Green Clad in Brown Right-Wing Environmentalism

Green issues in brown garb: Not everyone who supports environmental protection is a Green voter. “III. Weg” (Third Path) supporters at a demonstration.
Green issues in brown garb: Not everyone who supports environmental protection is a Green voter. “III. Weg” (Third Path) supporters at a demonstration. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild/Sebastian Willnow

We often assume anyone in favour of green principles cannot possibly be right wing. But that is not at all the case. Environmental protection and nature conservation has long been embraced by people whose other ideas are on the far right of the spectrum. 

With its understated design, “Die Kehre – Zeitschrift für Naturschutz” (The Reversal – Magazine for Nature Conservancy) website is meant to appear informed and conservative. The homepage of the nature conservation project headed by Jonas Schick hosts articles with titles like “Resource Scarcity,” “Humans, a Natural Disaster?”, “Biomass, Agriculture and Climate Protection”, and “Species Conservation is Dying in the Shadow of Wind Power”. Issues that, with the rise of Fridays for the Future at the latest, have become centrally relevant in political discussions and drawn the attention of a wider public.

But “Die Kehre” did not emerge from the left-wing, green milieu. Quite the opposite: both Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Greens) and the left-wing environmental scene have identified it as part of a problematic development in conservation. Editor-in-chief Schick is part of the far-right “Identarian Movement” (IM). The “Ein Prozent für unser Land” (One Percent for Our Country) association supports the magazine, a group the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, BfV) keeps under observation because of their extreme right-wing positions. Since the first issue in 2020, the magazine has made absolutely no attempt to disguise its far-right leanings and contacts. Instead, it has openly tried to win anyone interested in and committed to nature conservation over to the far right. When it went on sale at newsstands, “Die Kehre” advertised a five-page interview with Björn Höcke – the Thuringian state parliamentary party leader of the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) party, whom social scientists and the BfV describe as right-wing extremists – right on the cover.

Hard-Line Positions

The AfD rejects the scientific findings that human lifestyles and production methods significantly impact climate change – yet still advocates for environmental protection. It has targeted the Green Party with the slogan “Stop the Greens – Protect the Environment”. The party claims to have identified “5 Green environmental sins” in the Green’s policy: these include the phasing out of nuclear energy – which the AfD calls an “energy of the future” – the expansion of wind and solar plants to protect “flora and fauna”, and the “end of the car with an internal combustion engine” with the “German automotive and supplier industry” being sacrificed for this “climate mania”. The supposed alternative party published the “Beautiful Green World?” flyer that warns readers not only about the Green, but about other parties as well: “The green environmental policy of the old parties is an attack on our freedom, our prosperity and our environment.” Their credo: only the AfD can protect voters from the “new eco-socialism” and guarantee that the needed environmental protections are put in place to balance protecting species, the land, and the environment into line with modern industry.

The right-wing extremist micro-party “Der III. Weg” (The Third Path) sees the Greens as no less of a threat. In the 2021 federal election campaign, the party distributed a poster in Saxony and Bavaria with the clearly visible suggestion to “Hang the Greens”. A bit harder to spot was the additional information that the posters were intended to highlight the “national revolutionary movement”. “Der III. Weg” sees itself as “volkstreu & grün” (true to the people and green), so the posters were printed in green.

The First Greens Were Actually Brown

None of this is new. In its very first manifesto in 1967, the far-right Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschland (National Democratic Party of Germany, NPD) called for protecting the forests, legislation to keep the rivers clean and “detoxify and capture industrial and motor vehicle exhaust.” In the 1970s, NPD chairman Martin Mußgenug elaborated that “an ecologically minded person automatically adopts a right-wing position.” Concerns about the loss of “healthy substance” due to misguided environmental policies moved the party as early as its 1973 national convention. Members voted to include a passage on “national health and environmental protection” in the party’s platform. The title clarifies its intention: fearing for the “healthy genetic constitution” of the German people, they declared that “protecting nature and the environment […] is an indispensable precondition for preserving the human habitat and national health.” This remains an issue for the NPD, and you can order a T-shirt with the “Umweltschutz – Heimatschutz” (Environmental Protection – Protecting Cultural Heritage) slogan and the party logo from the party’s website today.

Criticism of the modern is also widespread, combined with a longing to return to the supposedly harmonious dawn of the pre-modern world. In a Heinrich Boll Stiftung (Foundation) dossier, Ökologie von rechts – Von der deutschen Nationalromantik bis zur AfD (Ecology from the Right – from the German National Romantic to the AfD) released in 2021, Andreas von Bernstorff writes that this idea began with the romanticization of nature and the past in the German Romantic Era around 1800. Protecting the German homeland included not only preserving national monuments but also maintaining the cultural landscape. Heimatschutz (protecting cultural heritage) became the historical-aesthetic paradigm of nature conservation in Germany and has persisted to this today. The German forest and the German oak became strong national symbols. This idealization was a reaction to the start of industrialization and urbanization in Germany, a rupture that impacted everyone and everything from 1835 on. The destruction of natural habitats and the destruction of human communities were lamented as much as the human being’s alienation from the self, from other, fellow human beings and from nature. A few critics identified “the Jews” as the supposed driver of alienation from one’s own kind and labelled modernity a “Jewish project.”

“Reichsnaturschutz” – Nature Conservation Since The Third Reich

The ideological mind-set of the various associations meant that the German Romantics offered little resistance to National Socialism in 1933. “They experienced a pinnacle of nature conservation during the Third Reich,” von Bernstorff emphasises, when in 1935, the “Reich Nature Conservation Act”created a workable set of rules that continued until 1976.

Former Nazis were even involved in the founding of the Green Party. Herbert Gruhl (1921 – 1993), on the board of the newly founded “Greens” in 1980, did not have a Nazi past. But the former CDU Bundestag member and former federal chairman of the Bund für Umwelt- und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND Friends of the Earth Germany) took hard-line positions. In various publications, he complained that the immigration policy of the “European peoples” was “incredibly stupid” and that “many cultures are being mixed together in one room.” The value of the mixture, he added, decreased “the more mixed it became.” For right-wing extremists, the Greens’ betrayal of environmental protection and nature conservation began with the ousting of Gruhl and his supporters from the party.

Right-Wing Leanings in Green Professions

This historical background reveals that right-wing groups are not adopting issues like protecting nature, animals, and the homeland just because organic is the hot topic of the moment, sustainability in en vogue and vegan is trendy. The green right-wingers view ecological issues as inherently their own and expand them to include “Volkschutz” (protecting the people). A recent survey of students showed how widely they are involved in nature conservation and environmental protection today.

In June 2022, the Fachstelle Radikalisierungsprävention und Engagement im Naturschutz (Special Unit for Radicalisation Prevention and Engagement in Conservation, FARN) and the Institute for Diversity and Sustainability (diversu e. V.) presented a study on right-wing leanings in green professions. To define “green professions”, the study used the 14 professional fields classified by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMLE) – from agricultural sciences to viticulture. At the relevant universities, they found “problematic attitudes that should not be downplayed” among students as well as lecturers, director of FARN Lukas Nicolaisen reports. Almost 30 percent of the 804 students surveyed at 34 universities reported attempts at disruption and sabotage, some violent, by individuals or groups from the new right-wing spectrum, which were attributed to the IM, the Junge Alternative für Deutschland (Young Alternative for Germany), and corresponding fraternities.

FARN and diversu e.V. also felt some of the respondents’ ideas were worthy of discussion. Sixty-one percent considered the “commitment of the extreme right to nature conservation and environmental protection” just “tactics”. The researchers believe that this misconception is probably because the right-wing positions of some pioneers in conservation is not thematised as part of the curriculum. Christine Katz from diversu e. V. emphasises: “The survey makes it clear that – and in part which – points of contact exist for anti-democratic, populist and right-wing ideologically coloured positions in supposedly value-neutral, fact-based, natural and environmental science-related ‘green’ courses of study.” She said there is a lack of debate about the origins, structuring, and constitution of Western scientific knowledge and its institutions, adding that debate about climate change, as a social challenge as well, required this reflection.