An environmental rally. Professor Betsy Hartmann cautions the environmental movement must work to distance itself from and delegitimize eco-fascism's use of violence and racist ideology, particularly in light of the recent Buffalo shooting whose suspect is a self-proclaimed white supremacist and ecofascist. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The white suspect of the recent mass murder of Blacks in Buffalo is a self-proclaimed eco-fascist whose 180-page manifesto echoed the same kinds of racist ideas that have been espoused by eugenicists, Hitler, and the Nazis. Host Steve Curwood talks to Professor Betsy Hartmann of Hampshire College about how eco-fascism relates to white supremacy and her call for the environmental movement to delegitimize the eco-fascist movement’s use of violence and racist ideology.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
The suspect of the recent mass shooting in Buffalo is an 18 year old white supremacist and self-proclaimed eco-fascist. In his 180-page manifesto, he writes: “kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.” These ideas are part of many cases of eco-fascist violence that accuse minority populations of polluting the environment, going back to eugenics, Hitler and the Nazis. Elizabeth Hartmann is an emerita professor of development studies at Hampshire College and has spent much of her life thinking about environmental anxiety, dystopia, and the threats from the far right to American democracy. She joins us now from Amherst, Massachusetts. Welcome to Living on Earth!
HARTMANN: Thank you.
CURWOOD: There seems to be a new generation of white supremacists emerging. They're isolated. They're radicalized through right wing media platforms. They're younger typically, I mean, the suspect in the Buffalo shootings live streamed the whole thing. What do you see as the implications of this demographic shift?
HARTMANN: I'm extremely worried by it. And I think there's been a certain naivete in the environmental community, that right wing people are pure and simple climate denialists. But that's not true. I think we're seeing among younger generations on the right, an acknowledgement that climate change is real. It's hard to ignore that climate change is real these days, right? And they're, you know, growing up in different school systems exposed to different kinds of facts about the environment. Many of them can see the reality of climate change, but they interpret it in a far right way.
CURWOOD: So how exactly would you define eco fascism? By the way, how old is this concept?
HARTMANN: Eco Fascism is the strategic use of environmental arguments to advance a far right, political objective. This concept was prevalent in certain Nazi circles, this linkage between this kind of idealized racial and national purity and purity of nature, and blaming Jewish people or other communities, for destroying nature for polluting. So you see this combination of a eugenic view of human beings and a eugenic view of pure nature.
CURWOOD: So what kind of things do they say about the environment in this ideology of eco fascism?
HARTMANN: One of the major things they say is that immigrants are destroying the environment, non Anglo Saxon immigrants, they're taking over our cities, they're using up our resources, they're supposedly implicated in climate change. And then coupled with that is the fear of white birth rates declining, and the birth rates of people of color rising. This also utilizes long standing fears in the environmental movement, about overpopulation. White women are having too few babies, this is another fear that's raised in Eco fascist circles.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering to what extent that is linked to the argument that abortion should be illegal?
HARTMANN: Absolutely. Sometimes there's even an irony the far right will say we don't want those white women to have the abortions, but are perfectly happy if those happened among other populations. So actually, globally birth rates have come down in all segments of the population. So the idea that there's this dearth of births among white people and too many births among people of color, of course, it's racist, but it's also not based on any kind of demographic reality.
CURWOOD: Eco fascism, married to this white supremacy, we seem to be seeing more and more of this, you don't have to be black to be killed by these people, you can be Jewish, you can be Asian and attacked on the street, you can be Hispanic and get cut down in a Walmart in El Paso. What's the thinking here, especially visibly, Jewish people look white.
HARTMANN: It's really a kind of white Anglo Saxon white supremacy. And this conspiracy theory about Jews trying to orchestrate the great replacement, you know, harkens back of course, to Nazi times, certain people are more at risk then others, our democracy is at risk. It's just so critical that environmental movements really differentiate themselves from these kinds of eco fascist arguments, take them on directly. Criticize them, show where they're coming from. Show who's funding them. So it's very clear that this is a very fringe idea. And also, it's very important for progressive environmental movements, to work for concrete climate policies. Practical victories would go a long way, I think, to eradicating some of our apocalyptic fears.
CURWOOD: Now, how does all this fit into the history of xenophobia on our planet?
HARTMANN: It fits in rather well, unfortunately. One thing listeners should know is that in the 1970s and 80s, there was a right wing John Tanton network that still exists today of so called environmental groups who were appealing to liberal environmentalist, trying to get them to join in an anti immigrant xenophobic assault on immigrants by blaming immigrants for environmental degradation. And this Tanton network has had a lot of power in Washington in the liberal media, even Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions former Attorney General, were a part of the Tanton network. There's a long history here. And we have to keep an eye on to these more publicly respectable groups that are helping to drive this ideology that then manifests itself in these violent ways.
CURWOOD: Sadly, I recall that Theodore Roosevelt once wrote in his book, The Winning of the West that it wouldn't be one unless it was rid of the red, yellow, black and brown man.
HARTMANN: Absolutely. And of course, he is like lauded for being this great conservationist. But what were his views based on? He also believed white women weren't having enough babies.
CURWOOD: There was also in the Sierra Club years ago, a major split over there was proposition in California regarding immigration. Talk a little bit about that, and how that plays into this present attraction of eco fascism.
HARTMANN: Right, well, I was involved in that struggle to keep the Sierra Club being taken over by anti immigrant interests. So it was a frightening time because, in a way, the etiology of overpopulation and the willingness of many liberal environmentalists to embrace the idea that overpopulation was the main cause of environmental degradation, globally, allowed the Tantan network and others to play that card and again, to blame immigrants. So there was an opening in the environmental movement that fortunately activists managed to stop today. Happily, the Sierra Club's really looking critically back on its own history. But simultaneously, there is a lot of apocalyptic fear among many young environmentalists about climate change. That kind of Apocalypticism can also push people, unfortunately, to places maybe where they should not be, and it can push them to in a way forum and ideological bridge with the far right, who also draws on a very apocalyptic view of the future.
CURWOOD: So 150 years ago, there was quite a comprehensive movement for the control of people of color. Of course, I'm speaking about the Civil War and the rise of the Confederacy. To what extent are today's right wing politicians, descendants of the Old Confederacy, the old South?
HARTMANN: Very much so in some cases, right, you almost feel like it's the Jim Crow era all over again, with the gerrymandering and the reluctance of that Southern elite to give up their power. But on a more optimistic side, the fact that those statues are coming down, that there is more of an acknowledgement, the history of slavery, the acknowledgement of those things is also progressing, so we can't lose heart. And in a way, this is dying gasps of that culture, you know, tacking on to the worst aspects of white supremacy as a way to keep itself alive. But a lot of damage can be done in the meantime.
CURWOOD: Now the buffalo shooter was apparently evaluated for mental health issues. How does mental health among young people relate to the rise in hate crimes and eco fascism?
HARTMANN: I think obviously, mental health is an issue. But I think access to weapons by mentally ill people is a real problem. The mass murders that occur here are very much part and parcel of our gun culture and our failure to regulate gun ownership. It's a hard time right now, we're still living with COVID period of isolation, and the climate emergency is getting worse, and people aren't doing enough about it. Now, we also have the war in Ukraine. So there's a sense of despair. And I think when people feel despair, they can get a very bleak worldview. If you don't have the community to support you through how do we build a better world, you can fall into an apocalyptic despair, I fear it on the right. But I also fear it on the left, because I think if people embrace this Apocalypticism they are leaving themselves open to being swayed by right wing interests. And also they are often becoming fatalistic and unable to actually do the kind of climate politics and larger kind of progressive politics that need to happen.
CURWOOD: How might eco fascism de legitimize the non violent ethos of the current climate and environmental movement?
HARTMANN: I think there's a real danger that the larger sense of climate apocalypse could raise the ante in terms of violence.
CURWOOD: To what extent do you see these kinds of violent mass shooting events happening more and more in the future, or perhaps less frequently?
HARTMANN: You know, I'm very frightened not just about the rise of eco fascism, but of the far right in the United States. People like to paint the killers as these isolated people in their basements getting radicalized by the Internet, which is, in some cases, true, but there's a very organized far right movement in this country. And moreover, there is easy access to weapons. Put those two together, I am afraid we're going to see more mass shootings. Now, the degree to which eco Fascism is implicated in each one, we will have to see. But I see that as a component getting more mainstreamed into far right thinking. And so then environmentalists need to be very cautious and wary and work against these eco fascist tendencies.
CURWOOD: Let's go to the heart of the fear here that these white people have about people of color. They could be worried that as the number of people of color rise, they might want to get even for all the evils that white people have done to them, or are in another hand, they may just simply believe that white people are superior. What are their views? Do you think,
HARTMANN: Among white supremacist, they believe they're superior, right? But they also are working out of a culture of fear. There's an idea also that there's going to be warfare, that people of color are going to take against them violently, or they're going to take against people of color. Finally, of course, they almost enjoy the prospect sense of the battle of Armageddon, the purification of society. So those kinds of myths are kind of summoned to do this. I think one of the great ironies, of course, is when you travel across the United States, there's more and more interracial relationships, and many people, many families are mixed now. So the idea that there's going to be this huge race war of white against black, it's summoning these old fears. I think we also have to acknowledge that many white working class people in this country feel let down by this system, that there has been a failure in a way of class politics in this country bringing together people of different races, but of similar social classes to work together for change. Right. And I think there's a failure of political imagination. On the more progressive side of the political equation. People need to imagine a more holistic politics and holistic social movement to bring people together.
CURWOOD: What would that be?
HARTMANN: I think we need more unity of purpose against the far right and the right, we need to bring other social movements together. And I think there's a real opportunity now because it's so clear that this threat is real. It's not isolated gunmen. These are not isolated events. We have to get away from that. Again, I you know, I don't say this lightly. I feel like there's a real threat of fascism in this country today.
CURWOOD: Betsy Hartmann is a professor emerita at Hampshire College and what's the name of your latest book?
HARTMANN: The America Syndrome, Apocalypse War and Our Call to Greatness.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you for taking the time with us today.
HARMANN: Thank you.
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