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The Rise of Environmental Fascism and the Securitization of Climate Change

Published onMar 30, 2018
The Rise of Environmental Fascism and the Securitization of Climate Change

(Header Image: Ammon Bundy was the spokesperson for the armed militants who occupied the Malheur Ntional Wildlife Refuge inEastern Oregon for 41 days in 2016. For more photos: Source: CC by DonkeyHotey,


The predominant thesis explaining the rise of the Trump Administration and the alt-right in the American political landscape is that a dichotomy between urban and rural areas led to a backfiring of identity politics. Instead, we evidence that this rise is associated with decades-long white nationalist organizing. While the Trump Administration’s decisions regarding the environment are usually seen as dismantling existing environmental protections, we see the administration’s decisions as constructing an emerging framework for national environmental governance with global ramifications. In this paper, we highlight how current Washington ideologies are extensions of the Wise Use movement, a powerful anti-environmental lobbying front stemming back to the 1980s. We argue that the calls for eliminating environmental regulations to protect the reclamation of land rights for white nationalist interests marks the surfacing of environmental fascism. The term first appeared in the 1990s as a critical lens to address the emergence of ultra-right bio-politics in Europe reminiscent of Nazi-Germany. Today, the far-right has weaponized the term to be used against mainstream environmentalists, vilifying the protection of environmental rights over property rights. In response, this paper reappropriates environmental fascism as a critical lens, tracing the history of this position through national economic environmentalism and climate change security in U.S. policy. We propose environmental fascism as a necessary concept for planning theorists and practitioners to grapple with the origins and implications of emergent environmental policies.


Key words

Environmental fascism, palingenetic myth, populist ultra-nationalism, national economic environmentalism, takings clause, regeneration, reclamation, risk of the environment.



“Fascism sees its salvation in giving the masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.” (Walter Benjamin quoted in Gaffney 2017).

Ammon Bundy was the spokesperson for the armed militants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon for 41 days in 2016. For photos: Source: CC by DonkeyHotey

On January 4, 2016, Ammon Bundy, a fleet manager from Arizona, led an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon (Michaud et al. 2017). Ammon, with his brother Ryan Bundy, rallied a group of anti-government militiamen on fairgrounds in Burns, Oregon to sack the park’s headquarters (Bernstein 2016). Amongst Ammon’s demands were vague claims to restore the people’s constitutional rights, to give a voice to voiceless rural America, to take back federal lands they believed belonged to the states, and to fight encroachment on private property rights (Fantz et al. 2016; Bernstein 2016). The standoff was part of a decade long tension with the federal government, marked by increasingly militant displays of defiance. Earlier in 2014, for example, Ammon’s father Cliven Bundy had notoriously led the successful armed standoff against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Nevada when federal agents attempted to round up trespassing cattle over delinquent grazing fees on federally owned land (see Bonds and Inwood 2016). At the Malheur standoff, in an interview with CNN (January 4, 2016), Ammon Bundy issued this seemingly disjointed statement:

People need to be aware that we've become a system where government is actually claiming and using and defending people's rights, and they are doing that against the people. (Fantz et al. 2016; emphasis added).

For the most part, media dismissed the claims coming from the Malheur militants as unclear and incoherent (see IFantz Ashley et al. 2016; Weiner-Bronner 2016). At the trial, the court proceedings were riddled with bizarre and lengthy statements lasting for days. For example, Ryan Bundy attempted to hand out Bibles to all twelve jurors before giving his statement. After pleading not guilty to all charges, Bundy and his six co-defendants were acquitted on the grounds that the “occupation” was only meant to be an expression of political protest to create ‘awareness about the death of rural America’ (Bernstein 2016; emphasis added). This acquittal came despite the attempts by Assistant U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey Barrow, to prosecute the defendants for leading an “armed occupation of the refuge” (ibid). The verdict delivered on October 27, the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt who established the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in 1908, “came to symbolize the growing divide between urban and rural America” (Templeton et al. 2016). The defendants were, by and large, dismissed as a motley crew incapable of plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. However, in our analysis we find that the usurpers’ rhetoric stems from a well-funded pro-industry movement in the rural American landscape.

The Malheur standoff is associated with the rise of the increasingly militant and factious Wise Use movement, a powerful but loose-knit coalition of anti-environmental lobbyists dating back to the 1980s (Feuer 2017). Ammon Bundy’s statement positioning “people’s rights” against those of “the people” is traceable to the discourse created by the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a Wise Use think tank, to undermine the predominantly urban-driven environmental rights movements (see Harvey 1997, 392; Davoudi 2014).  In this way, Bundy is conflating the rise of identity politics and environmentalism in urban areas with the phrase “people’s rights,” which he sees the Obama Administration protecting over those of “the people” - rural white Americans’ right to private property. Accordingly, the phrases are imbued with a white nationalist ideology that are revealing of the rise of anti-environmental alt-right rhetoric in the Trump Administration. But planning currently lacks a term with which to name Wise Use discourse in the executive branch of the White House and therefore stave off its interpretation of the Constitution to serve anti-environmental agendas. In this paper, we build upon Davoudi’s (2014) analysis of the securitization of climate change to suggest that what we are witnessing is a far more sinister force - environmental fascism. Hence, this paper seeks to contribute to environmental discourse on climate security by reappropriating the term, environmental fascism, as a critical lens for exploring the rise of alt-right militancy in U.S. policy for planning and other spatial fields. In the following section we will briefly review the origins of environmental fascism as it emerged in the 1990s as a concern over the re-emergence of Nazi-Germany and Fascist-Italian dark ecology policies, identifying its core tendencies before revisiting the Wise Use movement. In particular, we trace the rise of environmental fascism from Wise Use to the Trump Administration through national economic environmentalism and the securitization of climate change.

Environmental fascism. For brevity and at the risk of oversimplification, here we present our definition of the term’s chief tenets. Environmental fascism is founded on the assumption that nature should be unconditionally opened up for extraction in order to serve the needs of “citizens,” i.e. members of a white nationalist state that is economically organized around principles of state-backed capitalism. Environmental fascism requires the conquest of nature's frontiers, the depths of oceans and mountains with prophetic visions of expanding beyond the earth in search of resources to feed a capitalist growth economy and maintain the promise of more jobs. Hence, the imperiled consumptive life conditions of late capitalism's white nationalist workers forms the material basis for the rise of environmental fascism. Furthermore, proponents of environmental fascism develop a contradictory relationship with law enforcement agencies, backing police forces and opposing them based on situational fascist logic. Simultaneously, their national politics proceeds through demonizing dissenters, scapegoating Others, and promoting border enforcement. In the remainder of this section, we probe the historical genealogy and theoretical structure of the term.

Environmental fascism was initially coined to identify and resist ultra-right ideologues in Europe. Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier in their book, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (1995), trace how historically bio-political ideologies (organic farming, vegetarianism, and nature worship) served as Nazi platforms. In the following passage, they express concerns that the uptick in fascist ideologies in the 1990s were “once again invoking ecological themes to serve social reaction” (2): 

It is our deepest concern to preserve the integrity of serious ecological movements from ugly reactionary tendencies that seek to exploit the widespread popular concern about ecological problems for regressive agendas. But we find that the “ecological scene” of our time - with its growing mysticism and antihumanism - poses serious problems about the direction in which the ecology movement will go (Biehl and Staudenmaier 1995, 2) 

The authors are drawing a distinction between “social ecology,” which has a broad social emphasis, and the emergence of “deep ecology,” which they are concerned turns away from science and reason towards mysticism and biologism. However, the parallels that can be drawn from critiques of nineteenth century German ecology could easily be misconstrued and risk critiquing twenty-first century grassroots ecological movements such as bioregionalism (see Aberley 1999) as genocidal. This is precisely how the far-right has appropriated the term environmental fascism: they use it as a broad sweeping invective against proponents of environmental protection (Jonathan 1999; Orton 2000; Staudenmaier 2003, 2011; Biehl and Staudenmaier 2011).

This is not to downplay the historical presence of xenophobia and eugenics in planning practices that occurred through sanitation reform at the end of the nineteenth century (see Porter 1991; Garside 1988; Hall 2001, 29;  Parmet 1996; Peterson 1979) and the biopolitical specter of Malthus in ecological modernization (see Harvey 1997, 381, Chapter 6; Hamlin 1996, 1998, 2007)[1]. Certainly, the mistakes of the past are too easily repeatable and require critical evaluation of the discipline. However, rather than clarifying the term, the historical abutment of ecology to Nazism opened the doors for American anti-environmentalists to extend environmental fascism as dark green label “like a semantic virus” to all environmental movements (Griffin 1991, 2; see also Dryzek [1997] 2005; Price 2017). In the social sciences, “eco-fascists” became an all-encompassing “term used in environmental studies for ‘dark’ Greens who propose that the state should be empowered to take Draconian interventionist measures to solve ecological problems” (ibid).

Reappropriating environmental fascism requires us to consider the historical development of fascism itself. To do so we now turn to Roger Griffin’s magnus opus, The Nature of Fascism (1991), where he offers a fitting definition,  “Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism” (26; emphasis added). In gross simplification, we find that paying particular attention to the components of “mythical core” and “populist ultra-nationalism” are most useful for laying out the tendencies of environmental fascism. For Griffin, the mythic “refer[s] to the inspirational, revolutionary power which an ideology can exert whatever its apparent rationality or practicality” (28) to alter society (31). In extreme form, the ideology of fascism is specifically found in the promise of renewal, or what Griffin terms, the palingenetic myth. The locution - derived from the word palin, which means again or anew, and genesis meaning creation and birth - “refers to the sense of a new start, or of regeneration after a phase of crisis or decline . . .” (32-33). Griffin is quick to clarify that the palingenetic myth does not originate from religious belief, but rather it is a secular motif commonly found in cosmology, mysticism, ritualism, and political-economy (33). Thus, central to fascist ideology is the promise of a ‘new birth’ through the arrival of an archetypal ‘new man’ who shall restore “an idealized vision of an earlier stage of society” that is occurring after a period of perceived immorality (35).

The second component of Griffin’s definition that we draw attention to is the characteristic of “populist ultra-nationalism.” Nationalism, he argues, is one of the most pervasive ideological forces shaping modern history. Afterall, as revealed by the arrival of the protectionist Trump Administration, neoliberalism’s last gasps for air is not what spelled out unfettered hegemony - as presupposed by the left - but nationalism itself, an idea we will revisit in following sections. For these reasons, populist ultra-nationalism is required for investigating the specifics of hegemony today. As such, ‘populist’ refers to “political forces which, even if led by a small elite cadre or self-appointed ‘vanguards’ . . . depend on ‘people power’ as the basis of their legitimacy” (Griffin 1991, 36-37). And ‘ultra-nationalism’ is used “to refer to forms of nationalism which ‘go beyond,’ and hence reject, anything compatible with liberal institutions or with the tradition of Enlightenment humanism which underpins them” (37). Accordingly, populist ultra-nationalism does not include the values of absolutism (dynasty) or pluralist representative government (democracy). Instead, it is driven by the ‘charismatic’ where “the cohesion and dynamics of movements depend almost exclusively on the capacity of their leaders to inspire loyalty and action” (ibid).

Fascism is not only hinged on reactionary ideas and leadership but furthermore on how it manifests within space. Thus a central characteristic of fascism is its treatment of the environment. In the “Golden-Age of planners” in the Third Reich, Nazi macro-planners envisioned a post-war, modernist racial state that possessed “all symptoms of a concerted effort to establish a new harmony in the relationship of technological modernity to the forces of ‘nature’ and ‘life’” (Griffin 1991, 328). Indeed, the reclamation of land for the regeneration of the spirit of the nation is a central tenet of fascism (see Kallis 2014; Armiero 2014). When Griffin traces the rise of Nazi biopolitical planning to the likes of Ebenezer Howard’s vision of the Garden City (1898) and before that to the anti-Semitic Theodor Fritsch who promulgated the back-to-nature movement and racial hygiene (328-329; see Certomà 2015; Harvey 1997, 376), he reveals this connection to utopian thought in fascist planning to be not only a looking backward but more subtly a mythic core. The central tendency of environmental fascism is the treatment of the environment as a symbolic threat. For example, in the denial of climate security, there is a railing against a symbolic nihilism by nature, rather than the encounter with the actual possibility of annihilation (see Griffin 2007, 366-369). Here, environmental fascism is distinguishable from an ecological movement. Nihilism is based on palingenesis, “a proponent of political improvement with radical goals but which employs nonradical means” (see Williams 2001; emphasis added), while the latter is grounded in metamorphosis that is towards “a real regenerative process that takes place within our own history and our own time: the time of earthly existence” (369). This is not to reduce the distinction between palingenesis and metamorphosis to merely a binary between means and ends[2]. Instead, the distinctions between palingenesis and metamorphosis are made more evident when looking at the relations of property.

Land use planning theory locates “environmental rights” within a web of regulations determined by how land is owned, developed, used, and protected. Divergent thinkers from this school of thought argue that environmental rights are normalized by a set of socially determined, or relational, “legal and cultural narratives” that are currently arranged around private property ownership (Wagner 2013, 277; Libby Porter 2012). Proponents of environmental rights suggest reinserting “property” as the unit for analysis in rethinking the relationship between humans and nature (Blomley 2005). It is precisely for this reason that Walter Benjamin observes, ‘The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property’ (quoted in Gaffney 2017). In other words, whereas environmental fascism seeks a renewal of private ownership, ecological justice seeks a metamorphosis or redistribution of property relations altogether. This is why, as Peter Gaffney (2017) summarily reveals, “the most visible characteristics of fascism - race-thinking, personality-worship, anti-intellectualism, nationalism, etc. - are all just surface phenomena of the final and total transformation of all human life into an instrument for the production of capital.” To summarize, in environmental fascism, the palingenetic myth of ‘new birth’ coupled with populist ultra-nationalism manifests through fears of nihilism of the white race by nature resulting in a reclamation of private property. In the sections to follow, we will explore evidence of environmental fascism in the ideological linkages between the Wise Use movement and the Trump Administration from political economy to climate security.


Wise use

The so-called Wise Use movement illustrates the ways in which our institutions are dysfunctional. It springs from venerable American values, and it embodies our ambivalence toward freedom and responsibility. Because we live by incompatible values, we have created institutions that invite conflict. (Rousch 1995).

The ideological roots of the Malheur standoff are tied to a conservative land-use doctrine known as the Wise Use movement that has been part of the national discourse for the last thirty years (Feuer 2016). It has been one of the most influential, yet unheard of, movements in environmental politics in the U.S. for decades, attacking national environmental legislation and regulation since the late-1980s to the present (McCarthy 1997; ibid). The movement, which traces its roots to the Jeffersonian Westward Expansion, also has precedent in the anti-national parks Boomers project in the early 1900s and the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, which staked claims to the American West (Williams 1995; McCarthy 1997; Feuer 2016; see Harvey 1997, 383-384).

In 1988 at the Multiple-Use Strategy Conference in Reno, Nevada hundreds of organizations including Exxon and the National Cattlemen’s Association came together with the goal of crafting a legislative manifesto (Feuer 2016). The result was The Wise Use Agenda that set out “to gut environmental regulation, increase private ownership of public land and compel the federal government to open its holdings to mining, oil and logging companies and to the unrestricted use of off-road vehicles” (ibid). The conference was organized by Ron Arnold, then vice-president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise considered to be the think tank of the Wise Use Movement. Arnold appropriated the term from the first Chief of the United States Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), who said that ‘conservation is the wise use of resources’ (ibid).

Contrary to its original intention, Wise Use became an abstract and contradictory term that rallied white nationalists around the mantra, “destroy environmentalism” (McCarthy 1997). By the 1980s, the Wise Use Movement had become a powerful “grassroots” front for anti-environmental lobbying interests (Harvey 1997, 385). In a series of articles published by the Logging Management magazine between 1979 and 1980, Arnold called for the funding of a pro-industry citizens’ faction capable of destroying the environmental movement (Ramos 1997). In his words, ‘industry must come to support citizen activist groups, providing funds, materials, transportation, and most of all, hard facts’  (quoting Arnold ibid). Funding for Wise Use started to pour in from large industrial resource extraction corporations, trade associations, recreational vehicle groups, and law firms including Amoco, British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Marathon Oil, American Farm Bureau, Dupont, Yamaha, General Motors, National Cattlemen’s Association, Mountain States Legal Foundation, and the National Rifle Association[3]. In 1989, Ron Arnold, speaking to Canadian timber executives, advised them to use local grassroots organizations to mobilize a political movement: 

[Local citizens’ groups] can do things the industry can’t. It can speak as public-spirited people who support the communities and the families affected by the local issue. It can speak as a group of people who live close to nature and have more natural wisdom than city people. It can provide allies with something to join, someplace to nurture that vital sense of belonging and common cause. It can develop emotional commitment among your allies. It can form coalitions to build real political clout. It can be an effective and convincing advocate for your industry. It can evoke powerful archetypes such as the sanctity of the family, the virtue of the close-knit community, the natural wisdom of the rural dweller, and many others I am sure you think of. (quoting Arnold in Rousch 1995, 4).

By the 1990s, the anti-environmental lobby, comprised of ideologically motivated advocacy groups and natural resource corporations, had gained considerable traction in expanding claims in local governments to federal land (Rousch 1995). Anti-environmentalism provided a mechanism for tapping into the economic hardships faced in middle America to further the agendas of corporate interests (ibid). However, in this same time, the movement shifted towards supremacist extremism. One such affiliated group, The National Federal Lands Conference (NFLC), incorporated in the early 1990s, began openly endorsing the militia movement, promoting anti-Semitic leaders, as well as denouncing the Fourteenth Amendment as a fraud leading to a blurring of the lines between militias drawn to anti-environmental themes and anti-environmentalists drawn to militias (ibid). For example, although he denied it, Ron Arnold was alleged to have had associations with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which was linked to the 1992 spats between religious extremists and Federal agents at Ruby Ridge and the  1993 Waco siege (ibid). For anti-environmentalists, Ruby Ridge and the Waco siege made real the fears of “white genocide.” By Obama’s second term, with steadily declining employment and life expectancy for white nationals (Gupta et al. 2017), Wise Use ideology and militancy had become one and the same. At the Bundy Trial, attorney Lisa Maxfield, said that the defendants took a more “defensive” approach because they feared that ‘they were soon going to be Waco’d or Ruby Ridge’d’ (Bernstein 2016; emphasis added). 

Many white rural Americans like the Bundys felt that their “natural rights” to private property, i.e. to prosper from the land, were being stripped away from them by Federal land grabs and burdensome regulations (Purdy 2016). In this regard, Bundy saw the federal government as protecting the rights of the environment and thereby environmentalists over the inalienable rights of “the people” to private property (see Harvey 1997, 383). Environmentalism was seen as valuing nature over human life and part of a conspiracy of ‘white genocide’ that forewarns of the “literal extermination of whites through immigration, miscegenation, abortion,…and other means” (see Draitser 2017, 29). This is precisely the interpretation adopted by the far-right in their use of ecofascism, or environmental fascism, as a pejorative to accuse environmental agents and activists as fascist (Jonathan 1999; Orton 2000; Staudenmaier 2003, 2011; Biehl and Staudenmaier 2011). Accordingly, supremacist ideologues see the integration of environmentalism into land-use policy as a bio-political conspiracy to eliminate the white race.

What is apparent in the rise of the Trump Administration is that his campaign spoke to the segment of the American population who felt like “strangers in their own land,” to borrow Arlie Hochschild’s phrase from her book of the same title that examines the “great paradox” of people who need federal support yet engage in a reactive politics of deregulation and dismantling the remains of a welfare state (2016). Trump was able to tap into middle white America by activating a politics of race-preservation against the fears of white genocide. The predominant thesis explaining why middle America voted for Trump points to the dominance of identity politics (used interchangeably with pluralism and multiculturalism) in the political landscape. The argument is that identity politics, focused on the disparity of black and LGBTQ rights in urban areas, i.e. informal claims to the right to the city, failed to speak to the economic hardships faced by white rural America. Pundits argue that the focus on non-white rights in urban areas over those of white rural citizens led to the emergence of white male resentment and ideology (see Potts 2016; Kreiss 2017). Above all else, it was the Left’s calling out of whiteness and white privilege (see Friedersdorf 2015) that seemingly backfired, making it no longer off-limits for whites to speak of white identity politics (Draitser 2017). Humanities professor Mark Lilla of Columbia, blames identity politics for excluding working-class white voters and reminds us that the first identity movement in the U.S. was the Klu Klux Klan (see Lilla 2016). Along those lines, a study on The Changing Norms of Racial Political Rhetoric and the End of Racial Priming (2016), documented a rise in white national identity:                                         

Whites’ perceptions of their group’s racial distinctiveness and disadvantage may be on the rise . . . [Studies have found] a rise in White identity over the last several election cycles, and especially since the election of the nation’s first Black president in 2008. Concerns about demographic shifts and economic stagnation may have led many Whites to increasingly think that their racial group is under external threat, and these pressures increase identification (Knowles & Peng 2005). These increases in entitativity—the perception among group members that they belong to a coherent and unified collective—boosts the acceptability of explicit expressions of prejudice and anger toward outgroups (Effron & Knowles 2015). (quoting Valentino et al. 2016, in Draitser 2017;).

However, ascribing the rise of the Trump Administration to urban identity politics has been disputed; a range of experts argue that Trump’s rise is more related to outright racism than rural decline[4] (see Carnes & Lupu 2017; Fitzgerald 2017; McElwee & McDaniel 2017). The misguided correlation only further hollows out the intellectual substance of identity politics and allows the critical lens to be built back up as a vessel for reactionary politics (Gaffney 2017). Rather than ushering in an era of identity politics gone awry, the Trump Administration has instead emptied the emancipatory core of identity politics - diversity, equity, and inclusion - and replaced it with a politics of fear. Here, a politics of fear is based on the co-optation of well-defined terms, such as identity politics, and making them serve ulterior motives, such as Trumpist claims of millions of fraudulent votes from illegal immigrants while promoting the integrity of torture, to his attacks on the Fourteenth Amendment, the rounding up and deportation of the undocumented, banning Muslims, denying the impact of human pollution on climate change, and fast-tracking natural resource extraction (see Altheide 2017). A politics of fear vacates critical thinking and replaces identity politics with fascist agendas targeting the outsider - the Other, the urban, and the environment[5].

In revisiting Bundy’s statement, what becomes clear is that the term “people’s rights” is not just an appropriation of identity politics. Rather, it imposes a negative connotation on the rights of Others within the environmental justice movement as a distinctly urban malady. We claim that “people’s rights” specifically references the environmental movements surfacing in the 1990s stemming from economically segregated neighborhoods. In particular, the environmental racism movement became a significant political force in fighting the disproportionate toxicity impacting black people in urban areas, thus melding social and environmental issues into one (see Harvey 1997, 369, 392; Braun and Castree [1998] 2005). Thus, when Bundy uses the term “people’s rights,”  he is in fact amalgamating Others’ rights and environmental rights as the impure and subordinate activities of an immoral and corrosive urban core, which are thereby separate and unequal from the rights of “the people” in rural middle-America. However, the urban-rural divide is itself a false dichotomy. Rather than viewing environmental movements as distinctly urban processes, David Harvey (1997) uncovers what he calls ecosystem thinking, which is a phenomenon that sees urban forms themselves as ecological processes that are inseparable from nature. In this light, analyses based on the rural-urban binary are yet another attempt to politicize white anxiety but this time through place-based discontent creating an “us” versus “them,” survival mentality (see Fisher and Smith eds, 2012). Fascinatingly, the terms “people’s rights” and “the people” furthermore reveal a spatial contingency of whiteness most notably in environmental fascism’s treatment of the rural (see Bonds and Inwood 2016, 717).

Indeed Aristotle Kallis (2014), in looking at the making of Mussolini’s fascist capital,  finds that fascism was not diametrically opposed to the urban. Instead, “the urban environment continued to occupy an eminently important place in the Fascist utopian imaginary” and “the countryside was as much in need of ‘purification’ and new ‘creation’ myths as the modern urban environment, albeit in fundamentally different ways” (Ch. 2). Focusing on the rural could more effectively allow the legitimization of palingenetic myths of renewal 

“the Mussolinian vision of ‘ruralisation’ was underpinned by the notion of a 'tamed' nature and countryside - ordered and subjugated through Fascist agency, scientifically managed, technologically advanced, 'conquered' and 'colonised' rather than allowed to flourish to its own devices. As a domain of state action, the countryside offered a far more malleable space for the enactment of Fascist creative and regenerative myths than the already structured - and thus harder to reshape - urban environment" (Kallis 2014, Ch. 2).

As Marco Amiero (2014) points out, “What was the celebration of the rural world over the urban world if not a political narrative blending nature and people?” (241). Looking at how Mussolini’s Fascist politics articulated its discourses and practices over nature, Armiero, puts forward the argument that the environment is central to the historical analysis of fascism. Accordingly, it was through such blending of “ideas of race, landscape, history, modernity and ruralism, [that] Fascists shaped both the national environment and general ideas about nature” (242). In environmental fascism, the rural is the spatial organization of nature where the national spirit can be regenerated. Nature, bearing analogy to Others, is seen as both an outside threat and the opportunity for imbuing militant patriotism. In this way, the concept of regeneration is fully realized through the reclamation of land use. More expressly, rural regeneration is the reclamation of public lands for private property ownership. For this reason, white nationalism is often prominently manifested through displays of militancy against Others in the “defense” of private property across urban and rural regions. 

Political-Economy of Wise Use. From a political economy perspective, Wise Use draws together conflicting ideologies between free trade and property rights, as expected. In the late 1990s, the coalition drew strength as self-proclaimed Reaganites acting against the global economic restructuring of free trade deals, in particular the Clinton Administration’s North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (see McCarthy 1997; Lavelle 1995). At the same time, while standing in opposition to free trade, Wise Use favored the deregulation of the environment propounded by neoliberal policies, such as those initiated by planning. Since the 1980s, planning’s conservative right had been pushing “free-market environmentalism” to deal with the “pollution problem” (Pennington 1999). Championed by Mark Pennington (1999) the argument called for allowing ‘imperfect’ market forces, rather than regulatory correction, to naturally “improve” environmental quality. This position, entrenched in neoclassical economics, maintains that pollution is a tradable byproduct of capitalist society. Thus, according to free market logic, the dumping and trade of toxic waste should be allowed to flow to the region with the lowest wages, land values, and regulations and thereby where the “costs” of pollution are initially very low (see Harvey 1996, 366-368).

The Wise Use’s contradictory view, opposing free trade deals while supporting deregulation, may be best understood through the attack on environmental regulation meant to protect property against pollution for present and future generations. According to John D. Echeverria, the focal point of the tension between environmental protection and individual liberty is located in the takings clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment: ‘nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation’ (1995, 143-144). Conservative proponents stemming from the Wise Use coalition have long made demands to broaden the scope of private property claims to include compensation for lands “impacted” (negatively) by environmental protection, such as federal wetlands and endangered species designations (ibid). Wise Use began making egregious demands for compensation, in the millions, for conservation lands or forfeiture for privatization. Essentially, Wise Use sought to expand the takings clause to allow for increased natural resource extraction, an act that would eliminate the regulation that protects private property rights and the general public from harmful land uses (145, 146). In short, the gross expansion of the takings clause would invert environmental regulation into land grab claims for private property use by major industrial corporations. It would nullify all environmental laws and allow for the unfettered depletion of natural resources. More importantly, this adds to the meaning behind the Brexit-inspired, Breitbart rhetoric to “take America back”, as a fascist rallying call for “Trump supporters [who] were taking the country back from a litany of explicit targets including Democrats, the socialist left, the media, people of color, women, immigrants, establishment Republicans, free traders, Wall Street, and Washington, DC, insiders” (see Kreiss 2017). Accordingly, in Trump, Wise Use proponents could realize their ideology for both taking back property from the Federal government, as well as their country from interlopers and the dystopian metropolis.

By the early 2000s, Pennington’s neoliberal environmentalism emerged globally in never before seen raw material industrial extraction sites, unprecedented free trade deals, as well as offshore tax havens and international debt peonage (see Harvey, 2011 [2005], 31; 2016). Politicians were making a case for the expansion of multinational “corporate rights” over those of people and the environment (Klein 2014, 310). Meanwhile, the progressive response coming out of academia has been to advocate bringing the “transboundary” pollution and global climate change problems into the international human rights fold (see Boyle 2016; Alan 2012; Klein 2007). This, coupled with the destabilization of Syria and the Middle East (see Wendle 2015; Kelley et al 2014), fed into the Wise Use ideology all too easily, leading to an inflation of environmental fascist fears over mass immigration (see Eichenwald 2016). For example, the fight to “take America back” equated free trade deals with the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965 that abolished the 1920s quota system for national origins. Leading up to the 2016 U.S. election, Breitbart News, an alt-right media corporation, vilified the INA by posthumously attacking Senator Ted Kennedy, one of its lead proponents, for opening up the floodgates for mass immigration (see McHugh 2015, 2015b; Hahn 2015). Free trade, with porous borders, was seen by Wise Use as favoring the rights of immigrants and the environment over those of “the people.” Here, the tension between political economy, property, and immigration is held together by the Wise Use’s vitriolic attack on environmental rights (McCarthy 1997). In parallel, the Trump Administration’s anti-globalist, xenophobic, and anti-environmental executive orders of early 2017 marked the second political break from free market ideology in the free world, the first being Brexit in 2016, towards what may be termed national economic environmentalism (adapting Harvey 2016).

National economic environmentalism is a phenomenon that stems from the rise of fascist discourse through anti-free trade, anti-regulation, and anti-immigration policy. Environmental fascism exhibits both anti-globalist and pro-industrial perspectives where jobs are seen as the lifeline for the white race. Thus free-trade is equated with losing jobs to non-whites, and climate change agreements and environmental regulation are likened to restricting job growth for middle-America. Accordingly, the Trump Administration engages in national economic environmentalism when it revokes U.S. participation not only in free trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), and the to be seen Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) but furthermore by pulling out of the Paris Agreement and fast-tracking the Keystone XL and North Dakota Access pipelines, as well as opening up national monuments and parks for industrial resource extraction (see Boyle 2016; James 2016; Swoyer 2016; Dolack 2017; Tittel 2017; Ioffe 2016; Nussbaum 2016; Daly 2017). This is not to say that the Trump Administration will be disruptive of the global supply chains that capitalism depends on. Rather, the main sectors of the U.S. corporate economy, defense, energy, infrastructure, and agriculture,  will do very well in American geopolitical terms. (Gupta et al. 2017). Here environmental fascism, through national economic environmentalism, builds upon the existing late capitalist organization of the economy but it does so through ramping up environmental degradation and militarization.

Climate of Security

It may well be that the history of the next few decades will be substantially shaped by the conflicts between centrifugal liberal nationalisms with a pacifistic and universalistic orientation on the one hand and centripetal illiberal nationalisms of a violent and separatist impetus on the other. The prospects of achieving any substantive ‘green revolution’ in time to save the ecosystem clearly depends partly on the triumph, or at least predominance, of the former (Griffin 1991, 36).

The concept of the “environment” is inseparable from the context of the nation-state, where borders and policies that influence the flow of disease, terror, warfare, resources, refugees, toxins, waste, and disasters become politicized issues of security (Davoudi 2014; Press 1994). This is especially concerning due to leading scientific watchdogs and intellectuals making apocalyptic projections (see Mecklin 2017; Chomsky 2014; Lindorf 2017). In 1947, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, an organization made up of the scientists who built the atomic bomb for warning the public about the consequences of nuclear war, evoked a powerful image, the Doomsday Clock, to assess and indicate “the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences” (Mecklin 2017). On January 2017, the 70th Anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin, informed by eighteen Nobel Laureates, moved the clock within two-and-a-half minutes of doomsday, which is the closest it has been to midnight since the beginning of the Cold War. Perhaps most alarmingly, the 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement cites President Trump’s reckless endangerment:

. . . Both his statements and his actions as president [] have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science. (Mecklin 2017, 3)

This administration is perhaps more aligned with Wise Use ideologies than any previous one, from nationalizing the rise of white identity politics to the fear of ‘white genocide’ in environmentalism to anti-environmental militancy, to the political economy of national economic environmentalism, and finally to the doomsday scenarios of nuclear war and climate change. The concern here is that climate change will be hollowed out (like identity politics and critiques of neoliberalism) to expand government powers to deal with the risk of the environment. This is precisely what Davoudi observed when “reflexive environmentalism is increasingly displaced by the dominating discourses of climate change which portray nature as risk and frame our relationship to it in terms of security” (361, emphasis added). In particular, Davoudi traces this shift from risk to security in the shift, in environmental discourse, from sustainability towards resilience. Thus she claims that resilience shifts the attention from “safeguarding nature for urban futures to securing urban futures against nature” (371; emphasis added). Davoudi presciently warns planning “That the recasting of climate change problems as security problems reflects and reinforces securitisation as the hegemonic discourse of our time” (ibid). Davoudi concludes that:

Feeding from each other, risk and security can provoke strong emotions, legitimise extraordinary measures, and lead to practices which are otherwise indefensible. They can create imaginaries of fear which renounce social conflict, foreclose politics, and crowd out descending voices. They can suspend democratic safeguards in the name of urgency, emergency, and resilience. The framing of climate events as sudden natural shocks can redirect the attentions away from long-term capacity building and social transformation towards short-term emergency planning, which is increasingly placed at the centre of debate on resilient urbanism. More alarmingly, the perception of climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ may lead to the justification of exceptional measures as the undisputed and necessary action. Such a slippery slope to potential militarisation is a reminder of what Mouffe (2005) considers as the dangers of succumbing to liberal rationalism as the infallible and omnipresent form of consensual politics. (371-372)

As if in testament to Davoudi’s warnings on September 14, 2016, the Climate and Security Advisory Group (CSAG), made up of former top-level military leaders and national security advisors, issued the Briefing Book For A New Administration: recommended policies and practices for addressing the security risks of climate change (Femia and Werrell et al. 2016). The briefings, presented to the “climate-denier-in-chief”[6] (Bolstad 2016; see Tittel 2017; Price 2017) and guided by the Department of Defense’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, claimed that climate change poses ‘immediate risks to national security’ (ibid, 7). Further guided by the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (ibid, 9) the briefings issued the following blanket recommendation:              

Countless sources confirm, the impacts of climate change are already contributing to the conditions that can lead to conflict, state instability, and state failure. Climate change is also straining military readiness, operations and strategy, and is making existing security risks worse. We recommend that a new President pursue three key objectives: 1) Elevate attention to the security risks of climate change at all levels of national security planning to ensure it is treated as comprehensively as other strategically significant security risks; 2) Institutionalize climate change and security concerns throughout all relevant U.S. government offices, agencies and departments; and 3) Integrate climate change and security concerns across the U.S. government through structures, procedures and actions designed to effectively and routinely reduce and respond to climate-related risks. (Femia et al. 2016, 9).

The CSAG recommendations are systematically broken down by government branch, from the White House (Executive Branch) to the Department of Defense, Foreign Policy (the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development), the Department of Homeland Security, Intelligence Community, and the Department of Energy. The briefings for the Executive Branch call for full integration of climate security strategy which includes the recommendation: “assign a cabinet-level official to lead on domestic climate and security issues” and “improve capacity to absorb climate and security information” (ibid, 9-10; emphasis added). The Department of Defense, making claims that it has for years responded to the ‘threat multiplier’ of climate change, calls for “enhancing,” “elevating,” and “broadening” scopes in regard to climate security. A few of those include calls to: “Enhance mission resilience. . .to build national and sub-national capacities…”; “Address[] climate change risks in military doctrine”; and “Continu[e] to enhance the resilience of military infrastructure” (ibid, 10-14, emphasis added). Perhaps most Orwellian is the Homeland Security briefing: “Assist in focusing the attention of the broader security community, both within and beyond the local, state, tribal, and federal governments, to climate change impacts on certain fragile nations, and regions such as the Arctic, that are likely to affect homeland security equities” (21).

The securitization of the climate is a geopolitical shift to secure claims to natural resources for national interests. Thus, rather than addressing the impact of human activity on climate change, the underlying driver of climate security are U.S. interests to secure the remaining energy resources in the world. Michael Klare, in his book The Race For What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the Last Resources (2012), reveals that modern civilization is reaching the end of the world’s readily available resources. Increasingly, not only are there more intensive processes to extract oil from shale deposits and tar sands but furthermore, the depletion of land-based resources is leading to intense competition over offshore reserves. These have led to intense friction and conflicts in the Arctic Ocean (Cole 2015; Kramer and Krauss 2016), South China Sea (Glaser 2015), Falkland Islands (Morris 2015), Caspian Sea (Gottesman 2015), Middle East (Piotrowski 2016), and Alaska (Macalister 2015) among others.

Indeed, the CSAG briefings lay out the primary arenas for U.S. climate security in the Asia-Pacific and Arctic Circle. Accordingly, the briefing recommends that the Executive Branch be concerned about “addressing climate security risks in key geostrategic waterways” and “launch[ing] . . . a unified climate security plan that fully supports [U.S.] national security, foreign policy and defense strategies in the Asia-Pacific region” (ibid, 9-10; emphasis added). And to no lesser degree, the Department of Defense shall “Enhance existing efforts to prepare for increased access and military operations in the Arctic” and “Rais[e] the profile of climate risks and opportunities at key international security institutions” (including NATO, ASEAN, and the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable). The scramble by the U.S. government to secure what remains of the world’s remaining resources is a means to sustain its massive military presence abroad (see Klare 2013). In the words of Klare, “To deploy armies on every continent, ships on every ocean, to have alliances all over the world - you have to have abundant, cheap oil.” But, perhaps more so the existential crisis for the U.S. is the end of the oil age, upon which modern industrial civilization will collapse[7] (ibid; Prashad 2012).

The perceived threat to the white race and denial of the anthropocene run from Wise Use to the Trump Administration through climate security. To be clear we are not claiming that climate security or its proponents are inherently fascist but that Trumpist perversion is possible and something we admonish. Hypothetically speaking, just as Wise Use rallied around the myth that urban-based environmentalists were bent on the annihilation of the white race, a climate security scenario in the small hands of a certain environmental fascist will posit nature as a threat to the future virility of the white race. Here the “risk” of the environment is understood as threats to white nationalist consumptive patterns and securitization will be used to protect white “citizens” from facing the damages of climate change at the expense of Others. While neoliberal environmentalism was outsourcing pollution and greening the economy within an economic regime of labor power exploitation, environmental fascism will be open to sacrificing predominantly non-white bodies within and beyond the United States in the name of security for white bodies. Environmental fascism will shift the political register from exploiting labor to obliterating labor through environmental degradation. As Wise Use ideologies link up with Washington's security agenda, we see the contemporary rise of environmental fascism, which sanctions alt-right and militant place-based anti-environmental populism through executive orders that fast track environmental degradation for extreme natural resource extraction along borders and in new territories towards propagating the U.S. military industrial complex.



In this paper, the seemingly isolated case of anti-environmental militancy in the Malheur standoff is in fact connected to Wise Use, an industrial corporate backed white nationalist movement. We identify the tendencies of the movement as environmental fascism and call for its reappropriation from alt-right ideologues. Environmental fascism is a concept that allows planning to trace the rise of the Trump Administration to the Wise Use movement through spatial relations. Central to environmental fascism are a palingenetic myth and populist ultra-nationalist agenda to regenerate the rural landscape in order to preserve the spirit of the nation against the false threat of white annihilation. Thus the taking back of property as an inalienable white nationalist right counteracts ‘white genocide,’ realizing calls for a ‘new birth.’ The often contradictory ideologies are loosely held together through symbolic nihilistic tension, such as in the politics of fear, rural-urban dichotomies, and risk of the environment.

In tracing this tension, we present evidence of the rise of environmental fascism in the Trump Administration through national economic environmentalism and forewarn of its global manifestation through the securitization of climate change. National economic environmentalism marks a shift away from neoliberal environmentalism to protectionist anti-environmentalism in the dismantling of regulatory agencies and globalist agendas, as part of “taking America back,” which conflates anti-immigration policies with desires of U.S. corporate geopolitical dominance (see McIntyre 2017; Lavelle 1995; Klare 2012, 2013). Citing the the CSAG briefing, we forewarn that the securitization of climate change over the existential risk of the environment, in the Trump Administration, will further embolden anti-immigration policies and renewed energy resource extraction (see Schaller 2017). Here climate change is posed as a threat to both national security and the progeny of modern industrial civilization in order to warrant the race to secure the last of the remaining natural resources. Perhaps more so, there is the impending danger of the expansion of the military to envelop security, in total, as it will supercede the patriotic duty of defense leading to a permanent military state. If this is allowed to occur, we predict that there will be an increase in military tension with the real threat of nuclear annihilation in the sundown of Trumpist environmental fascism.

What we are witnessing today is far more nuanced than the dark green politics of the 1990s and thereby demands greater precision in the use of the term. Environmental fascism provides a more accurate label for the type of fascism that not only led up to the rise of the Trump Administration but is being exhibited in its daily backwardness. While these tendencies are yet to play out to their full extent in the agendas being set by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and EPA Chief Scott Pruitt (see Aronoff 2017; Bannon 2017; Clair 2017; Kramer & Krauss 2016; Wertz 2016), the term gives planning the agency to name and oppose the coming of climate security.

Dismantling environmental fascism will only be possible through upholding democratic processes of dissent and disruption. Countering environmental fascism requires steadfast resistance to agendas that narrow citizenship. There must be open condemnation of declarations of nuclear warfare, the erasing  of climate change from public discourse, the expansion of private property, the annihilation of non-white bodies through the elimination of environmental protections, and last but not least the militarization of climate security. While there is no easy solution to environmental fascism, the terminology offers a powerful framework for galvanizing an anti-fascist movement amongst allies of indigenous peoples, people of color, LGBTQA+, the undocumented, the incarcerated, Lantinx, feminist, and left civil society organizations.



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[1]  It is important to distinguish Griffin’s notion of biopolitical planning from the environmental movements of planning that are traceable through sanitation reform stemming from the 1900s, ecological modernization from the 1920s-1930s, and ecological justice from the 1990s. David Harvey (1997) tracing this genealogy locates the environmental movement as a phenomenon of modernity, where not only did the rise of middle-class consciousness push environmental issues to the political agenda but where urban forms are understood as ecological processes (376, 380, 392). Perhaps most notably, Harvey does not discredit the “seemingly negative features” of environmental intervention as readily anti-humanist and instead sees them as, for the most part, improving living conditions for the public good (376).  

[2] Planning has been caught in that existential tailspin before, between process and outcome, resulting in the conservative and incrementalist process-turn (see Banfield 1959; Lindblom [1959] 2012; Fainstein [2005] 2012; Campbell and Marshall 2002; Tewdwr-Jones 2002).

[3] The anti-environmental lobby connection to the Trump Administration is being played out through the appointment of former CEO of Exxon-Mobile, Rex Tillerson, to Secretary of State, and anti-environmental political profiteer, Scott Pruitt,  to EPA Chief (see Kramer & Krauss 2016; Moyer 2016; Aronoff 2017; Clair 2017; Wertz 2016).

[4] For example, when considering that sixty percent of Trump’s white voters had a household income over $100,000, while eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, it does not follow that Trump rose because of an outpouring of working class voters who were suddenly mobilized by white identity politics (see Carnes & Lupu 2017; Fitzgerald 2017).

[5] If anything, Trump’s narrow win of the Electoral College vote particularly in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania signified the birth of a reactionary politics itself within a white nationalist ideology that had been festering since the Wise Use movement.

[6] By no means is the push for climate security an acknowledgment of climate change. Instead, as Davoudi (2014) argues, rather than acknowledging the impact of human activity on the environment, resiliency shifts agency to an environment that “strikes back,” despite ‘modernity’s proclivity to dominate, destroy, manage, cajole or modify Nature’ (quoting Baldwin and Stanley, 364).                                                

[7] Klare (2013) goes on to suggest that the capacity to feed the over 7 billion people today is only made possible through the growth of oil-driven industrial agriculture.

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