Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated on New Year’s Day, and didn’t waste much time issuing executive orders and taking other actions going after the people he had targeted in his campaign rhetoric: the LGBTQ community; indigenous people; descendants of former slaves; civil servants deemed not on board with Bolsonaro’s ideological agenda; nonprofit organizations; and the media.
“Today is the day that the people begin to free themselves from socialism, free themselves from inverted values, big government and the politically correct,” said Bolsonaro in an inaugural speech. In another address, he promised to “unite the people, value the family, respect religion and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combat the ideology of gender and preserve our values.”
The Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, reported that at “the most dangerous point of his speech before the Congress,” Bolsonaro, who was stabbed by a deranged individual while campaigning, “collectivized the criminal attack on his life by saying that ‘when the enemies of the homeland, of order and freedom attempted’ to kill him, ‘millions of people went to the streets.’”
A newly created Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights will be led by evangelical pastor Damares Alves, who opposes abortion rights and sex education—and who declared that Bolsonaro’s inauguration “opens a new day in Brazil” in which boys wear blue and girls wear pink. (Bolsonaro once said that he would rather his son be killed in a car accident than be gay.)
The U.S. Religious Right has demonstrated that it is willing and eager to support anti-democratic and authoritarian leaders who promote their “traditional values” ideology, and Bolsonaro is no different.
Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan—”Brazil before everything, and God above all”—and his campaign rhetoric attacking “gender ideology” and smearing his opponent for supporting an LGTQ-supportive environment in schools endeared him to the U.S. Religious Right.
As we noted last summer, Bolsonaro got a campaign boost from former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Trump-promoting Hispanic Pentecostal leader Mario Bramnick, as well as advice from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. During the campaign, Bolsonaro was praised by a Heritage Foundation fellow in a piece on the foundation’s news website, The Daily Signal, as well as in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal.
In December, a group of U.S. Religious Right figures led by Bramnick, who heads the Latino Coalition for Israel, and including anti-LGBTQ activist Jim Garlow and Texas-based “prophet” Ramiro Peña, met and prayed with president-elect Bolsonaro. Peña gave him a prayer shawl he brought from Israel. Garlow and his wife declared that U.S. evangelical Christians were “honored” to stand in solidarity with Bolsonaro’s government. The delegation also met with Alves, the pastor named to lead the human rights commission—one that Bolsonaro has decreed will not address the rights of LGBTQ people.
Bolsonaro has been called the “Trump of the Tropics” for emulating the U.S. president’s brash style. President Trump tweeted his congratulations, adding that Bolsonaro had made “a great inauguration speech” and saying “the USA is with you!” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed the U.S. delegation and gave Bolsonaro a hug. Pompeo said at a press conference in Brazil, “We believe that the opportunity between President Trump and President Bolsonaro, and our two teams, is a truly transformative opportunity for our two nations, our two peoples.”
Also cheering Bolsonaro at his inauguration were Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Hungary’s anti-democratic strongman Viktor Orban, a favorite of the U.S. Religious Right for his defense of “Christian civilization.” Orban has also targeted nonprofits and other checks and balances on his power.
Bolsonaro thanked Trump for his “words of encouragement” and tweeted, “Together, under God’s protection, we shall bring prosperity and progress to our people.” While Bolsonaro is Catholic, he successfully worked to win support from the country’s increasingly powerful evangelicals, getting baptized in the Jordan River during a trip to Israel and promising to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After the election, a photo of Bolsonaro’s two sons, who share their father’s hard-line views, wearing T-shirts with the logos of Israel’s intelligence and military services went viral. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel’s ambassador to Brazil said that when Bolsonaro visits Israel in March he will “be given the honors of king.”
Bolsonaro’s fans in the U.S. Religious Right are thrilled. Last week Christians United for Israel tweeted a photograph of Netanyahu and Bolsonaro while praising Bolsonaro’s stance on Jerusalem. American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer tweeted a news story about Bolsonaro firing hundreds of civil servants, saying, “Here’s what Trump should have done: Brazil’s Bolsonaro cleans out the deep state, empties the Swamp first week in office. Mr. Trump: just fire people already.”
Brian Brown, who heads the International Organization for the Family, cheered, “The world is changing and we’re helping change it,” claiming that “special interest agendas like the LGBT agenda are being rejected.” From a celebratory email Brown sent IOF supporters last week:
President Bolsonaro used his inaugural address to echo his commitment to fulfilling his campaign promises: “Let’s unite the people, value families, respect Judeo-Christian traditions, fight gender ideologies (and preserve) our values,” he said to a cheering crowd. Bolsonaro acted immediately to begin implementing his agenda upon being sworn into office this week, stripping the nation’s human rights ministry of authority to consider LGBT-specific issues as “human rights.”
… It was very gratifying that Secretary Pompeo, a pro-family champion, represented the United States at President Bolsonaro’s swearing in this week. It was a powerful illustration of how the world’s political winds are shifting in our favor, and in favor of pro-family leaders and policies.
Bolsonaro campaigned like Donald Trump on steroids, mimicking Trump’s attacks on “political correctness” and “fake news” but with an even harder edge: Instead of “lock her up” chants, he pledged a “cleansing” that would see his opponents in jail. He openly supported killings by police and torture carried out by the notorious military regime that governed the country from 1964 to 1985, and has appointed numerous military men to high positions in his government. He warned that minorities would have to “bow to the majority…or disappear.” He vowed to “put an end to activism” in Brazil.
Bolsonaro has his own conspiracy-theorist advisors, like Olavo de Carvalho, who produces YouTube videos and takes some credit for giving birth to Brazil’s rising Right. He considers Trump a genius on the level of Napoleon. Carvalho ally Ernesto Araújo is the new foreign affairs minister. A column in Nueva Sociedad reports that Araújo “has a blog whose slogan is ‘against globalism’ and proposes a Christian alliance with Russia and the United States against the ‘Marxist world conspiracy,’ which includes China, the European Union and the United Nations (UN).”
While campaigning, Bolsonaro dismissed climate change and threatened to withdraw Brazil from the Paris accords; in office he moved swiftly on his pledge to strip land protections from Amazonian indigenous groups, putting the agricultural ministry in control of land policy, a victory for the powerful agribusiness lobby and what the group Survival International called “virtually a declaration of open warfare against Brazil’s tribal peoples.” That’s not surprising coming from someone who once declared, “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.”
Bolsonaro has attracted support from other elements of Trump’s base, like pro-business libertarians and privatization advocates—Bolsonaro’s “Chicago boys” are eager to privatize state industries and shrink the government. At Breitbart last week, James Pinkerton celebrated Bolsonaro’s ascendance, saying that he, like Trump, is an economic nationalist who is “challenging the entrenched forces of orthodoxy, including Green orthodoxy, at home and abroad.”