Far-right masculinity in the age of climate crisis

  • March 29, 2022

Fascism & Far Right

To predict future developments among the US far-right, we can look at one particular niche of current far-right thinking: its biologized notion of masculinity.

Proud Boys during a rally in Washington D.C. on December 12, 2020. Photo: Johnny Silvercloud / Shutterstock

In mid-2020, one confused poster wrote on the imageboard 8kun, the successor website to the notorious 8chan: “Where the fuck did everyone go?” “The chans are dying anon,” came the reply. “I suggest you train, pick up a book or begin to organize IRL [in real life] now. Just know that those of us who really understood what we had before it was destroyed will always miss you as well. We shared something unique.” Until then, 8kun had acted as a recruitment platform, organizing hub and propaganda factory for the alt-right — the large, broadly online far-right movement that played a key role in the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in 2016.

Although this whimpering end of the alt-right came in 2020, the movement had been in inexorable decline since late 2017. The backlash to the murder of anti-fascist protester Heather Hyer at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had a devastating impact on the movement as the alt-right found itself deplatformed, prosecuted and facing a determined anti-fascist opposition. In addition, it had encountered various other external limits: its collapsing utility to Trump, its declining political novelty and the tightening of moderation policies on major internet platforms. To these it had responded chaotically, reflecting its pronounced ideological heterogeneity. Nevertheless, many aspects of the movement persist. Its declining importance in mass online politics should not be taken as a final goodbye, but instead as a mutation into another form, the precise character of which has yet to be settled.

As we watch this mutation take place, it is important to note just how much the political landscape has changed since the election of Trump in 2016. As his presidency progressed, the climate crisis hurtled to the top of the political agenda and was then knocked off its perch by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement resurged the same year, placing the question of racial justice at the heart of politics. Trump was defeated in an election that was fanatically contested by the new reactionary movements of Stop the Steal, the Groypers and QAnon.

Since the return to the neoliberal timeline with the election of Joe Biden, the debacle of Afghanistan has provided fodder for the American far right, which has been decidedly inconsistent in its opposition to American wars — at times fully embracing the “clash of civilizations” paradigm as manifested in the global war on terror, and at others taking a hardline isolationist stance. Similarly, Israeli aggression against Gaza in early 2021 was a splitting maul for the US far right, where the conflicting motivations of antisemitism and Islamophobic support for imperialism contend. The return of Cold War dynamics in both its US-China form and its NATO-Russia form are further complicating factors — the latter having been thrown into sharp relief as the ongoing Ukraine crisis has developed into a full-scale Russian invasion of its neighbor.

The mutations on the far right will continue. The movement sits across a contradiction between racialized domination and its denial — one that it does not look capable of resolving any time soon. Also, if it does resolve its internal ideological contradictions by unequivocally affirming its commitment to racial domination, this fascist form will be unstable for other reasons: its attempts to suspend the tensions between different classes under capitalism by enveloping them into the violently homogenized nation-state are doomed to fail.

The development of a mass movement of outright fascism is one among many possible future challenges for mainstream political institutions. Another major theme will be the intensifying climate crisis. As climate change progresses — with many of its material effects already becoming irreversible — future forms of the far right will be forced to reckon with it more concretely. It will need to provide a response to its specific challenges, or risk facing irrelevance. The forms of a mass fascist response to the climate crisis will be related, but not identical, to the ideas of nature and ways of organizing nature propagated by parts of the far right today. The latter, taken together, we refer to as “nature politics.”

Eventually, such forms might coalesce into what has been termed “eco-fascism.”

What do the various figureheads of the former alt-right have to say about ecology? Rarely much directly. But they convey a great deal via their more nebulous ideas on nature. To predict how far-right nature politics might develop in the future, we need to look at one apparently unrelated corner of current far-right thinking: its increasingly biologized notion of masculinity.

Heroism in the age of the bugman

One of the most distinctive voices in far-right politics today is a person who goes by the name Bronze Age Pervert (BAP). A fascist, a nudist and a bodybuilder with tens of thousands of online followers, BAP presents himself as the epitome of far-right masculinity online. His book Bronze Age Mindset is a Nietzschean exhortation to action, celebrating the supposedly exceptional individual rooted in a quasi-spiritual biological superiority. The book is perhaps the most significant in the online subcultures of the far right, supported by a viral marketing campaign of anonymized bodybuilders reading it in public. From there, BAP’s words found their way, reportedly, to prominent advisors in the Trump White House.

Condemning Darwinism as “bug-thought,” BAP invokes the Ancient Greek idea of Nemesis: “In nature there is irrepressible force . . . Its destruction of the feeble designs of reason, the pointless words of man — this is beautiful.” Such romantic anti-rationalism is reminiscent of interwar fascist thought. Confronted with the complexity of modernity, as the French journalist and WWII resistance fighter George Valois expressed, the answer of fascism was to “raise the sword.”

Again and again, BAP attempts to distill transhistorical glory from violence. He celebrates notorious mercenaries like Robert Denard and Mad Mike Hoare as latter-day incarnations of the spirit of the Spartan General Brasidas, characterizing the former as “defending whatever residues of civilization remained in Africa after decolonization.” The gunman who killed five people in Denver in December 2021 was a follower who had previously approvingly tweeted a quote from Bronze Age Mindset.

BAP’s central figure is the “bugman,” a derisory catchall term for those he considers degenerated by modern society who are supposedly “motivated by a titanic hatred of the well-turned-out and beautiful.” The bugman’s despoliation of the environment is connected to a panoply of modern perversions: “The bugman seeks to bury beauty under a morass of ubiquitous ugliness and garbage […] The waters are polluted with birth control pills and mind-bending drugs emitted by obese high-fructose-corn-syrup-guzzling beasts.” In this moment, consumption itself is seen as luring one into obedience. The opposite of this feminized compulsive consumption is the “cottagecore tradwife,” whose modesty and contentedness repudiates all modern excess.

This misogyny is woven throughout the book. In one passage he declares that “the ‘liberation’ of women makes democracy into a terminal disease […] one that doesn’t just end a particular government, but the civilization.” In later passages of Bronze Age Mindset, the hatred is for migrants: “dwarf-like zombies are imported for slave labor and political agitation from the fly-swept latrines of the world.” According to such visions, a chosen few are conferred the right to fight against this mediocre ugliness — a form of violence justified by and rooted in a particular image of nature.

What kinds of masculinity are expressed here? Racialized, self-contained, ennobled and opportunistically biological or spiritual. However, assertions of virility sui generis are ultimately, and conspicuously, shallow. The body is involved in an exchange with the outside. And it is the control of this exchange around which many of the most conspiratorial aspects of far-right nature politics flow. Across the breadth of what is left of the alt-right, the same idea is repeated: nature makes our bodies; degenerate nature makes degenerate bodies.

The concept of masculinity expands to include flows of molecules. Two online tributary cultures to the contemporary far right — incels and bodybuilding culture — mix crude biology, diet advice and sometimes dangerous surgery in the pursuit of the perfect masculine body. Wider conspiracy culture also plays on anxieties about masculinity and the control of one’s chemical intake: Alex Jones, the infamous millionaire conspiracy theorist and host of the globally popular InfoWars show, makes much of his money through the sale of “uniquely pure” dietary supplements. Bodybuilding and conspiracy culture’s concern for perfection and purity become, on the far right, a disgust for all that is impure.

Masculinity becomes intimately related to the politics of the consumption of nature, a phenomenon most clearly articulated in the far-right construction of the “soyboy.” This term originates in reactionary internet culture and denotes a man lacking in stereotypically masculine traits. This “soyboy” is a figure of derision, whose consumption of soy and its attendant “xenoestrogens” leads them to enjoy contemporary commodities and thus effeminizes them.

The idea here, exactly because of its triviality, is more extreme: the idea that the government wants to control you is a less total conspiracy than that people enjoy eating soy. The former only requires that you oppose the government; the latter implies the whole social fabric is degenerate.

While soy is feared, other forms of consumption are affirmed. Where left-environmentalists might advocate vegetarianism or veganism, for some on the far right, eating meat is a symbol of potency, of communion with nature. The far-right influencer of “pine tree Twitter” — a subculture which venerates Ted Kaczynski — Mike Ma: “I see God in raw meat. I see God in rare meat.” Or, more ridiculously, one viral stunt saw white nationalists quaff huge quantities of milk to prove their genetic right to the cattle-grazing lands of Europe and America.

The complex interactions of real molecules and their involvements with power are reduced to two functions: virilization and emasculation. This binary is reflected in the well-worn internet parlance of “alpha and beta,” “chad and virgin.” Far from assuaging anxiety, this simplicity seems to deepen it. Because degeneracy is such an unclear and changeable category and violence is so common among the male-dominated online far right, only the most consistently maintained hyper-masculine stance will suffice as a defense against the accusation of degeneracy.

The far right in the age of climate crisis

Fierce control of gendered and biological boundaries, the exaltation of racialized violence and the assumption of the power to kill in the name of nature: these are some of the aspects of the hypermasculinity visible in the far right today. What do these representations of masculinity tell us about how the far right is likely to persist in our age of climate crisis?

They dovetail neatly with the kinds of crisis that systemic climate breakdown is likely to generate: unlivable conditions for many, widespread problems of access to food and mass migrations, and, in response, the construction and deepening of arbitrary boundaries between people. The opportunism of far-right nature politics — evident in its tacking towards spiritualism at times and biologism at others — means that predicting exactly what will be emphasized at any given moment is difficult. But, as it always has in the history of far-right ecological politics, its nature politics will be wielded to construct and enforce racialized hierarchies.

And what of anti-fascism in the face of these ideas, or “anti-eco-fascism”?

In the era of climate system breakdown, as “nature” most generally becomes seen as an antagonist to humans, the far right may well continue its hunt for a mythical basis to its politics. Such frameworks are useful for the far right. Because such mythical notions are rarely clear in the explanations they offer, nor rigorous in their distinctions, almost any eventuality can be understood in these terms, making them seem endlessly self-confirming. The far right may well articulate its urges to kill and die in terms of increasingly grand and detached notions of nature taking its uneven revenge upon humans.

In response, the left will need a nature politics of its own.

Although far-right politics can seem mythic and grandiose, faced with the complexity and depth of the real natural world and the real lives of humans and all other life depending on it, it is the politics of the far right that is — in truth — the most deeply parochial.

Against this parochialism, against this assumption of the right to kill, we must propose a nature politics that speaks to the real complexity of nature; to our place within it; to the multi-faceted forms of solidarity and care it demands of us. In expressing this solidarity with our fellow humans and with nature, we must resist those ideas of nature that are hierarchical, parochial, tied to any so-called race, or divided into essentially killable and unkillable parts. Whatever forms of parochialism are brought against it, the climate crisis remains determinedly planetary in scope. Solidarity within, at, and across borders is therefore essential.

Solidarity is an attempt to overcome the split from which governance derives its power. Governance masks prior unity, a unity we argue might be found in new ideas of nature. As Jason Moore writes: “The history of justice in the twenty-first century will turn on how well we can identify these antagonisms and mutual interdependencies, and how adeptly we can build political coalitions that transcend these planetary contradictions.” These are the tasks of an expanded antifascism, alive to the necessity of its convergences with feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, migrant and class-based solidarity politics. An effective anti-fascist politics must be responsive to the precise form of the far right and its brutal ideas of nature as they further emerge in our catastrophic century.

Parts of this article have been extracted from The Rise of Ecofascism: Climate Change and the Far Right (Polity, 2022)

Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/far-right-ecofascism-masculinity/

Further reading

Join the movement!



Read now

Magazine — Issue 11