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Understanding Eco-Fascism: A Thematic Analysis of the Eco-Fascist Subculture on Telegram

Understanding Eco-Fascism: A Thematic Analysis of the Eco-Fascist Subculture on Telegram
2nd November 2022 Joshua Molloy
In Insights

‘Eco-fascism’ gained much attention following the 2019 Christchurch and El Paso attacks, with both attackers fusing environmental degradation and overpopulation to far-right ideology in their manifestos, and it has subsequently been singled out as a threat by security services. The fringe ‘eco-fascist’ digital subculture first emerged on Telegram and Twitter around 2017 and remains a resilient community. While the subculture is distinct from the broader range of ‘far-right ecologisms’, it has been described as more of an “aesthetic hook” to hang fascist ideas and as a “state of mind”, derived from a mixture of thinkers, rather than a new coherent ideological movement. 

A clearer understanding of the eco-fascist subculture’s core beliefs and potential threats requires a detailed overview of the content. This Insight presents findings from a qualitative thematic analysis of data gathered from fifteen public Telegram channels affiliated with eco-fascists over a three-month period. Telegram is of particular interest when examining the subculture, as eco-fascism is most highly concentrated there and users are subject to less platform scrutiny. Additionally, channels can often overlap with far-right militant accelerationist networks promoting violence, including the ‘Terrorgram’ community. 

Initial Buckets of Data

Three buckets of data were first collected to understand specific characteristics of eco-fascism: nature, outgroups/ingroups and militancy. Representations of nature in the visual culture could be divided into four subcategories. Idyllic imagery depicted pristine natural landscapes, typically from Europe or North America, while the subcategory of spirituality and mysticism sought to portray nature as obtaining an inherent spiritual essence. Far-right co-opted symbols, like the algiz rune or sonnenrad, accompanied depictions of nature, establishing a distinct eco-fascist brand which travelled easily across far-right networks. Mobilising slogans called upon supporters to ‘Return’, ‘Embrace’ or ‘Defend’ nature, presenting nature as a white spiritual sanctuary to be reconnected with and ultimately defended through violence.

Notably, outgroup/ingroup discourse failed to target groups. This lack of group targeting could distinguish eco-fascism from the broader far-right focus on Jews and African Americans, resembling a worldview of hate typical of neo-Nazism. Meanwhile, ingroup formation instrumentalised nature to stress ancestral links to the land and the naturalness of white people to native ecosystems. 

Expressions of militancy indicated strong overlaps with militant accelerationist subcultures, including Siege culture and Terrorgram material, with forwarded posts celebrating ‘Saints’ such as Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh. The fusion between militant accelerationism and eco-fascism produced a distinctly high level of content promoting sabotage and infrastructural attack, aimed at encouraging attacks on vital infrastructure sustaining modern civilization, including the power grid.

Thematic Analysis

The thematic analysis aimed to identify salient tendencies across the broader subculture. Four themes emerged: Kaczynskian anti-technology radicalism, anti-urbanism, atavism and neo-völkisch-’ism’, presenting categories unified by nostalgic anti-modernism anchored in the belief in restoring a lost natural order. Kaczynskian anti-technology radicalism represented an adoption and co-option of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s ideology and embodied the strongest point of cohesion across the subculture. His writings were revered and required reading material while his reappearance in the visual culture was immediately striking. Kaczynski sat alongside militant accelerationist calls for violence and was deployed as a messaging device for targeting infrastructure or violence in defence of nature.

Anti-urbanism was expressed as a desire to isolate oneself from modernity and society. The most common theme among eco-fascists was the promotion of rural homesteading, which was elevated as both an idyllic fantasy lifestyle and a practical means of breaking away from ‘the system’. Tradwife and cottagecore content often merged with messaging to ‘have white children’ and ‘start a family’, while some elements related to fantasies of rural isolation on an individual level (often invoking Kaczynski’s solitary cabin lifestyle). The theme was characterised by an extreme hostility towards modern urban life, which was viewed as having disrupted the harmony between race and soil.

Atavism emphasised personal development and invoked an articulation of an idealised ancestral masculinity and the rejection of a man sheltered by the comforts of the modern world. Content typically included depictions of ancient warrior cultures promoting physical strength and lamenting the loss of societies in which the ability to inflict the most violence held higher value. An emphasis on physical health and fitness promoted raw foods, such as raw milk, and hostility towards modern diets, particularly novel sources of protein. 

Finally, Neo-völkisch-’ism’, the revival of paganism and folklore traditions, aimed to denote a mystical connection between land and race, reinforcing the ‘naturalness’ of the in-group to the ecosystem, and thereby excluding the foreign outgroup lacking the same deep historical and spiritual connections to the land. Some content was informative, serving to educate supporters of their historical traditions, while much of the content was in the form of imagery, helping blend together a construction of a pre-modern utopian eco-fascist imaginary dreamscape.

Conclusion

The themes identified among eco-fascist groups depict a subculture unified by nostalgia for a pre-modern world along with rejection and hostility to modernity. Each theme is also united by the belief that a natural order must be restored. While eco-fascists borrow some themes from other elements of far-right movements and ideologies, the subculture has enough distinct qualities to make it unique and perhaps durable. The subculture has troubling overlaps with militant accelerationism, notably present in expressions of militancy and the co-option of Ted Kaczynski. While eco-fascism may be a melting pot of ideas rather than a coherent ideological movement, the overlap with militant accelerationism and the glorification of terrorism paired with its ability to maintain a persistent presence make it a dangerous threat.

Joshua Farrell-Molloy is a Research Fellow with the Accelerationism Research Consortium. He holds an MA in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies from the University of Glasgow and his research focuses on the far-right, online extremist subcultures and foreign fighters.