Environmental ideology in far-right Telegram Groups
It has long come to public attention that secluded online forums, such as Telegram chats and channels, serve as a safe space for extremism to foster, where individuals can recruit and radicalize new members. In these online spaces there is a constant flux of ideas and, recently, the far-right re-focused their interest on the connection between environmentalism and white supremacy, or so-called ‘ecofascism.’ As paradoxical as the idea of ‘nature-loving' Neo-Nazis may seem, far-right environmentalism has a long history dating back to the Green Wing of Hitler’s NSDAP in the early 20th century. The ideology is a double edge-sword able to easily resonate with people amid today's climate crisis. As such, online ecofascist content is able to pose new security threats, appealing to a broader audience via a universally shared ‘environmental protection’ sentiment.
Ecofascism – the far-right green ideology with long roots
Ecofascism is an ideology that combines the belief in the importance of environmental protection with the need to combat overpopulation, often through violent means and especially against immigrant populations. The basis for this doctrine is a conviction that there is a spiritual connection between races and their designated lands with which they form an integrated whole, and which must be defended against outsiders at all costs.
While this ideology may seem obscure and bizarre at first glance, it has nonetheless been able to inspire several recent terrorist attacks such as the Christchurch and El Paso attacks in 2019, and arsonist attacks in Sweden in 2019. Such events are not simply the product of lone terrorist actors but are best understood as ‘the tip of the iceberg’ of a larger, more invisible process of radicalization that takes place predominantly online.
White identity, nature, and online forums
Ecofascist content can easily be found on public Telegram channels, popular mainly throughout the US and Europe. Taking a closer look at some of these channels reveals a peculiar blend of white supremacist content and a romanticization of national landscapes. Noteworthy in this is the fusion of century-old fascist ecology with a modern context. Posts often specifically make references to current events such as globalization, immigration, refugee crises, and climate change which are then merged with racist rhetoric. For example, content creators often call for the murder of immigrant groups as a ‘practical’ solution to overpopulation and climate change. In this way, these groups are able to give the old ideology a new spin while simultaneously being able to resonate with their audience in innovative ways.
These channels build a white racial identity by placing its roots in the natural landscapes of their nation as well as in European nature. The idealization of rural living and a ‘return to nature’ materializes in the search for one’s spiritual roots that have supposedly been lost through a consumerist society and homogenizing globalization. This rhetoric therefore appeals to people that may feel increasingly lost in a world of urban concrete landscapes, alienating 9 to 5 office jobs, and a perceived loss of cultural values through globalizing forces. Their message is powerful and equally dangerous: It suggests that it is possible to ‘rediscover’ one’s imagined cultural roots in nature and that violence is a form of self-defense to protect these roots against the forces of capitalism and globalization. Unsurprisingly, these justifications often turn into actual calls for violence against anything that is perceived to be a threat to these ideals.
Easily accessible calls for violence and terrorism
In these channels, overpopulation, immigrants, or the consumerist, capitalist system at large are usually scapegoated for a loss of cultural identity as well as for the destruction of nature in which this identity is rooted. Calls for violence and terrorism are seen as solutions to either directly lower population numbers of specific immigrant groups or to destabilize the entire system and bring about a violent revolution.
These calls for violence oftentimes appeal to traditional masculinity. The perceived loss of ‘traditional manhood’ and men as the center of the nuclear, reproductive family unit has long been a concern for the far-right. Similarly, some channels conjure a nostalgic image of traditional manhood through images of muscular and heavily armed men against a backdrop of natural scenery. The suggestion is that a wild and aggressive man as being closer to his natural roots and imagined ancestral identity. This invocation of more traditional masculinity also represents violence as a ‘natural’ response to a loss of habitat. With this, some channels specifically appeal to a male audience some of which may feel alienated by changing gender roles and family structures.
Since these groups specifically aim at appealing to popular problems, it is fair to wonder in which ways these channels pose a security threat as they share extremist content that potentially facilitates radicalization. Additionally, ecofascist Telegram channels are easy to access. Often unsecured, they can be publicly previewed, and anyone with a mobile phone number can join them. This differentiates these channels from other far-right forums which often require intricate knowledge of specific jargon and meme culture in order to accept new members. Such channels can then function as potential gateways to more private chat groups.
Despite their public availability, ecofascist Telegram groups are still somewhat obscure and hard to track: Barely any channel exists longer than two months before presumably being deleted for violating Telegram’s code of conduct. New ecofascist channels sprout immediately, like the hydra that grows two new heads for each one that is cut. While it is simple to join these channels anonymously, keeping track of their developments from a security viewpoint is challenging.
Something to worry about?
Given that ecofascist ideology has already inspired some acts of terrorism, it is important to take the security threat it poses seriously. It is worthwhile to understand that and how eco-fascism can respond in unique ways to peoples’ concerns over globalization and climate change. By framing environmental destruction and protection as a matter of identity, roots, and race, this rhetoric is potentially able to spread its tentacles where others failed, while simultaneously providing justifications for acts of violence. Specifically, public Telegram channels are fertile ground for member recruitment and radicalization due to ease of access and thus deserve our concern.
About the author:
Abra Heinrich is a student currently enrolled in the last year of the MA program Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University. Her research interests cover the extreme right, far right ecologism as well as Latin American studies, with a focus on qualitative methodologies and discourse analysis. She is writing her thesis about the emotional appeal of far right ecologism in white supremacist Telegram channels. She has previously published in Leiden University's journal Medusa.