The El Paso shooter's manifesto contains a dangerous message about climate change
The ominous rise of eco-fascism
The El Paso shooter's alleged manifesto cites two inspirational texts. The first, unsurprisingly, is the manifesto by the Australian terrorist who murdered 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. The second, however, is less obvious: Dr. Seuss's environmentalist fable The Lorax.
This was not mere trolling, or an inchoate rant. Part of the author's justification for what he was about to do — shoot 22 people to death in a Walmart, most of them Mexican or Mexican-American — was that it would ultimately help restore our ecosystem. And far from an irrational or individual fixation, this argument is terrifyingly rational, and perfectly integrated into a broader project of white nationalism and racial terrorism.
It has a name: eco-fascism. And this will not be the last we hear of it.
While some may say it's dangerous to discuss the manifesto and thereby amplify its contents, it is frankly even more dangerous to dismiss it as the ramblings of a lone wolf. The author — allegedly 21-year-old Patrick Crusius — is the logical endpoint of an ideology that has won over millions of Americans. In fact, the most disturbing thing about his manifesto is how mainstream it is. A great deal of it could be said out loud on Tucker Carlson's show, or even on a CNN roundtable.
First, the author lays out his fears that, as the Hispanic population of Texas grows, the Democratic Party will become increasingly powerful, both statewide and nationally, resulting in what he can only understand as a "coup" — a government that does not represent the majority of white Americans. He hopes that by terrorizing the Hispanic population, he will pressure them to leave the United States and deter further immigrants from entering the country. This is not that different from the rationale behind the Trump administration's treatment of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.
The author further claims that immigrants, with the support of corporate-backed Democrats and Republicans, are flooding the job market and preventing people like him from becoming gainfully employed. And he worries that the future of automation will only make matters worse, as if there will be fewer jobs to go around. In response, he endorses a robust welfare state, including universal health care and a universal basic income, to mitigate the social damage done by automation. But he also suggests such a welfare state will be politically impossible unless the United States is racially homogeneous. If immigration continues at its current levels, then a universal basic income would simply funnel wealth to "tens of millions of dependents."
This discussion is followed by a lengthy paragraph on the environment, castigating corporations for "overharvesting resources" at the expense of future generations. The manifesto doesn't mention climate change (except obliquely in its title, "The Inconvenient Truth"), but the author does cite urban sprawl, plastic and electronic waste, the depletion of watersheds, and the pollution of water due to oil drilling and agricultural runoff as examples of reckless corporate greed. He compares this to the story of The Lorax, in which the Once-ler cuts down every last Truffula tree.
So what is to be done? The manifesto's author does not believe Americans are capable of changing their lifestyles. The only other option he sees, therefore, is to "get rid of enough people" so that "our way of life can become more sustainable."
Pull these threads together — ecological destruction, a new welfare state, white nationalism — and you begin to see the larger eco-fascist logic. Our current relationship to the ecosphere is unsustainable. One option is what might be called an ecosocialist state: a centrally planned economy that regulates the use of natural resources and ensures that all citizens have their basic necessities. The eco-fascist is open to such a state in theory, but not if the state is racially heterogeneous — otherwise, refugees from the global South will flood the global North, taking advantage of the welfare state and making the whole enterprise once again untenable. Therefore, as a condition for "sustainability," the eco-fascist demands ethnic cleansing.
This line of thinking isn't going anywhere soon. It is a major theme in the Christchurch shooter's manifesto, which has quickly joined the white-nationalist canon. In that manifesto, the ecological crisis is framed as part of a larger degeneration of Western society, with the pollution of Europe's forests and rivers occurring alongside the influx of immigrants from Africa and Asia, the breakup of the traditional family, the decline of Christianity, and the coarsening of popular culture. The Christchurch shooter maintained it was not Europeans but non-white "invaders" who were to blame for climate change: "Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment."
As the reality of climate change becomes harder to deny, climate change denial will fade and eco-fascism will take its place. For younger fascists (Crusius was seven years old when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the same age when An Inconvenient Truth opened in theaters), the question is not whether our environment is in danger. The question is whether the global North will address the ecological crisis in a way that preserves the racial hierarchy. If the earth is saved but brown people end up on top, it will not have been, according to the eco-fascists, worth saving.
The potential power of a full-fledged eco-fascist politics should worry anyone with a dedication to human equality and justice. See how the Syrian refugee crisis (which is, indirectly, a climate refugee crisis) has radicalized Europe and devastated the neoliberal consensus. And as time passes, climate change is only going to produce more refugees from the global South. Imagine something like the Green New Deal but tied to a brutal regime of immigration control — imagine how popular such a platform would be, and how it could scramble any left-liberal coalition.
If we are to prevent the rise of eco-fascism, we must begin by telling a new story about climate change. Too often, people are presented with only two stories: (1) we are fine, and the earth is fine; or (2) we are awful and the earth is about to die. It is easy to understand why people would reject the second story and retreat to denialism. But the second story is just as dangerous as denialism, if not more so. If we accept the premise that humanity is a parasite on the earth, then we can be persuaded to support ever more drastic means of exterminating that parasite — an extermination that would, of course, be selective. "The earth would be better off without us" can easily morph into "the earth would be better off without them."
Instead, we need a new story, one that says we are not parasites but rather part of the ecosystem. Humanity did not invade the earth, as the Once-ler invaded the land of the Truffula trees. The earth is our home. Humanity has created ecological feedback, but this is true for any momentous step in the evolution of life. The evolution of photosynthesis among cyanobacteria literally changed the atmosphere and made it breathable; the evolution of grasslands created vast carbon sinks and cooled the earth, making human civilization possible. Now life has evolved to a point where it has produced a global industrialized civilization. We are, as the astrophysicist Adam Frank reminds us, what the ecosphere is doing now.
We cannot go back, as that would mean death for billions. We've already geo-engineered the world; can we now do it more deliberately and with greater respect for all life? Despair is not the way out. Hopeless is, and always has been, the enabler of fascism. And it is a luxury we can no longer afford.