Buffalo Shooter Is the Latest Mass Killer to Use Eco-Fascist Rhetoric

Eco-fascism can be traced back to the racist “blood and soil” doctrine of the Nazi party.

Politics
People mourn at a makeshift memorial in Buffalo, New York
People mourn at a makeshift memorial in Buffalo, New York on May 18, 2022. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The 18-year-old who allegedly opened fire on the parking lot of a Buffalo, New York supermarket on Saturday may be the latest mass shooter to be motivated, at least in part, by eco-fascism. 

The shooter, Payton Gendron, left behind a 180-page manifesto in which he blames minorities and immigrants for problems like plastic pollution, air pollution and the climate crisis, The Washington Post reported. Some of his language was plagiarized from the manifesto of a man who opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 and self-identified as an eco-fascist. 

“You could call it a copycat attack,” Syracuse University Ph.D. student Cassidy Thomas, who studies right-wing extremism and environmentalism, told The Washington Post’s Climate 202. “It’s clear that these individuals shared many of the same concerns about overpopulation and environmental degradation.”

Eco-fascism is the coming together of environmental concerns and fascist or far-right beliefs, according to iNews. It can be traced back to the “blood and soil” doctrine of the Nazi party, which held that racial Germans had a special relationship with the land, as Marquette University associate history professor Peter Staudenmaier explained in Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience. 

Today, eco-fascists tend to emphasize overpopulation as the primary cause of environmental problems and oppose immigration, according to iNews. The ideology is also linked to white supremacy and the “great replacement theory” that white people will be overtaken by other groups. 

“Very often, if you have somebody on the far right become an environmentalist, [their ideology] slots itself into a hypernationalist, white supremacist worldview, so it fuels the calls to harden borders at the softer end, [and] at the harder end, it can express itself through the idea that climate change is a divine purging,” author and activist Naomi Klein told Teen Vogue. “[Eco-fascism] argues [climate change] is God’s will, that there are too many people anyway, so there’s going to be a great purge and perhaps that’s all for the best. It’s environmentalism through genocide.”

The lethal nature of this ideology has been evident in three recent mass shootings. Brenton H. Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques in 2019, said that he was an eco-fascist and railed against birthrates, The Washington Post reported. The same year, Patrick Crusius used eco-fascist arguments to justify killing 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Crusius, who targeted Hispanics, wrote that, “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” Crusius also said he was influenced by Tarrant, according to E&E News.

The latest attack in Buffalo was accompanied by a manifesto posted on 4chan along with video footage of the shooting that killed 10 people. The manifesto embraced the white-supremicist replacement theory and expressed the desire to kill as many Black people as possible, according to The Guardian. This is why police believe the shooter chose a grocery store in a neighborhood with a significant Black population. 

The text also used eco-fascist rhetoric to blame immigration for environmental destruction. 

“For too long we have allowed the left to co-opt the environmentalist movement to serve their own needs,” the manifesto reads. “The left has controlled all discussion regarding environmental preservation whilst simultaneously presiding over the continued destruction of the natural environment itself through mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization, whilst offering no true solution to either issue.”

The connection between immigration and environmental harm is demonstrably false. Studies have shown no connection between increased immigration and greenhouse gas emissions or pollution, and people born in the U.S. have larger environmental footprints than new immigrants. Further, overconsumption, not population size itself, is what puts a strain on natural resources. 

However, the ideology has risen in recent years as the prominence of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric have dovetailed with environmental concerns, Hampshire College immigration and environment expert Betsy Hartman told The Guardian. 

“For younger people, the more apocalyptic images of climate change can fit into the white supremacist view of apocalypse, too,” she said. “It’s scary how much this person is taking from the Christchurch and El Paso killings, how he’s [incited] by those things. It shows how powerful this has become, given how explicit it is now.”

This rhetoric isn’t limited to the manifestos of mass shooters. More mainstream right wing pundits and politicians have begun to embrace it as well. Tucker Carlson, who is the most-watched host on Fox News, falsely said that immigrants were polluting Washington, DC’s Potomac River in 2019, The Washington Post reported. And Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) filed a lawsuit in 2021 saying the Biden administration had violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it hadn’t studied how immigration could raise emissions. Rightwing political parties in Europe have also used environmentalist rhetoric to justify border controls, according to The Guardian. 

Mainstream environmental groups have taken steps to distance themselves from this rhetoric, while acknowledging that conservation movements have sometimes embraced eugenics in the past. 

“We need to speak out so that our members know that under no circumstances are we buying into this kind of philosophy,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in response to the El Paso shooting, as The Washington Post reported at the time. 

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