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Outside/In: Ecofascism At The Capitol Riot

Roel Wijnants, Creative Commons
Adolf Hitler and a Swastika carved into a tree in the Hague Forest.

One of the most visible participants in the Capitol riot on January 6 was a shirtless man dressed in a fur headdress and Viking horns. 

A “QAnon Shaman,” by his own definition, Chansley is also perhaps the most visible representation of an overlap between New Age communities and Q-Anon conspiratory theorists. 

Ecofascism at the Capitol Riot
Justine Paradis

Jacob Chansley, who goes by Jake Angeli, was taken into custody following the Capitol riot and later made headlines again after his lawyer requested he only be served organic food while in jail.

This wasn’t the first time Chansley has made a public appearance. He is, or was, a Youtube influencer, and he’s also been recognized attending climate protests.

“People were saying that this guy, the horned protestor guy, that he was a secret climate activist because he had been at climate change rallies,” said Emily Atkin, a climate journalist and creator of theHEATED newsletter and podcast, a publication for "people who are pissed off about the climate crisis." And as Atkin’s most recent newsletter reports, “The antler guy isn’t a climate activist. He’s an ecofascist.”

Rioters at U.S. Capitol

“An ecofascist is someone who uses environmental justifications to promote fascist ideas, basically. It’s sort of like, it’s an environmental Nazi, is another good way to put it. An example of it is someone who says, ‘well, the environment is so bad, it’s so dirty, that we need to get rid of all these dirty people,’” said Atkin. “It's pretty awful.”

Jules Evans, a British writer and fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions, wrote about the phenomenon of “Nazi hippies”, and more recently, about specifically about Chansley’s worldview as presented on his Facebook profile, Youtube channel, and in interviews.

“I was interested in his mindset. He's interesting to me because he's an example of what I call conspirituality… which refers to the overlap between spirituality and conspiracy thinking,” said Evans.

He found that Chansley is drawn to New Age spirituality, engages in energy healing and psychedelic ceremonies, and is against chemical pollution of the environment.

“He’s anti-Monsanto. But he's also very anti-globalism, so he's anti-The-New-World-Order, which is an old conspiracy trope that there's a plan to create a one world government to control us all, maybe with microchips, that the United Nations is part of that problem, big corporations are part of it.”

Evans noted that Western medicine is certainly flawed and there is genuine value in some alternative medicine, there are also risks to a distrust of it, including that it can lead to conspiratorial thinking.

“The field of alternative medicine can reject official sources of authority, and promote fringe sources or your own intuition, your own feelings. This makes it susceptible to conspiracy theories,” said Evans, pointing to “weak critical thinking” and a tendency towards “magical thinking” in some communities leading to the anti-vax movement, buy-in to the “Plandemic” conspiracy, and now, Q-Anon.

Researcher Marc-André Argentino coined the infiltration of the Q conspiracy into wellness communities as “pastel Q-Anon.” It’s a presentation of the conspiracy in a form more palatable for those interested in alternative medicine and spirituality.

Evans said that conspiracy culture goes beyond a right vs. left dichotomy. While a far-right extremist appearing in the trappings of environmentalism may feel confusing, it’s not all that surprising.

Credit Public domain
The title page of the book Hitler called his "bible," written by leading American environmentalist and eugenicist Madison Grant

“If you're an environmentalist, you know that big money can control the media, and this can lead to… ‘mainstream news is totally unreliable.’ I've heard leading environmentalists talk about the oligarch-controlled press…it's not that far from ‘global capital controls the world’ to ‘global Jewish capital controls the world,’” said Evans.

Evans also pointed to figures in environmental history who supported fascist ideas like eugenics. American conservationist Madison Grant, for instance, was famously a leading eugenicist. Adolf Hitler was a fan of Grant's book The Passing of the Great Race.

“Both environmentalism and the New Age movement have plenty of illiberal, authoritarian, antidemocratic kinds of tendencies and figureheads over their history,” said Evans.

“The lie that the election was stolen, that wasn’t the first lie.  The reason that so many people were convinced that the election was stolen was a bunch of little lies had been planted in their head.

And in terms of climate disinformation, as soon as we see people in our communities taking hold of those seeds, we have a duty to step in,” said Atkin.

Justine Paradis is a producer and reporter for NHPR's Creative Production Unit, most oftenOutside/In. Before NHPR, she produced Millennial podcast from Radiotopia, contributed to podcasts including Love + Radio, and reported for WCAI & WGBH from her hometown of Nantucket island.
Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.

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