “Green Nazis” of the Third Reich as the origin of ecofascism and Jordan Dyett and Cassidy Thomas (2019) trace its expressions to the overpopulation discourse of American eugenicists. Others read ecofascist ideologies in other cultural moments of the twentieth and twenty-first century U.S. Examples include deep ecology’s charge to “save the planet, kill yourself,” Earth First!’s publication of the question “Is AIDS the answer to an Environmentalist’s Prayer?”, and the xenophobia trucked in through tales of apocalyptic population bombs and tragic, tautological stories of the commons. Drifting from its derogatory association with leftist movements, the moniker of ecofascism is now increasingly and explicitly claimed through the self-referential intellectualism of far-right terrorism—a dramatic reversal of the climate denial generally associated with right-wing politics.
As Anti-Creep Climate Initiative member April Anson makes clear, the roots and routes of ecofascism extend much earlier, to the beginnings of U.S. racial capitalism and settler colonialism. Ecofascist ideas animate the land logics of John Locke, who provided American environmental thinking with fantasies of “wasted,” “uncultivated,” and “empty” land through which to narrate the genocidal logics of colonial capitalism. They harmonize with the white supremacist notes of Thomas Jefferson’s romantic agrarianism. They ground the beloved “origin” of American environmental thinking, Ralph Waldo Emerson, as the “philosopher king of American white race theory” (as Nell Irvin Painter (2011) names him in The History of White People). American eugenicists like Teddy Roosevelt are commonly cited in ecofascist genealogies. The climate crisis clarifies ecofascism as a broadly circulating appeal to “nature” and “natural law” that creeps across political and national identities and geographic and imaginative borders.
Against the Ecofascist Creep fights this rhetoric. Our goal is to recognize and remove ecofascist ideas from the way we think and talk about the world. Doing so will help us find equitable, just means of adapting to climate change.
The project continues to be unfortunately relevant amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has reinvigorated ecofascist strategies such as blaming immigrants, people of color, and impoverished individuals for environmental damage. We continue to see a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and the circulation of ecofascist myths that racialize disease and justify mass death. Claims like “humans are the virus and COVID is the cure” went viral, implying mass death is a viable solution to environmental problems and ignoring the way minoritized communities are more likely to suffer from COVID and environmental injustice. Ecofascist co-optation of environmentalist rhetoric absolves the industrial polluters responsible for most emissions while iterases the experiences of marginalized communities and obscures modes of community survival and resistance.
Even though sometimes we wish we could solve the world’s problems with a *snap* of our fingers, we know it’s never that simple: compound problems require compound solutions. Still, accelerating climate crisis and the unwillingness of global leaders to take meaningful climate action can breed the “Doomerism” that fuels violent extremism. Ecofascism, like fascism, can creep through our language, metaphors, visual media, narratives, and ideas of environmental health and security. Though Thanos believed he was helping solve real problems, he became part of the problem. His philosophies normalize ecofascist ideas in our everyday life. This zine is intended to be a tool to help halt ecofascism wherever, whenever it may be creeping, by examining its roots, prompting reflection, and inspiring action.
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