German consumers are being warned that when they buy organic produce they may be supporting the far-right movement, following the revelation that rightwing extremists in Germany have embraced the ecological movement and are using it to tap into a new generation of supporters.
Debunking the popular view that equates eco-friendliness with cuddly, left-leaning greens, rightwing extremists have even begun to publish their own conservation magazine, which is believed to have the backing of the far-right National Democratic party (NPD). Alongside gardening tips and reports on the dangers of genetically modified milk are articles riddled with rightwing ideology and racial slurs. Bavaria's domestic intelligence agency has described the magazine, Umwelt und Aktiv (Environment and Active), as a "camouflage publication" for the NPD.
"We have to get used to the fact that the term 'bio' [organic] does not automatically mean equality and human dignity," said Gudrun Heinrich of the University of Rostock, who has just published a study on the topic called Brown Ecologists, a reference to the Nazi Brownshirts and their modern-day admirers.
Hotbeds of far-right eco-warriors are to be found throughout Germany. In the Mecklenburg region in the north, they have been quietly settling in communities since the 1990s in an effort to reinvigorate the traditions of the Artaman League – a farming movement whose roots lie in the 19th century romantic ideal of "blood and soil" ruralism, which was adopted by the Nazis. Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader, was a member. "They propagate a way of living which involves humane raising of plants and animals, is both nationalistic and authoritarian, and in which there's no place for pluralism and democracy," said Heinrich, adding that the NPD is closely linked to the settlers, helping the party become "deeply rooted in these rural areas".
The settlers produce "German honey", bake bread from homegrown wheat, produce fruit and vegetables for sale, and knit their own woollen sweaters. Observers have noted that the far-right farmers have been able to profit from the cheap and spacious swaths of land left by a population exodus from impoverished states in the former East Germany, such as Mecklenburg.
Political scientists argue that the NPD is trying to wrest the ecological movement back from the left, particularly the German Greens, who rose to prominence in the 1980s to become Europe's most successful ecological party.
Hans-Günter Laimer, a farmer in Lower Bavaria who once ran for election for the NPD and is linked to Umwelt und Aktiv, questions why the left has been allowed to dominate the organic scene for so long. "What is the difference between my cucumbers and those of someone from the Green party?" he said.
A representative of the Centre for Democratic Culture, in Roggentin in Mecklenburg, who did not wish to be identified for security reasons, recently told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper: "They want that people don't think about politics when they hear the word NPD. They want as far as possible to build subtle bridges into the lives of other citizens … ecological topics are becoming increasingly important for rightwing extremists."
At the same time as it was butchering millions of people, the Nazi party supported animal rights and nature conservation. But it is disturbing for many Germans to think that while they support local producers and reject genetically modified food, pesticides and intensive livestock farming, there is now little – superficially at least – to distinguish a supposedly well-meaning, leftist Green from a far-right eco enthusiast.
The department of rural enlightenment in the state of Rheinland Pfalz has even produced a brochure called Nature Conservation versus Rightwing Extremism, which aims to help organic farmers resist the infiltration of fascists into their ranks and to be able to respond to any far-righters they might encounter. Its author, historian Nils Franke, said: "Because of the success of the eco topic in the wider society, the NPD has a heightened interest in wanting to fly the flag with it."
Biopark, an organic cultivation organisation that vets its members before certifying them as organic farmers, said there was little it could do to exclude the rightwing extremist members it knew were in its ranks.
"I don't appreciate the ideology of these people and I can understand if people choose not to buy from us as a result, but I can't vet them according to their political affiliations, only based on their cultivation methods," said its manager, Delia Micklich.
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