The Bahamas are in crisis. More than a week after Hurricane Dorian devastated the island, the bodies are still being counted, many are missing and neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble. The U.N. estimates that around 70,000 Bahamians are in need of food and shelter. The logical outlet for this relief is the United States, where Bahamians are allowed to go without visas.
But on Sunday evening, a reporter from the disaster zone recorded Bahamian hurricane survivors being kicked off a ferry before its departure for Florida. In the video, ferry staff can be heard telling passengers without visas to get off the boat.
Naturally, this incident has exacerbated the trauma and anxiety that Bahamians are already grappling with. Imagine enduring a category five hurricane, or any cataclysmic event that leaves you in need of help, only to be told that a once-reliable "safe haven" is now closed to you.
The reason visa-less Bahamians were booted from their ride to Florida is still being debated. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol claims that no immigration rules for Bahamians have changed and that ferry staffers were out of line.
Trump then contradicted CBP and suggested that "very bad people" might exploit the disaster and sneak into the U.S. among the masses of Bahamian survivors.
Even if CBP is telling the truth, it's worth noting that this event occurred during an era of increasingly nationalist immigration policy that the agency has enforced. The victims of those policies — particularly the people languishing in detention centers along the southern border — include people who’ve been displaced by wars and climatological disasters. In 2018 alone, 17 million climate-related displacements were recorded by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
Tens of millions more will follow.
As climate change and weather disasters like Dorian drive more desperate people to our borders, it's incumbent upon us, as a nation, to decide how exactly we will respond to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. But what we've seen happening along the southern border, and especially what took place in the Bahamas on Sunday night, foreshadows a darker path that many among us are already inclined to take. As I watch the video of those distraught Bahamian ferry passengers being told they're suddenly not welcome here in the U.S., I see glimpses of a once-dormant but now resurgent movement that's best described as ecofascism.
...it's incumbent upon us, as a nation, to decide how exactly we will respond to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The basic idea behind ecofascism, which dates back to early 20th Century Germany, is that nationalism includes the preservation of "living spaces" and environment. Remember when all the neo-Nazis who stormed Charlottesville with tiki torches shouted "blood and soil?" Their chant was actually a direct nod to the notion of Aryan fatherhood, which stipulates that racial bloodlines and the land are intertwined, like roots. Decades after the second World War, ecofascism died down and became something of a fringe movement concentrated to corners of Scandinavia.
But as Alexandra Minna Stern wrote for Fast Company this week, ecofascism is having something of a resurgence. Mass shooters, including the men who murdered people of color in New Zealand and El Paso, have been identified as white nationalists whose writings contain the language and ideas of ecofascism: namely, the premise that the environment must be violently protected from brown people.
Detaining migrants under inhumane conditions underscores this ideology even more violently. But the reason the incident on the ferry brings to mind ecofascism is because the Bahamians who were told to get off that boat were not first-time arrivals to America. As citizens of the Bahamas, they are supposed to benefit from a long-standing immigration policy that allows them safe passage to the U.S. But someone, whether it was government official or a manager with the ferry, saw it fit to renege on that deal.
The Trump administration has never claimed that its draconian immigration policies are about protecting the land from people of color. Likewise, Trump could hardly be called an ecological conservationist. But one day, Trump will cease to be president, and he will have laid the groundwork for ecofascism to take root in America. Younger members of the far-right are now accepting the climate crisis as a real problem. We're becoming accustomed to locking up or turning away immigrants who need our help. (If this normalization wasn't happening, we'd be in the streets like we were after Trump's inauguration.) So, what happens when the climate change crises intensify and climate migration hits historic levels?
What we are witnessing now is a sneak preview of horrors to come if we fail to counteract ecofascism with a historic climate plan that includes humanitarian immigration policy. Now is the time to start talking about ecofascism, how it slowly creeps into the politics of any civilized society, and how it indulges territorial protectionism that many of us, right, center, and left, are vulnerable to.
If we're going to survive climate change without it completely corroding our souls, we are going to have to share our land and our "living spaces" with each other. For ecofascists, that cohabitation is a nightmare, and their goal is to prevent that from happening, by whatever means necessary. It is our moral imperative, as humans, to stop them from co-opting the greatest existential challenge our species has faced.