If there was any doubt that there are white nationalists among us, it vanished this summer, when the racist fringe of the far right manifested in Charlottesville. But even before that, as the movement known as the "alt-right" grew online and gained notoriety for its expressions of anti-Semitism and racism (as well as its vocal support of Donald Trump), journalists and academics have attempted to understand it. A few alt-right leaders have been repeatedly interviewed by major media outlets. The popularity of right-wing YouTubers has been dissected. Ordinary alt-right adherents have been surveyed. Reddit comments have been sifted through for meaning.
But not many realize that, strange as it sounds, numerous white nationalists are vegan and vegetarian. And it's not just an odd coincidence, but an outgrowth of one of the movement's bedrock beliefs: the concept of "blood and soil."
The slogan—blut und boden in the original German—was popularized by Walther Darré in 1930 (although the concepts behind the phrase can be traced back to the 19th-century Völkisch movement). Darré was the German minister of agriculture from 1933 to 1942 and a staunch advocate for agricultural reform in Nazi Germany. "Blood and soil" became a mythical reimaging of German identity, emphasizing the importance of racial heritage (blood) as tied to the land (soil). White nationalists in Charlottesville chanted this phrase not only to assert that the US is a place for white people, but that white people are racially and spiritually embedded in the soil of America.
By romanticizing white people's inherent connection to the land and nature, "blood and soil" also underscores notions of racial purity and nobility. Dietary commitments, then, become a means to prove one's racial superiority.
Adolf Hitler—whose vegetarianism is well-known in popular culture—certainly connected diet with race. In Hitler's Table Talk: 1941–1944, a collection of transcribed monologues delivered by the führer in conversation with his inner circle, he advocates for vegetarianism as a universally natural and healthy choice, using humans' vegetarian "ancestral instincts" and young children's "antipathy" to meat as evidence for his argument.
Savitri Devi developed these ideas further. Devi was a Greek national who became prominent in Ariosophisty, a set of occult traditions that mythologize European peoples as descended from the "original" Aryans. After World War II, she wrote books propagating Nazi esotericism and ethical vegetarianism. Using Hinduism as her prime example, she argued that "selfish" vegetarians abstain from meat for fear of retribution in the afterlife, whereas "unselfish" Aryan vegetarians demonstrate their superhuman qualities and racial superiority by caring for the welfare of "all" sentient creatures.
While this may seem contradictory—how can one support animal rights but deny the rights of other people?—there is a long history of animal welfare and environmentalism in white nationalist communities. The Nazi Party, for example, had a "green wing" that pushed for environmental reform, including organic farming and reforestation programs, and protections for certain species of plants and animals. Along with Hitler, Heinrich Himmler was a vegetarian who opposed vivisection and cruelty toward animals. Far-right organic farming movements emerged in postwar Australia, connecting notions of race, nation, land, and nature.
For this niche dietary group, then, the notion of "blood and soil" lends itself to an idealized vision of Aryan ethical veganism as part of white people's racial purity and heritage. Romanticized veganism can serve as an entry point to white nationalism, or reinforces other white nationalist beliefs.
These ideas persist in white nationalist circles today. Take Aryanism.net, for example. Among all the articles devoted to the history, philosophy, and politics of white nationalism, the site has a full page dedicated to veganism. Littered with quotes from Hitler, Hess, Devi, and Joseph Goebbels, the anonymous author(s) claim that veganism is "a hallmark of an authentic National Socialist," and "a sign of genuine empathy and a level of nobility beyond presently popular norms." It's not enough to be vegan, however. Like Devi, the webpage is adamant that Aryans should be vegan for ethical reasons, and not simply for health or vanity.
Rejecting mainstream associations between veganism and "pacifistic hippy caricatures," they propose that the true vegan archetype is the noble Aryan warrior. This, in turn, becomes a justification for "retaliatory violence." Only those who have renounced the "initiatory" violence of meat-eating can be trusted to retaliate appropriately against a world that they perceive as degraded. Aryans who initiate violence by eating animal products are no better than their non-Aryan counterparts, and are unfit to make the world a "better place." Lastly, Aryanism.net argues that white people have a genetic predisposition for veganism by reimagining a prehistoric past where Aryans were farmers who ate grains and vegetables, as opposed to the herding and meat-eating Jewish peoples.
The notion that veganism is somehow "natural" for white people has also been spread by the white nationalist and minor YouTube celebrity Jayme Louis Liardi. He began his YouTube career in 2012 with his channel Simply Vegan. Initially, his vlog-style videos were typical fare for this kind of channel—a list of must-read vegan books, reasons to stop eating animal products, and a series of videos on what he ate each day. But around 2014 to 2015, Liardi's tone changed. He began espousing a "warrior" code in relation to his veganism and critiquing the trappings of modern "degenerate" culture.
By early 2015, he rebranded his channel, talking about veganism as his search for personal truth, a truth informed by his European heritage: "That's my blood, that's my genetics." He eventually moved from Simply Vegan to an eponymous channel where he advocates an anti-globalist, racial separatist stance. He has since been interviewed on Red Ice Radio, and his vlog "My Awakening: Globalism vs. Nationalism" was shared on NationalVangaurd.com—both prominent white nationalist media platforms.
Aryanism.net and Jayme Louis Liardi may seem like exceptions to the norm. And while not all white nationalists are vegan or vegetarian, there are many instances of this dietary philosophy in white nationalist media. Balaclava Küche, for example, is a vegan cooking channel on YouTube presented by balaclava-clad national socialists from Hanover. Homefront, a white nationalist women's magazine that focuses on domestic issues and housekeeping, promotes vegetarian recipes for Aryan families.
White nationalist veganism can sound somewhat absurd, but it also shows how complex and deeply rooted this ideology is, and how it can appeal to a variety of different audiences. To combat these racist movements, we must understand them, including how they can incorporate beliefs we usually associate with liberal or leftist politics. The diversity of this movement should not be underestimated.
Alexis de Coning is a media studies doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she investigates reactionary social movements and food politics.