Can a neo-Nazi be an environmentalist?

A shooting in BC answers the question

Doug Todd at the Vancouver Sun has a fascinating column that gets at a little explored aspect of Northwest values: how an environmentalist could also be a "neo-Nazi."

Occasionally down in Washington, right-wingers (like the minions of the Building Industry Association of Washington) accuse greens of being eco-Nazis, typical of Glenn Beckesque over-statement (after all, Hitler loved nature!). But it is also true that some "neo-Nazi" and nativist elements are greens.

Meet, for example, the late Jeff Hughes, described as a "respected" volunteer for the Georgia Strait Alliance, a green group dedicated to protecting the waters of the Salish Sea. He was also, apparently, a "secret swastika-saluting white supremacist." Hughes was shot dead by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island on Oct. 23. Hughes was also a member, some say a leader, of the Northwest Front Canada, a white supremacist organization like Aryan Nations, working to create an all-white homeland in Cascadia. Aren't greens and neo-Nazis antithetical? Todd, who specializes in covering spiritual, religious and values issues in the region, explores the subject:

In the Pacific Northwest, which is a hotbed for both environmentalism and white supremacists, this is not an entirely unusual combination. There are many little-known parallels between certain types of environmentalists and white supremacists. Many of the latter in this region are anti-government survivalists — people who want to be able to live off the land as they prepare to withstand what they believe is a looming global apocalypse. Some environmentalists and survivalists in BC, Washington state and Oregon also share a separatist streak....

In different ways, they believe this mountainous region could become a kind of utopia if they could stop outside forces from destroying the land and back-to-nature lifestyles they hold dear. Most environmentalists are repelled by the ideology of white supremacist survivalists. But that does not mean they don't share with survivalists a suspicion of both government and business, which they believe are failing to protect nature and people, including farmers.

It should be noted that visions for an "all-white" Pacific Northwest go back to the pioneer period and were part of the region's cultural DNA long before Idaho compounds. In the 1840s, settlers began to pass a series of exclusion laws to ban black settlement in the Oregon Territory. Some of those who attempted to create a "Pacific Republic" in the 1860s included West Coast Confederate sympathizers who envisioned a black-free region.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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