U.S. Right Helps, Cheers Rise of Brazilian Authoritarian

Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro (Image from Bolsonaro's Twitter feed)

The rising political tide of right-wing nationalist movements appears poised to crest next in Brazil, where a torture-supporting apologist for military dictatorships and police killings appears to be headed for a victory in this Sunday’s presidential election. The U.S. right-wing is cheering his rise.

Legislator Jair Bolsonaro is riding a wave of public anger over crime and corruption, with a lot of help from the military, big agricultural interests, and conservative evangelicals—the “Bullets, Beef and Bibles” caucus. A Bolsonaro victory could signal “a major step toward authoritarianism,” writes Michael Albertus at Foreign Policy.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro gave a “fiery and confrontational speech” to supporters in which he reportedly  pledged to jail his opponent and said, “These red criminals will be banished from our homeland.” Said Bolsonaro, “It will be a cleansing never seen in the history of Brazil”—a frightening promise given the brutality of the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985.

Bolsonaro excels at hateful rhetoric. He once said that he would rather his son die in a car accident than be gay. He has called Afro-Brazilians lazy and fat. He told a female legislator that she wasn’t even worth raping. He publicly dedicated his congressional vote to impeach former President Dilma Rousseff to the head of a torture unit under which she was tortured during the military dictatorship. He has praised Chile’s dictator Pinochet, who killed thousands, for doing “what had to be done.”

We reported in August that Bolsonaro was getting a boost from former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. And we noted that U.S. Religious Right groups have been operating in Brazil as part of the globalization of the “culture wars,” even as the Koch brothers’ donor networks fueled pro-business libertarian groups in the country. Private companies have reportedly flouted Brazilian election law by spending millions to promote Bolsonaro’s candidacy.

At the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal this week, Henrique Carniero and Ana Quintana called Bolsonaro a “center-right” candidate. Carniero and Quintana wrote that what makes Bolsanoro controversial is his “anti-establishment views” and “a personality that has been likened to that of President Trump.”

Bolsonaro has been praised by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board as a “Brazilian Swamp Drainer”—the editorial writers seemingly chuckled over the “anxiety attack” that Bolsonaro is giving “global progressives.” An AFP news photo from a Bolsonaro rally last weekend shows a sign reading “GOD BLESS BOLSONARO AND TRUMP! MAKE US FREE FROM COMMUNISM AND ITS SLAVERY!” Taking a cue from Trump, Balsonaro described news reports about his connection to Bannon as “typical fake news”—even though it was his own son who had met with Bannon in New York and reported on his support for the campaign.

Bolsonaro was also endorsed this month by former KKK leader David Duke, who said, “He is a total European descendant. He looks like any white man in the U.S., in Portugal, Spain or Germany and France, and he is talking about the demographic disaster that exists in Brazil and the enormous crime that exists there, in the black neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro.” Bolsonaro rejected the endorsement.

Writing in Haaretz on Thursday, Alexander Reid Ross called Bolsonaro’s likely victory “a sign of a growing geopolitical union of far-right forces forming the backlash against liberalism and the left, and the rehabilitation and glamorizing of military power and authoritarianism.” Ross highlighted support for Bolsonaro among Brazil’s increasingly powerful evangelical movement:

Brazil’s Bolsonaro, who is Catholic but attends Baptist services, has made a populist effort to span denominations, and receives broad support from Brazil’s growing, urban evangelical movement, including boosters associated with the World Congress of Families.

Bolsonaro was baptized in the Jordan River into the Assemblies of God, which has been pouring money into far-right politics in Brazil and around the world. The Assemblies of God are deep drivers of the U.S. Evangelical movement, including some of the most important partners of the World Congress of Families.

Bolsonaro’s richest Evangelical supporters, like the Assembly of God’s head and Pentecostal televangelist Silas Malafaia, have partnered up with WCF allies at the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice, and at the Brazilian Center for Law and Justice, which promotes – as does WCF – a transnational movement against LGBT rights.

Meanwhile, at BarbWire, blogger Julio Severo complained last week about a Foreign Policy commentary that said Bolsonaro’s “propaganda campaign has taken a page straight from the Nazi playbook.” Author Federico Finchelstein noted, “Recently, Bolsonaro argued that he would never accept defeat in the election and suggested that the army might agree with his view,” adding, “This is a clear threat to democracy.” BarbWire’s Severo, whose post repeatedly referred to Finchelstein being Jewish, asked how Bolsonaro could be a Nazi given that he supports moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Coincidentally, Bachmann’s video message to Brazilian Christians was to vote only for a candidate who would move the embassy.