Many right-wing organizations and parties around the world put the fight for animal rights at the forefront of their activities. Similar practice, however, was not unfamiliar during the first half of the twentieth century.
Needless to say, it’s good to hear about raising general awareness that animals shouldn’t be abused. However, we cannot ignore the context from which such a request originates. Previously, animal rights and environmental movements primarily existed as parts of the left-wing political mobilization, meaning that there was little, if any, room for far-right populists to decide to establish or infiltrate animal rights movements.
However, the current political climate does not merely make it possible for the far right to become a part of the animal rights movement (and environmental movements in general) in the future – the right has already become heavily involved in it, both around the world and in Serbia.
Although eco-fascism can manifest itself in different ways, there are common foundations of the new movement on the far right. These include veganism, anti-multiculturalism, racist nationalism, anti-Semitism, the demand to reduce the “bad” part of the world’s population, environmental demands such as those against disposable plastic, and rage over animal rights. Currently, extreme right-wingers, racists and advocates of anti-immigrant policies are adopting environmental frameworks and adapting them to their own political goals, while constantly adding fuel to fears for the future.
Why do eco-fascists invoke the Third Reich?
While they treated human beings with unimaginable cruelty, the Nazis passed a set of laws regulating treatment of animals after coming to power. It provided a legislative tool that actually promoted and implemented open anti-Semitism and eugenics. Nazi anti-Semitism included the idea that Jews despised the natural world, which the Nazis defended by referring to the way kosher meat was prepared, and stating that Jews and vivisectionists were the same.
Thus, in August 1933, Hermann Goering announced the end of “the unbearable torture and suffering in animal experiments”, and threatened to “imprison those who still think they can continue to treat animals as inanimate property in concentration camps” via a German radio station. A Nazi law was adopted the same year according to which tests done on animals could be performed only if the conditions set by the regulations were met, and with a special permission of the Interior Minister.
Laws regulating “animal slaughter” even served to openly target Jews. A preamble to such law states that “most Germans condemn killing of animals without anaesthesia, a practice universal among Jews”. In addition to anti-Semitism, the laws greatly promoted eugenics and racism. The law on hunting, for example, ordered that hunters had an obligation to enable the survival of “stronger, healthier and cleaner animals” during the hunt.
The Nazis, who emphasized racist biological differences among humans, viewed human life as part of the broader biological order they wanted to create, in which the animalization of human life was completely justified for non-Aryans, whom they considered unclean races. Thus, people in concentration camps quickly replaced rats in Nazi research.
Protectors of animals
Although the fight for animal welfare has been coming from the left for a long time, the right is increasingly taking over this field. It is no longer a surprise when right-wingers announce that they are vegetarians and vegans, which has so far usually come from left-wing activists, and there are more and more right-wing politicians who, for example, support ethical treatment of animals in the food industry.
Support for animal rights is today considered by many to be an almost self-evident, apolitical attitude, while activist groups on the left are increasingly classified as eco-terrorist and extremist organizations. This is largely due to the demonization of left-wing policies and anti-fascism, which, for example, is actively pursued by Trump, and whom both foreign and domestic extreme right-wingers are invoking.
However, right-wingers around the world increasingly use apolitical animal protection to mask overt racism and xenophobia, often using social media space to appeal to different target groups: whether you are a consumer, an amateur gardener, a concerned parent or an animal lover. The posts are designed in an appropriate tone, with narrative and visual representations that help spread clicks, shares and likes, allowing them to become an integral part of the central neo-Nazi message. Numerous examples from around the globe and our country, too, speak in favour of this.
By using social networks to send messages acceptable to most people, such as that animals mustn’t be abused or that we must take care of the environment, extreme right-wing organizations attract a large number of followers. The space of social networks is convenient exactly for micro-targeting potential voters and thus has become a powerful tool for quickly externalizing political attitudes and agendas that give direct feedback almost in real time, which is mostly used by the extreme right. Perhaps the best example of right-wing online campaigns comes from Germany and is represented in the activities of the AfD.
During the Brexit referendum in 2016, also, the Vote Leave campaign which the Conservative Party and UKIP led launched a series of targeted ads on social media that attacked EU animal rights records and focused on topics such as whaling, bull fighting and polar bears protection in order to attract key voters with messages close to their hearts, because– who would ever be against preservation of polar bears?!
In Britain, far-right organizations have been trying to infiltrate animal rights movements more openly since the 2000s. The neo-Nazi organization National Action has been trying similarly since 2014, although their activities have been banned since 2016. Many of these organizations join animal welfare movements, associate with activists and use their political platforms, but also the tension generated by animal rights issues. This kind of far-right agitation in animal welfare movements also occurred after the incident in which explosive devices were planted on cars of employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences, a Cambridgeshire-based laboratory that experiments on animals.
In Israel, meanwhile, veganism and vegetarianism have become the dietary choice for over 10% of the population. Benjamin Netanyahu, a member of the right-wing Likud party, has been leading Israel for a decade now. Himself a vegan, Netanyahu appealed specifically to that part of the population in the last years’ election campaign. In absolute numbers, there are about half a million Israeli men and women, representing a potential fifteen seats in the Knesset – who are rightly concerned about animal welfare.
The (vegan) discourse in Israel is largely controlled by the Likud, with the help of an animal rights activist Tal Gilboa. The latter became Netanyahu’s advisor for promotion of animal rights and welfare. For Gilboa, who shares right-wing views, the facts that the right is engaged in animal protection and that she is actively working on raising Likud’s rating don’t appear problematic. At the same time, the Israeli state has been pursuing racist policies under Netanyahu’s leadership for years: such as the illegal apartheid wall in the West Bank. Their policies will also attract animal rights activists, especially those on the right, who will talk about violence against animals, but at the same time keep silent about violence against Palestinians.
In the United States Matthew Scully, a journalist and writer of political speeches used by George W. Bush and other politicians, an animal rights advocate who to some extent influences the importance of this topic in the public sphere, and is both a conservative and an opponent of abortion. In short, in his work Scully connects the issues of the right to abortion and animal rights through a prism of mutual exclusivity – if you support a woman’s right to decide for herself what to do with her body, then you are morally equal to those who torture animals. There are a handful of examples of conservative promoters of the fight for animal rights who in their own way contribute to the consolidation of the extreme right’s positioning in this field.
Although the true dimensions of the new eco-fascist movement, which includes movements for the protection of animals, are not yet visible in the world and in our country, their very existence is disturbing. This growing far right movement takes advantage of the fact that climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, especially during the coronavirus pandemic today.
Anti-immigrant policies: “bees, not migrants”
Although eco-xenophobia has been around since the 70’s, it began targeting migrants the hardest in the last few years. Last year alone, there were numerous anti-immigrant campaigns squeezed into environmental framework: “Save nature, stop immigration”; then the one that claims that overpopulation in the “Third World” countries is destroying the planet, and including incidents like shootings in New Zealand and El Paso, in which the attackers used environmentalist arguments to rationalize their anti-immigrant beliefs.
The ultra-right National Democratic Party of Germany similarly promotes animal protection through election posters which send a message that animal protection equals protection of the Heimat (Homeland). Neo-Nazis believe that it is necessary to protect “our women, our constitutional rights and our German Heimat”, but also the country and the animals that live within the Homeland, from immigrants.
Similar strategies are used by the far-right Belgian party Vlaams Belang, which advocates animal rights and deportation of immigrants, citing a high crime rate which does not correspond to reality. Last year the party funded a campaign focusing on animal welfare, which attracted a large number of followers. Later the Party for the Animals invited followers to vote for Vlaams Belang via their Facebook page.
For animal protection activists, the challenge used to be to convince those fighting for human rights to extend their principles to animals as well. Unfortunately, today we have to convince some “animal rights activists” that human beings have rights regardless of ethnic origin or skin colour.
Eco-fascists are already members of parliaments and heads of states; they lead extreme right-wing organizations or announce elections and run active campaigns. They talk about climate change and animal protection, claiming that those issues can be solved by racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. They protect animals, but are cruel to people they consider of less value – today it’s the migrants and Roma people, tomorrow any of us, if we prove not to fit neatly into their depiction of the ideal world. And we won’t – that’s a historical episode we’ve already experienced once.
Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić
This article was originally published in Serbian on June 1o, 2020.