If someone eats organic and/or vegetarian, we tend to make assumptions about their politics. With the notable exception of Glenn Beck, vegan and conservative don’t tend to mix. (And he only lasted three weeks.)
Not so in Germany, where a small but vocal movement of right-wing environmentalists with some creepy ideas about food and purity are farming organic crops. The German Green Party’s Böll foundation published a book about these “brown environmentalists” last year. The New Yorker introduces us to one of them: Helmut Ernst, a corn farmer, activist, and “not a Nazi” but a supporter of other seriously right-wing policies.
“What we’re seeing is a stable right-wing movement in Eastern Germany,” said Hubertus Buchstein, who is a political science professor at the University of Greifswald and one of the book’s authors. “Some of them have started organic farming—it seems to fit the right wing. Now, instead of being militant, a new strategy is to live in the country and sell organic apples. Some are vegan, very strict.”
As the Böll foundation’s book points out, environmentalism in Germany—an issue that today, while mainstream, is still strongly identified with the left—has deep right-wing roots. Late nineteenth-century “blood and soil” narratives celebrated a racist, often anti-Semitic and socially-Darwinistic picture of the German countryside. The Nazis, who adopted the “blood and soil” idea, were proponents of a quasi-mystical connection between the land and ethnic identity. “Today, neo-Nazis still like to point out that Hitler’s environmental protection laws stayed on the books until the 1970s,” writes the journalist Toralf Staud in “Brown Environmentalists.” Even the Green Party had an extreme right-wing contingent at its founding in 1980.
Other organic farmers stress that this neo-Nazi contingent is “marginal,” but it’s stronger in the East, where about 16 percent of Germans have extreme right-wing views and like their milk hormone-free and, presumably, extra white. Are you feeling pure after reading about this? I am definitely not.