In a Warming Climate, Extremism Simmers

People debate whether there can be any such thing as “eco-fascism” — but it’s pretty plain that climate stress can provide kindling to people inclined to do fascist stuff.

Greg Greene
May 23 · 6 min read
Secret Service agents standing by on a drought-stricken California farm in 2014. Source: Flickr

It’s hot out. Temperatures reached the 90s this week not only on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, but also near and inside the Arctic Circle — with news accounts detailing how residents of Moscow and the northern Russian city of Archangelsk sought relief in outdoor fountains.

As the changing climate distorts weather across the world, the pressure of heat and drought continues to affect access to key resources, such as fresh water — and in some cases provides kindling for extremists. An example of this is unfolding in far northern California, where The Counter reports of anger among far-right extremists about water supply reductions to farmers:

A group of irrigators staged a protest outside the office of the Klamath Irrigation District — one of the entities contracted to deliver water in the region — demanding that it release water against the federal government’s directives, according to a report by Herald and News. Among participants were members of People’s Rights Oregon 6, a local chapter of the far-right militia network founded by Ammon Bundy, who is known for his role in leading the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

A word that crops up in discussions of the extremism fueling tensions like those in far northern California is ‘ecofascism’ — a brand of belief in which notionally environmental concerns gird a hard-right core. Nils Gilman, a scholar at the Berggruen Institute, coined a similarly apt label for such views: ‘avocado politics’ — “green on the outside, but brown(shirt) on the inside.” Gilman details how such views might find political expression:

What might the incipient movement of far-right avocado politics look like if its primary commitment is to maintain the lifestyle and relative social position of the North Atlantic middle class, while at the same time addressing the reality of anthropogenic climate change? … It will be explicitly focused on controlling scarce natural resources and ensuring that they are conserved for the use of the incumbent North Atlantic middle and upper classes.

There’s debate over whether it’s fair to consider ‘ecofascism’ a thing. A climate journalist once rejected the use of the term in a conversation with me — arguing (if my recollection serves me right) that climate change provided a mere excuse for pre-existing extremist beliefs.

What seems clear, though, is that climate stress can spark action by people inclined to do fascist stuff. The Bundy-affiliated extremists’ demands for water as farmers in the Klamath River basin face a growing season with no ability to irrigate is just one example; this 2020 incident across the border in Oregon, detailed in The Guardian, is another:

As Oregon battles more than a dozen wildfires and rumors about looters and arsonists flare, the appearance of armed civilian checkpoints has sparked a fierce debate about vigilante activity. … Residents of the unincorporated town of Corbett in Multnomah County met with law enforcement officials on Saturday evening, after several people complained of being subjected to illegal roadblocks the previous night. … Civilian residents, some heavily armed, set up at least two roadblocks with cars and household chairs, according to residents and recordings obtained by the Guardian. Drivers who were stopped said they were asked to identify themselves and their connection to the town and claimed that on at least two occasions, police were on the scene and did not intervene in the illegal traffic stops.

Such beliefs can fuel — or at least provide a notional pretext for — deadly violence. The manifestos of shooters in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, both alluded to fears about overpopulation and ecological collapse:

The alleged Christchurch shooter, who is charged with targeting Muslims and killing 51 people in March, declared himself an “eco-fascist” and railed about immigrants’ birthrates. The statement linked to the El Paso shooter, who is charged with killing 22 people in a shopping area this month, bemoans water pollution, plastic waste and an American consumer culture that is “creating a massive burden for future generations.”

Turning back to the tensions in the Klamath River basin, an irony of that situation is that fears of ecological collapse among tribal residents of the area are a big factor in the federal decision to conserve water. The collision of the right-wing politics of local farmers with the concerns of indigenous peoples is a potential harbinger of future fights over natural resources. The Counter:

“There’s a lot of reasons why the Klamath is the hotbed that it is,” said Brian Chaffin, associate professor of water policy at the University of Montana, who has conducted research on water governance in the Klamath River Basin. “There’s a background of conservative politics that places priority on private property rights-based solutions, on top of a simmering racism that has constrained tribal interests for over a hundred years, on top of a legitimate fear that there will not be enough water to sustain the level of agriculture that has more recently been there.”

This confluence is now forcing stakeholders to view the fight for water as a sort of zero-sum game. And conditions like severe drought, which are only expected to become increasingly frequent as the climate crisis is exacerbated, suggest that the pressure might not let up any time soon.

One can even see a bit role for avocado politics in the Capitol insurrection — one of whose most notorious participants, “QAnon shaman” Jake Angeli, has a history of climate-inflected far-right activism. Emily Atkin of the Heated newsletter spoke to New Hampshire Public Radio:

“People were saying that this guy, the horned protestor guy, that he was a secret climate activist because he had been at climate change rallies,” said Emily Atkin, a climate journalist. … And as Atkin’s most recent newsletter reports, “The antler guy isn’t a climate activist. He’s an ecofascist.”

Perhaps the ultimate irony here is that indigenous land management — a small dose of which has far-right activists in far northern California up in arms — may hold a key to ameliorating some of the havoc that drought and heat may wreak in the American west. Writing in The New Republic last week, Nick Martin speculated that “if the shift to a more sustainable, less engulfed-in-flames future is going to stick, the conversations that everyone needs to start having must make room for both Indigenous voices and Indigenous power.”

As the tensions over water in California suggest, we’re pretty far from having those conversations just yet.

ICYMI

  • The New Republic: “A New “War on Terrorism” Is the Wrong Way to Fight Domestic Extremists.” Replicating in a domestic context the framework used against international extremism after 9/11 isn’t necessary, Hannah Gais writes. “An effective approach to combating white supremacist violence would be one that uses existing laws to root out propagandists … disarm paramilitaries … and manage public actions like the Capitol insurrection and Unite the Right so that they don’t become violent.”
  • Idaho Statesman: “Ammon Bundy files paperwork to run for Idaho governor as Republican.” The far-right activist notorious for the Malheur Refuge siege in Oregon might be legally barred from entering the Idaho state capitol, but has designs on an office inside it, Hayat Norimine reports.
  • The Daily Beast: “Notorious Pizzagater Jack Posobiec Leaves OAN for Conservative Youth Group Turning Point USA.” Justin Baragona writes that Posobiec is taking his talents to Charlie Kirk’s shop, which has had a steady stream of far-right extremists cycle through its staff.
  • The New York Times: “German Officer Goes on Trial, Accused of Plotting Far-Right Terrorism.” From Frankfurt, Katrin Bennhold writes that the case, in the four years since its defendant’s arrest, “has … pushed the country to confront a creeping threat of infiltration in the military and the police by far-right extremists.”
  • Rolling Stone: “The Enemy Within.” Steve Volk writes on the endurance of sympathies between far-right activists and some institutions of law enforcement. “There are no authoritative estimates on how many [infiltrators] may have entered the police force, but anecdotal evidence provides a snapshot into what is certainly a real, if limited, phenomenon.”

Coda

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To take us out, here’s a song from the latest band to sign to the punk and hardcore label Epitaph Records: The Linda Lindas, with potential CARD anthem “Racist, Sexist Boy.”

Rock on until the next issue, coming to you in two weeks. If someone shared this link with you, don’t forget to subscribe to Ctrl Alt-Right Delete here.

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CtrlAltRightDelete

Ctrl Alt-Right Delete is a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism disinformation, and online toxicity. It is written and edited by Melissa Ryan and is a product of CARD Strategies.

Greg Greene

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A writer and political consultant based in Washington, D.C. Famous among dozens. (Okay, maybe handfuls.)

CtrlAltRightDelete

Ctrl Alt-Right Delete is a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism disinformation, and online toxicity. It is written and edited by Melissa Ryan and is a product of CARD Strategies.