There are compelling reasons not to quote from the manifesto of the alleged shooter who murdered at least 20 and injured more than two dozen in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday. The manifesto was written by a white nationalist copycat who cited as inspiration the massacre earlier this year at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Both the El Paso and Christchurch slaughters are manifestations of a global white nationalist movement that relies on stochastic terrorism. Unlike traditional terrorism, which is organized by mass political movements with some level of centralized party discipline, stochastic terrorism spreads hateful messages on social media to radicalize lone wolf actors. Manifestos written to be discovered and advertised after the bloodbath are very much a part of this meme-driven strategy. They are the seeds of future violence.
Yet averting our eyes to the sources of evil is never a solution. Whatever personal problems the alleged killer might have had, he committed an act of ideologically motivated violence. Ideas matter, even foul ones. They can’t be combated without being understood. The “lone wolf” nature of the killings should not blind us to the fact that the manifesto writer was a product of a larger political zeitgeist, one that encompasses many mainstream figures on the right.
Indeed, the striking thing about the manifesto, which can only be appreciated by quotation, is how banal most of it is, echoing many of the nativist passions of mainstream Trumpism. The only element that isn’t commonly found in mainstream Republican circles, although it is becoming more prominent on the extreme right, is the use of environmental arguments on behalf of white nationalism.
The writer of the manifesto hates Latino immigrants, whom he calls “invaders.” He thinks these immigrants are destroying the patrimony of white America. Like mainstream Republicans who use gerrymandering and voter suppression to weaken the political power of nonwhite voters, the manifesto writer fears that changing demographics will give Democrats a lock on the political future.
“Due to the death of the baby boomers, the increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right and the ever increasing Hispanic population, America will soon become a one party-state,” the writer fears. “The Democrat party will own America and they know it. They have already begun the transition by pandering heavily to the Hispanic voting bloc in the 1st Democratic Debate.” This nightmare vision of the browning of America leading to a permanent Democratic majority is a commonplace anxiety among not just white nationalists but also respectable conservatives.
It’s impossible to overstate how mainstream this sort of talk is on the right, not just among Trump fans. After all, Never Trump conservatives like Bret Stephens also fumed over the “pandering” use of Spanish in the first Democratic debate.
Even when the manifesto writer disavows Trump’s influence, he can’t help but use Trumpian rhetoric. The writer says his views on immigration “predate Trump and his campaign for presidency” but he knows “that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news.”
Trump didn’t create white nationalist violence, which has been central to American history from the earliest European settlements. But Trump has undeniably incited and inspired white nationalists to ever bolder acts of mayhem. Trump’s role in fostering white nationalism is widely understood by Americans. According to a poll conducted in March, a plurality of Americans (39 percent) think Trump is a white nationalist, a minority (20 percent) think he neither supports nor opposes white nationalism, while only 19 percent see him as an opponent of white nationalism.
But even as we condemn Trump for fanning the flames of white nationalism, it’s important to realize that those who take inspiration from the president are also moving beyond standard right-wing racism.
As with the Christchurch killer, the writer of the El Paso manifesto styles himself an environmentalist.
“The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations,” the alleged El Paso shooter argues. “So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”
Writing in New York magazine in March, Eric Levitz predicted that the climate emergency could easily spark two wildly divergent paths away from the current unsustainable model of economic growth: a Green New Deal vision of the future where socialist policies are used to remake the American and global economy to be more ecologically sustainable—or an extreme-right model based on immigration restriction and opposition to economic growth in the Global South.
Levitz conjectured that a right-wing response to climate change could lead to a revival of Malthusian politics. The social theorist Thomas Malthus famously argued at the end of the 18th century that population increases were bound to crash headlong into the limits imposed by scarcity of resources, particularly food. While population increases at an exponential rate, Malthus argued, food production only increases at an arithmetic rate, inevitably leading to famines. Although Malthus’s conjecture is often dismissed for failing to take account of technological innovation, climate change could return the world to a new age of scarcity. In such a scenario, we could witness a ruthless power politics of wealthy nations (and wealthy individuals) seeking to grab resources for themselves, practicing a kind of Malthusian fascism.
As Levitz notes, “if one insists that the U.S. government must put ‘America first,’ then taking the most dire implications of climate science for granted makes Trump’s zero-sum, nationalist worldview appear more coherent, not less.”
What Levitz offered as a theoretical possibility is already here, as the El Paso manifesto makes clear. In fact, the environmental arguments of the El Paso manifesto were earlier made in the Christchurch manifesto. The apocalyptic worldview of both manifestos fuses racism with environmental despair, a belief that different “races” are already pitted against each other in a struggle for survival that will only escalate as the environment gets worse.
This type of Malthusian fascism will almost certainly grow in strength. Climate change has opened up a generation gap on the right. Doddering septuagenarians like Donald Trump are happy to keep talking about climate change as a “hoax” for the simple selfish reason that they are old enough to enjoy the profits of fossil fuel extraction while leaving the costs to their children and grandchildren.
But younger conservatives don’t have the luxury of economically motivated denial. As The New York Times recently reported, “Nearly 60 percent of Republicans between the ages of 23 and 38 say that climate change is having an effect on the United States, and 36 percent believe humans are the cause. That’s about double the numbers of Republicans over age 52.”
The formula for Malthusian fascism, then, is no mere speculative possibility but already coalescing in the hothouse atmosphere of social media sites like 8chan, where lone wolf violence is egged on. A younger generation on the right has been imbued with a Trumpian ethos that gives permission to expressions of white nationalism. They also possess a more realistic awareness of climate change than their parents or grandparents.
This combination of a white nationalism with angst about the prospects for human survival is a perfect recipe for radicalizing young right-wingers and taking Trumpian themes to a new level of extremism. Instead of the merely restorationist day-dream of “making American great again,” the extreme right is using social media agitprop and the propaganda of the deed to harden young white Americans for a global race war fought over diminishing resources. The very real dangers of climate change provide race war fantasists the dystopian background they need to give urgency to their violent agenda.
At the dawn of the last century, Rosa Luxemburg said politics came down to a choice between socialism or barbarism. Barbarism, in the form of fascism, won at least a temporary victory in the Central European nations where Luxemburg was most active, before it was defeated by an alliance between liberalism, social democracy, and communism.
In our own century, the choice might come down to Green socialism or eco-fascism. The day before the El Paso attack, The New York Times published an op-ed mocking climate activist Greta Thunberg, written by anti-immigrant polemicist Christopher Caldwell. But Caldwell belongs to the old guard of the right, destined to be dumped in history’s landfill. The real battle to come is between Thunberg and the emerging Malthusian fascists.