In this post, I share some thoughts on my ongoing research “Granola Nazis and Neoliberal mystics”, a critical digital ethnographic exploration of the troubling intersections between mysticism, environmentalism, and the far right which aims to explore the relationships between mundane practices and extremist ideologies.
Granola Nazis, and their less extremist variants “right-wing hippies” and “crunchy moms” are part of a growing segment of “far-right ecologism” calling for all of us to go back to nature – and to a white nation. While classically, eco-fascists are understood as using violent extermination as a solution to environmental preservation, far-right ecologism embraces a wider range of politics and practices centered on using ideologies and discourses of Nature for white supremacy. These run from using the language of preserving natural beauty to oppose immigration (common for example in the right-populist Swiss People’s Party), to advocating for natural health as part of racial preservation in discourses of “white wellness” by the US-based white nationalist Jason Kohne. They may also include the less evidently racist practices of digital influencers such as Canadian Robin Riley’s posts of herself in white nature, her celebration of white fertility in the video series “motherland”, and her call to return to women’s “natural” place in the home.
Nature in far-right ecologism
The embrace of healthy food, loose linen clothes, or herbal medicine may lead some to imagine a leftist movement similar to the 1960’s anti-war “hippie” left in the US and other youth movements across Europe. It may indeed blur some of the lines between left and right – both aesthetically and at the level of cultural practice – the embrace of this “back to nature” style has significant meaning on the far right as well – and one which is very different from ideals of love and anti-violence we associate with hippies on the left. Reactionary ideologies of Nature are common across much of the right and might be seen as having three central ideological pillars:
First, Nature is gender. Scholar Sophie Bjork James (2020, 2021) suggests that what she terms “white sexual politics” link the far right from Christian fundamentalists to white nationalists. Importantly, the intersection of Christian fundamentalists, white nationalists, and paleolibertarians (who support a free market economy as a way to assure white male supremacy; for more see MacLean, 2017), that make up the backbone of the US far right, all refer to gender and “biblical gender roles” as Nature or alignment with a divinely assured “Natural order.” Long associated with “family values”, gender is associated with the body and Nature through racialized understandings of sexual reproduction, intensified by pseudo-scientific discourses of recent anti-trans politics in the United States and beyond. For example, the Christian organization waging a global “anti-gender” campaign “Focus on the Family” sees gender as written in nature: “the overall theme woven in Scripture (and in nature) that male and female are equally valuable and complementary — each displaying aspects of God as their differences work together“. Calls for a return to nature, to a more natural way of living, have long also required the return of women to the home and domestic labor – as movements from Michael Pollan’s slow foods to the contemporary tradwife movement demonstrate.
Second, Nature is race. Identitarian and other far-right movements see race as a natural, organic social unit expressing a particular relationship between land, culture, and people. As I argue in another blog, GNET on Digital Traditionalism, contemporary white supremacists often use the language of wellness to talk about race as a kind of physical embodiment of tradition and culture, understood as shaped through a link to a land, a spiritual essence, and physical tradition. This understanding of race and culture as naturalized tradition is part of many far-right discourses from 19th century conservationist eugenics to the Green Wing of the Nazi Party, to the contemporary “Great Replacement” conspiracy which suggests that Jews are trying to uproot white Europeans to ensure their domination, to the great reset conspiracy which argues that we should go back to the land to fight a globalist elite, which is trying to make us vegan to achieve the same thing.
Third, Nature is hierarchy. The European New Right termed this the “organic society”, which refers to the use of nature as a model for a harmonious and rigidly inegalitarian society. This idea arises out of the German Romantics – themselves a back to nature movement in rebellion against Enlightenment reason but also egalitarianism – which emphasized the idea of society as an organic whole. It echoed through Burkean conservatism in the UK and to the US far right as paleolibertarian leader Murray Rothbard termed feminism – and indeed all egalitarianism – to be a “rebellion against nature” – and some would say, nature as God’s created social order.
So, the call to go “back to nature” which is visually signaled by long beards or long skirts, may in fact reflect a very different politics more closely associated with the far right than an anti-war left. In this, it draws on longstanding historical links between nature and inegalitarian politics from the German Romantic Movement, Fascism, the French New Right, and US Fundamentalism. It calls on us to go “back to our roots” and is happy to insist that those roots are white and patriarchal, naturalizing and lionizing a particular vision of history to support far-right power in the present.
Back to the Future
This call to return to nature is what scholar Chelsea Ebin refers to as “prefigurative traditionalism” or, using the language of nature and tradition, it is “the desire to enact a proactive supremacist political agenda”. It is not a return, but an imagining of a new future in the language of the past – and its values. Here, the idea of restoring a glorious past, a natural harmony, is used to make the idea of hierarchy and white supremacy romantic and desirable. While an invented tradition, it does of course draw on longstanding white supremacist values and institutions in our societies from eugenics in the conservation movement to sexism in the whole foods movement (who cooks all that homemade hummus!). It should be combatted with both a rigorous critique of those traditions, and an imagining of new, better, and more beautiful egalitarian futures.
Bjork‐James, S. (2020). White Sexual Politics: The Patriarchal Family in White Nationalism and the Religious Right. Transforming Anthropology, 28(1), 58-73. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/traa.12167
Bjork-James, S. (2021). The Divine Institution: White Evangelicalism’s Politics of the Family. Rutgers University Press.
MacLean, N. (2017). Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Viking Press.