Former Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, was ousted by voters in late October and replaced by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula). Returns from the election showed Lula beating Bolsonaro with 50.9% of the vote to 49.1%. However, Bolsonaro supporters have been arguing that the election was stolen. Despite the similarities with what happened just after Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020, there’s a more profound plot happening in Brazil.
Bolsonaro fled Brazil the night before Lula’s inauguration and has been in Florida. Many suspect his flight was meant to avoid potential criminal charges against him as he is no longer immune to prosecution under Brazilian law. It is widely believed Bolsonaro orchestrated the attack on government buildings that occurred in Brazil on January 8th from his Florida hideaway.
Funders of the so-called “protests” are some of the wealthiest people in Brazil who support the former president. Business organizations and large landowners financed the travel of thousands of Brazilians to the capital of Brasilia. Alex de Moraes, president of the Superior Electoral Court and a justice of the Supreme Federal Court, has ordered Federal Police to investigate hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters and dozens of business leaders due to the attack.
De Moraes has also ordered the military crackdown on pro-Bolsonaro camps across the country.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro was known for fostering suspicion and distrust in political institutions. But his extremist ideas existed long before Trump came down the escalator to announce his run for president by demonizing Mexicans. The governing bodies targeted by insurrectionists – the Supreme Court and the Brazilian Congress – were both under constant attack from the former Brazilian president who regularly advocated for their closure.
Bolsonaro took office in 2019 after serving 27 years in congress as a well-known national conservative. A self-described homophobe, he opposed same-sex marriage saying in 2011 that the next step after legalizing gay marriage would “be the adoption of children [by homosexual couples] and the legalization of pedophilia“. He also stood in opposition to abortion, affirmative action, cannabis legalization, secularism, and democracy.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, installed many army officers in key positions – including his cabinet – to presumably maintain the support of the country’s military. This helped bolster calls for military intervention to overturn what his supporters’ claim is a fraudulent election despite a lack of evidence. The military’s support for Bolsonaro is evident through images and videos on social media that show military police mingling with and supporting insurrectionists.
The US Connection
Anytime coups happen in Latin America, there are typically fingerprints from the United States all over the place. This is not much different. While we have yet to find any evidence of direct involvement from the current administration, there are many voices implicated from the previous one that shared many of the same values and beliefs and spread similar lies as Bolsonaro did.
Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist for former president Donald Trump and the former editor of Breitbart – which he declared was “the platform for the alt-right” – had been declaring weeks before the election was held in October that the Brazilian election was stolen. Before his stint with Breitbart and the White House, he was an investment banker. A career that gave him access to some of the wealthiest people in the world who also fund hate groups and extremists.
Needless to say, Bannon’s influence on the growing white nationalist movement around the world is immense. When he declared that “the whole thing smells” after the first round of elections that led to a runoff between Bolsonaro and Lula, Brazilians took notice as did the former president of Brazil who continued to echo similar doubts without evidence.
Bannon used his podcast to broadcast over many episodes alongside social media posts to drum up allegations of a “stolen election” by the same “shadowy forces” that supposedly rigged the election for Joe Biden. He promoted the “#BrazilianSpring” hashtag nurturing Bolsonaristas to oppose the election results well after Bolsonaro himself accepted the loss and before he fled to Florida.
Even after footage of the attack in Brazil began showing up on social media, Bannon continued to argue on the social media platform “Getter” that Lula stole the election and that “Brazilians know this.” His influence prompted other extremists involved in the January 6th attack on the Capitol in Washington DC, such as Ali Alexander, to help promote violence and an overthrow of the Brazilian government.
Even deeper are meetings involving Trump. Meetings between Trump and Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, who was in DC during the Capitol attack, are not uncommon. There exists a relationship between Trump and Bolsonaro that’s largely based on similar anti-Democratic and fascistic ideals. Attacks on the media, legislative bodies, the Supreme Court, and detractors occurred in both countries using similar tactics.
In the end, it’s disingenuous and overly simplistic to say one learned from the other when it’s become clear that they all plotted together.
Insurrections Around the World
Brazil is a young democracy. Up until 1985, the country was a military dictatorship. Yet, the attack on its political institutions isn’t an anomaly. Attempted coups by far-right figures against democratic governments have been happening all over Europe and Latin America in addition to far-right actors seeking political office pushing extremist and fascist ideologies.
In December, 25 members of Patriotic Union, a far-right extremist group in Germany, were arrested for planning a coup in the country. Patriotic Union is part of a larger extremist movement called Reichsbürger. Their plan, like January 6th, was to storm the Reichstag parliament building, occupy it, and seize power. Many of their members subscribe to the QAnon movement and believed the country was controlled by a “deep state”; a secret cabal.
Meanwhile, in Italy, far-right actors were successful in taking control of the government. Italy’s new premier, Georgia Meloni, has been linked to fascist movements. In 2012, Meloni launched Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) as a descendant of the fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) that was founded in 1946 and no longer exists. Meloni, however, made sure to incorporate the tri-flame logo from MSI along with the same rhetoric once used by Mussolini sympathizers.
In Peru, we recently saw a US-backed coup that put extremists in power. Peru’s story, much like that of Brazil’s requires its own analysis as the situation is just as complex. But the battle between so-called “leftists,” moderates, and far-right actors has been ongoing for decades. Oftentimes leading to members of the opposition being criminalized and imprisoned.
In just the last decade, we’ve seen far-right attacks on democratic institutions all over the Western hemisphere. Many of which were supported by US corporate interests in one way or another. The coup in Bolivia in 2019 was celebrated by Elon Musk as the country boasts one of the largest lithium reserves in the world. We’ve seen Hillary Clinton get involved in elections in Haiti among other countries that still suffer from US-backed interventionism.
What happened in Brazil may not be unique to the US or Europe but it signals a more worrying trend that places far-right extremists and oftentimes, fascists, in power. While we discuss a slow-moving coup and fascism creep here in the United States, we must be aware that the players behind what happens in the US are also involved in what’s happening in many other countries. The mission: societies based on white-male dominance.
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