This is a guest post by ClimateDenierRoundup.
On Wednesday, the Daily Caller published an opinion piece by Heartland Institute policy analyst Timothy Benson that we can only assume is satire. Benson argues in the piece that when it comes to addressing the existential threat of climate change, “if we can’t persuade” the current-top-emitters of China, Russia and India to cut their emissions, then the U.S. “will have to invade and occupy these countries” and force the emission reductions.
The only way to do this, per Benson, would be by “reinstitution of the draft.” This shouldn’t be a problem, he explains, because progressive “children should be filled with patriotic zeal and fervor” and be excited to “be the first kid on their block to get a confirmed kill in the name of saving the planet.” Benson concludes by admitting that “perhaps millions of American youth will die ridding the world of the climate menace, but what a noble sacrifice.”
It’s obvious that Benson simply intended his piece to mock calls for the WWII-style mobilization to fight climate change. He isn’t the first, because no one is seriously going to propose sacrificing millions of American children and, by extension, millions of Russian, Chinese and Indian citizens. After all, the whole point of fighting climate change is to prevent death and destruction, not to merely cut emissions at any cost.
But a glance at Benson’s Twitter account reveals similarly problematic, joking-not-joking comments that also deserve attention. For example, in the context of hostilities between India and Pakistan, he tweeted “a reminder that the British ruled the Subcontinent, Muslim and Hindu, relatively peacefully for over 100 years with only 25,000 men.”
Just a reminder that the British ruled the Subcontinent, Muslim and Hindu, relatively peacefully for over 100 years with only 25,000 men.— Tim Benson (@BenceAthwart) February 27, 2019
Given that British rule included a massacre of approximately a thousand innocent civilians and a famine that killed millions more, describing Britain's rule as “relatively [peaceful]” is quite a stretch. And of course, the fact that controlling the region took “only 25,000 men” speaks pretty plainly to the brutality required to keep power.
No doubt, though, that if pressed on this and other risible tweets (“you can take Thriller out of my cold, dead hands”), Benson will fall back on the old reliable defense that “it’s just a joke!”
Comments like these are certainly jokes, but that doesn’t make them harmless. Jokes that derive humor from the slaughter of mainly non-white populations at the hands of white colonialists, be they British forces or American children drafted into service, aren’t just jokes–they’re a key tactic for spreading white nationalism and anti-Semitism. The use of “ironic” racism was an informal strategy during the first rise of Nazism, and it has since become a formal part of the neo-Nazi approach to messaging.
We know this because it is literally written in the style guide for the anti-Semitic neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, as HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg revealed in 2017.
The guide’s section on tone notes that “the unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.” The use of racial slurs, of which there is an approved list, “should come across as half-joking” so that “the reader is at first drawn in by curiosity or the naughty humor, and is slowly awakened to reality by repeatedly reading the same points.”
While we doubt anyone is going to use Benson’s naughty humor as an excuse for real-world violence in the name of climate change, the link between online jokes and real world violence is hardly obscure. On the same day Benson’s piece ran, the Daily Beast reported on how the man who burned down three black churches in Louisiana also made “white power” jokes on a neo-Nazi-adjacent Facebook page. Similarly, the manifesto for the New Zealander who murdered 50 people in two Mosques was filled with satire, memes, and irony-rich “jokes.”
So while we usually try and end these roundups with something light-hearted and funny, in honor of Benson’s “jokes,” today we’re going to instead provide some links: to how fighting climate change needs to include facing up to an imperial history, to how plastic pollution intersects with colonialism, to how Bill “Gates’s favourite infographic takes the violence of colonisation and repackages it as a happy story of progress” and, perhaps most importantly, to how climate solutions like “the Green New Deal can avoid climate colonialism.”