The latest intersectional nightmare is the pairing of environmentalism and white supremacy rooted specifically in the language of the former to advance the agenda of the latter.
Earlier this year, author Beth Gardiner published a New York Times op-ed in which she noted the shared rhetoric between the two ideologies (before environmentalism gained mainstream acceptance in the 1970s) and how it continues to be pushed forward today:
“… Before environmentalism became a mainstream and progressive cause in the 1970s, many American conservationists were also white supremacists, who argued that those they saw as outsiders threatened the nation’s landscape or lacked the values to care for it properly. Such thinking was common in Europe, too. The Nazis embraced notions of a symbiotic connection between the German homeland and its people.”
As Sam Adler-Bell explains in The New Republic in an article titled “Why White Supremacists are Hooked on Green Living,” the rhetoric of “Blood and Soil” predates the Third Reich and is rooted in antisemitism.
“The Nazi slogan ‘Blood and Soil’ reentered public discourse two years ago, when torch-wielding neo-Nazis chanted it in Charlottesville. But the phrase actually predates the Third Reich. In the nineteenth century, German romantic writers like Ernst Moritz Arndt and Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl synthesized naturalism and nationalism. ‘We must save the forest,’ Riehl wrote in 1853, “not only so that our ovens do not become cold in winter, but also so that the pulse of life of the people continues to beat warm and joyfully, so that Germany remains German.’
“This philosophy later inspired the Völkisch movement, a youthful revolt against capitalist modernity that preached a return to the land, and to the wholeness, purity, and plenitude of rural peasant life. In the 1920s and ’30s, veneration for the earthbound volk—and hatred for its opposite, the rootless, urban Jew—found their way into Nazi ideology, where they were infused with scientific racism and transformed into a rallying cry. ‘The concept of Blood and Soil gives us the moral right to take back as much land in the East as is necessary,’ wrote Richard Walther Darré, the Third Reich’s minister of food and agriculture. He spoke of Jewish people as ‘weeds.'”
Gardiner goes on to draw attention to another emboldening merger between environmental activism and neo-Nazi groups:
“The neo-Nazi group Northwest Front, which advocates expelling people of color from the Pacific Northwest, appropriated a flag designed by a left-wing activist, reframing it with the slogan “The sky is the blue, and the land is the green. The white is for the people in between.”
Quoting John Hultgren, a faculty member at Bennington College, Gardiner shares how the reality of global warming or climate change by those who chose to acknowledge it, is seen “through the prism of white nationalism. And the solution then becomes the exclusion of immigrants, people of color, the so-called ‘Third World.'”
However, first, we must be clear that language referring to landscape and culture, along with concerns over immigrant populations, are not guaranteed signifiers of white supremacy. Similarly, neither are genuine concerns around nationalism and preserving a sense of identity — although exactly what that identity is continues to be debated and is an evolving conversation.
Nevertheless, a desire for preserving some sense of identity based on belonging to a collective people doesn’t make someone a white supremacist. More nuance is required, including taking a look at how — in very recent years — toxic nationalism and white supremacy have increasingly adopted the language of nationalism, blurring these lines even further. (See Clarion’s recent profile of the Patriot Front, a white supremacist group.)
Take Peter Beinhart, professor of journalism at the City University of New York. In 2019, Beinhart published a piece in The Atlantic on how Far-Right propagandists have seized environmental issues as, “another means of sowing racial panic.”
“What we’re witnessing is less the birth of white-nationalist environmentalism than its rebirth. In earlier periods of American history, nativism and environmentalism were deeply intertwined. The Nation recently reminded readers that Madison Grant, who in the early 20th century helped found the Save the Redwoods League and the National Parks Association, also served as vice president of the Immigration Restriction League, which successfully lobbied to cut off most eastern and southern European immigration to the United States in 1924.
Grant, whose 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, proposed a racial hierarchy of European peoples and greatly impressed Adolf Hitler, saw no contradiction between his environmentalism and his racism. To the contrary, wrote his biographer, Jonathan Spiro, he ‘dedicated his life to saving endangered fauna, flora, and natural resources; and it did not seem at all strange to his peers that he would also try to save his own endangered race.'”
Beinhart then makes the connection of 20th century Right-wing thinkers to rhetoric he considers saturated in xenophobia. However, Beinhart’s piece raises far overdue questions about where to draw the line between supremacist ideology and its splinter parts.
For example, Beinhart points out how French Far-right leader of the National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, argues that someone “who is rooted in their home is an ecologist,” while people who are “nomadic … do not care about the environment” since “they have no homeland.”
In 2019, the National Rally launched a climate change policy platform in which its ideological leaders have been accused of continuing to cloak supremacists belief systems within the socially palatable package of environmental consciousness, as in the following statement made of Jordan Bardella, a party spokesperson: “Borders are the environments greatest ally. It is through them that we will save the planet.”
As Adler-Bell explains, “For [white supremacists] … the nation is an ecosystem, and non-white immigrants are an invasive species.”
In her article, Gardiner notes,
“The killers accused of targeting Muslims and Mexican immigrants last year in New Zealand and Texas posted online manifestoes weaving white supremacy with environmental statements. The Australian man who allegedly murdered 51 people at two Christchurch mosques called himself an ‘ethnonationalist eco-fascist’ and wrote that ‘continued immigration into Europe is environmental warfare.’ The suspect in the El Paso shooting that killed 22 — modern America’s deadliest attack targeting Latinos — ranted about plastic waste and overconsumption. ‘If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable,’ he concluded.”
Last year, Clarion Project covered the conscious attempts by ideological extremists to spark an ideological war under the theory of acceleration. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “Accelerationism is a term white supremacists have assigned to their desire to hasten the collapse of society as we know it.”
Gardiner also speaks of the theory of acceleration within the context of environmentalism and white supremacy and quotes Blair Taylor, a program director at the Institute for Social Ecology. Taylor notes the desire to accelerate conflict is linked with what is viewed as an opportunity to set up “fascist ethno-states” after the downfall.
As white supremacists – who see themselves as unique to the land – use eco-rhetoric to push their racist ideologies, it becomes harder to draw borders around the fiction of neat identity markers when the line between the past and present — between malevolent 20th-century supremacist ideologies and their 21st-century offshoots – are ever thinning.
At the very least, the convergence of these extremist ideologies – especially since the chanting of the Nazi slogan of “Blood and Soil” at the 2017 Charlottesville rally — demands that we ask unapologetically bold questions to help us separate the laudable goal of conserving the environment from the horrific ramifications of white supremacy.