In Brazil’s presidential contest, the campaign of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right Brazilian congressman who defends torture and the country’s former military dictatorship, is getting a boost from former Trump campaign CEO and White House adviser Steve Bannon, as well as Michele Bachmann, the former congresswoman from Minnesota.
Bolsonaro, who is allied with Brazil’s increasingly powerful conservative evangelicals in addition to the moneyed and military elite, is also anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ-equality, and anti-abortion. His platform pledges to combat “gender ideology” in schools.
In 2014, Brazilian-based American journalist Glenn Greenwald called Bolsonaro “the most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world,” noting that Bolsonaro had more than once had publicly told Congresswoman Maria do Rosário that she wasn’t even worth raping. Bolsonaro once said that he would rather his son die in a car accident than be gay.
Some of the cultural and political forces that helped propel Trump into power could do the same for Bolsonaro. Widespread disgust with crime and legislative corruption and ineptitude create favorable conditions for a law-and-order candidate. Bolsonaro has reportedly promised bonuses to police officers for killing criminals. He has praised Chile’s dictator Pinochet, who killed thousands, for doing “what had to be done.”
In addition, Brazil has been through a period of intense economic and political turmoil. In 2016, the heavily evangelical “Bullets, Beef and Bible” congressional caucus voted to oust President Dilma Rousseff, a move that is widely considered to be “more coup than impeachment—an ideologically driven attempt to impose a conservative evangelical agenda on Brazilian politics,” according to demographer Peter David Arnould Wood, writing in U.S. News and World Report. During the congressional vote to impeach Rousseff, Bolsonaro taunted her by dedicating his impeachment vote to the colonel who ran the unit where she was tortured during the military dictatorship.
This month, Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a Brazilian legislator, announced that Bannon would be an advisor to his father’s campaign. He said Bannon would offer suggestions on data analysis and use of the internet, but that the arrangement did not include anything “financial.” Earlier in the month, Eduardo had tweeted a picture of himself with Bannon and declared that they would “join forces” against “cultural Marxism.” Probably not coincidentally, the elder Bolsonaro announced recently that if he is elected he will pull Brazil out of the Paris climate agreement. Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America, and ninth in the world.
On another front, Bachmann and Mario Bramnick, president of the Latino Coalition for Israel, traveled to Brazil in early August to take part in a two-day celebration of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, seemingly part of an ongoing effort to strengthen political, economic, and military ties between the two countries. A flyer promoting Bachmann’s and Bramnick’s participation also included Jair Bolsonaro, but it appears that Eduardo represented the campaign; he tweeted about being with Bramnick and Bachmann.
Either during or just after the visit, Bachmann recorded a video message that was posted online urging Brazilian voters “to only vote for a candidate for the president of Brazil who will support moving the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.” Bachmann explains:
That’s in agreement with God’s word. God is very clear in the Bible that His throne is established in Jerusalem. For three thousand five hundred years, God has designated Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It’s a fact! And so we know from the Bible that those nations and those individuals who bless Israel will also be blessed themselves, and they’ll prosper. We want Brazil to be blessed. We want Brazil to prosper. Therefore, make sure when you vote, you only vote for a candidate who will move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem. It will be a blessing to you and a blessing to Brazil.
There’s little doubt which candidate Bachmann is talking about. Eduardo Bolsonaro posted an Instagram photo of himself handing a symbolic key to Brazil to a visiting Israeli parliamentarian during Bachmann’s visit. “Brazil and Israel are friendly nations and should support each other,” he wrote (translated), adding “No one is more wronged by the U.N. than Israel. That will change, starting by moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” The poster of the Bachmann video wrote that only two candidates meet the criteria, Jair Bolsonaro and Cabo Daciolo, a fringe ultraconservative candidate who Financial Times calls a “political minnow by comparison” with Bolsonaro.
U.S. Religious Right groups have made unwavering devotion to Israel, especially to Israel’s right wing, an article of faith. As RWW has noted, Religious Right leaders have staked out the theological position that it would violate God’s will for Israel to give back any land in the occupied territories to Palestinian control – so many oppose any peace deal that would include a two-state solution or the trading of land for peace. Bramnick’s group had also organized a trip to Guatemala in January during which Bachmann, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, and anti-gay activist Jim Garlow met with the country’s president and vice president “to commend Guatemala for recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, eternal capital of Israel, and discuss other vital issues such as his administration’s support for the sanctity of human life, and religious freedom.”
Other U.S.-based Religious Right groups operate in Brazil as part of the ongoing globalization of the “culture wars.” For example, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Religious Right legal giant with an expanding footprint in Latin America and globally, has supported the creation and growth of ANAJURE, the National Association of Evangelical Jurists, which advocates against LGBTQ equality and legal access to abortion. Uziel Santana, the group’s president, has described himself as a proud member of ADF, and ANAJURE partners with ADF to send law students to participate in ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship, which provides instruction in a “Christian worldview” approach to the law. (ADF once described the fellowship as seeking “to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.”) ADF’s Jeffrey Ventrella has repeatedly spoken at ANAJURE gatherings.
In 2014, Political Research Associates reported on the opening of a Brazilian outpost of the American Center for Law and Justice. In The Nation last year, Omar Encarnación noted that California-based Trinity Broadcast Network reaches 220 Brazilian cities, helping to popularize culture-war leaders and materials from the U.S.
And it’s not just the U.S. Religious Right. The Koch brothers’ networks have also funded the global libertarian Atlas Network, which has supported a constellation of think tanks in Brazil, and the pro-business Free Brazil Movement, which mobilized protests calling for Rousseff’s ouster.
Rousseff said in an interview last year that history has already “proven that the grounds for my impeachment were simply a false pretext to get me out of office,” noting that the parliamentary president who introduced the articles of impeachment against her is serving a nine-year prison sentence.
In Brazil, evangelicals have not been overwhelmingly associated with one political party as they have been in the U.S. Many supported Rousseff’s election, demanding and winning policy concessions during her administration. But right-wing evangelicals, allied with wealthy landowners and law-and-order types—the BBB caucus—ousted her when they had the chance.
Recent polling has shown that former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva leads Bolsonaro in the presidential race, but da Silva himself is currently in jail on a controversial corruption conviction and it seems likely that he will not be permitted to be on the ballot. The U.N. Human Rights Committee said this month that he should be able to run, but Brazil’s foreign ministry responded that the Council’s recommendation had no legal significance. If the electoral court keeps Lula off the ballot, it will give Bolsonaro a good shot at being the top vote-getter in the October 7 election.
The Society for Threatened Peoples, which represents indigenous communities in Brazil, has sounded an alarm that a victory for Bolsonero could bring “a frontal attack on their remaining fundamental rights.”
That sense of alarm was also sounded by the editors of The Economist, who described Bolsonaro of having “barged into the front ranks of candidates through a combination of outrageous provocation and mastery of social media.” Sound familiar? The Economist warns that Bolsonaro “proposes brutal solutions to his country’s problems” and “would make a disastrous president.”
His rhetoric shows that he does not have sufficient respect for many Brazilians, including gay and black people, to govern fairly. There is little evidence that he understands Brazil’s economic problems well enough to solve them. His genuflections to the dictatorship make him a threat to democracy in a country where faith in it has been shaken by the exposure of graft and the misery of the economic slump. …
There is no room for complacency. Other countries with Brazil’s mix of crime, elite failure and economic agony have elected radical leaders whom the pundits dismissed as no-hopers. It could happen again.