How Mass Shootings, Ecofascism and Climate Change Got Tied Together

Our twice-a-week dive into the most pressing news related to our rapidly warming world.

People attend a vigil across the street from Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Buffalo, NY. The Supermarket was the site of a fatal shooting of 10 people at a grocery store in a historically Black neighborhood of Buffalo. Credit: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Two recent mass shootings in communities of color are renewing fears among environmental groups and climate activists that a growing number of young men are adopting racist right-wing ideologies to explain the worsening climate crisis and justify extreme violence.

On Tuesday, a gunman walked into an elementary school in the predominantly Latino city of Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and 2 adults in the worst school-related mass shooting since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Less than two weeks prior, a shooter targeted Black shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 and injuring three more.

While the motivations behind the Uvalde shooter, who was killed by police at the scene, remain unclear, the Buffalo shooter posted a manifesto online that was rife with racist underpinnings. That includes the mention of “ecofascism,” a theory that blames immigrants—particularly immigrants of color—for causing overpopulation and environmental degradation in Western nations.

“For too long we have allowed the left to co-opt the environmentalist movement to serve their own needs,” 18-year-old Payton Gendron, the alleged shooter in Buffalo, wrote in his 180-page document. “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.”

Climate activists, many who have been tracking the proliferation of ecofascism among far-right groups, say the Buffalo shooting is just the latest in what appears to be a growing movement in the United States and Europe. In fact, Gendron pulled much of the language in his manifesto from the screeds of past shooters.

In 2019, a gunman walked into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 Muslim worshippers. Later that year, another man entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and shot 46 people, killing 23—most of them Latino. Both shooters, who were also young white males like Gendron, cited ecofascism to justify their actions.

Once relegated to the fringes of society, ecofascism has found its way into mainstream discourse in recent years. Its origins, in many ways, trace back to the Tanton network, a collection of more than a dozen anti-immigration groups founded or funded by John Tanton, a wealthy ophthalmologist from Michigan. Tanton, who was once a leader of the Sierra Club, believed that the root cause of environmental destruction is overpopulation by the “wrong” sorts of people.

Tanton died in 2019, but his legacy has lived on through others. In 2019, Tucker Carlson, the conservative pundit for Fox News, alluded to the concept of ecofascism on air with a member of the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank that has long perpetuated misinformation on climate change. “Isn’t crowding your country the fastest way to despoil it, to pollute it, to make it a place you wouldn’t want to live?” Carlson mused in the interview.

In 2021, Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that the Biden administration’s immigration policies were harming his state’s environment by allowing immigrants to “drive cars, purchase goods, and use public parks and other facilities,” resulting in “the release of pollutants, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

And a growing number of scholars say eco-fascist ideas are now swirling around right-wing circles as a way to address climate change while also advocating for anti-immigration policy. The groups are “always twisting” climate research “to support some rhetoric that we certainly were not aiming to support,” Jenny Rowland-Shea, deputy director for Public Lands at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, told the Christian Science Monitor. Her own research was used for “criticizing immigrants and people of color and saying they were responsible” for environmental damage, she said.

While right-wing groups blame immigrants for their environmental problems, research has long shown that it’s really the world’s affluent who are contributing most to the climate crisis.

A 2020 report by Oxfam found that from 1990 to 2015—a period when humans doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—the wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for more than twice as much carbon emissions as the poorest half of the Earth’s population.

Still, the continued emergence of ecofascism is particularly worrisome given that worsening storms, droughts and other consequences of climate change are already displacing more people from their homes and sending refugees into neighboring countries. At the U.S.-Mexico border, climate change is contributing to a record-high backlog of immigration cases, ICN’s Aydali Campa reported last week.

“It is getting to the point where, around the world, we see the climate change impacts overriding a lot of people’s ability to adapt,” said Rebecca Carter, the acting director of climate resilience practice at the World Resources Institute, a global research non-profit based in Washington. “Whether it’s because they don’t have access to what they need, or because things are so severe that there really are not solutions to the challenges they’re facing.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

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