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Bolsonarism: Precursor of Far-Right Terrorism in Brazil?

Last Sunday, January 8, a far-right mob, stimulated by speeches and omissions of former president Jair Bolsonaro after his unacknowledged defeat, invaded and plundered the headquarters of the three branches of state power. After the attacks, the Federal Police found in the house of Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Justice, Anderson Torres, the draft of a decree to establish a “State of Defense” at the headquarters of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) and change the outcome of the 2022 elections. This would be an unconstitutional intervention to take over the TSE and would be a coup d’état, which would aim to invalidate the legitimate victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The desire for democratic rupture has been growing for years in Brazil. In fact, we are experiencing a clear escalation of fascism, which is no longer ashamed to show itself as it is, nor does it try to camouflage itself in conservatism, as it did a decade ago. This systematic escalation of political violence has brought us this far.

Since many of the people who participated in the attacks were frustrated by the fact that they could not count on the military to carry out a coup d’état, they really believed that they had seized power. But it seems the strings that pulled these apparently spontaneous acts were intended to generate chaos so that President Lula would order a military intervention, which would empower the military to finally stage the coup. However, the plan did not work, as Lula only ordered a federal intervention, which does not empower the military.

Despite this, we have witnessed a phenomenon of collective delirium and profound alienation, such as the far right in several countries, which feeds on conspiracy theories such as those of the QAnon group. However, this leads to a total distrust of international institutions and organizations, parties, press, and state bodies. 

Brazilian fascism finally came to light. And that fascism is politically articulated with far-right extremist groups in the Americas and Europe, as is the case of Vox, in Spain; Trumpism and QAnon, in the United States, and sectors of the Venezuelan and Cuban diaspora, especially in Miami.

The methods used by these groups to attract followers have to do with radicalization and, at the same time, the alienation of individuals. First, people are attracted through fake news, selective indignation, easy solutions to complex problems, and superficial readings of reality. Then it is sought that they change their idea of what is the logic of the obvious and consolidated, for which conspiracy theories are appealed. In such theories, only the “initiated” in the “great mysteries”, are capable to identify.

In this way, people acquire a sense of belonging and particularity that makes them feel misunderstood by the rest of society, just them, the great knowers of the “truth”. This deepens their intolerance to institutionalized knowledge and to divergent opinions of their new reality, as it reminds them of feelings from the past. Finally, they isolate themselves (and are isolated) from family and friends, which deepens adherence to extremism.

The level of alienation of many extremists during the attacks in Brasília was such, that many were convinced that they had succeeded in staging a coup d’état. Thus, they exposed themselves on social networks and produced most of the evidence against them for the crimes committed.

In fact, after the imprisonment of hundreds of invaders in Brasília, many people, not understanding what was really going on and the seriousness of the events demanded internet access at the police station to continue posting content on social networks.

The coup camps supporting Bolsonaro and military intervention in Brazil lasted several months. The extremists coexisted and established new personal links there. As the days passed, many lost their jobs, and their partners moved away from their families and friends and became even more radicalized.

After the disillusionment with Bolsonaro himself and the Armed Forces, which, according to them, did not have the courage to “save Brazil”, and stimulated by leaders in the shadows, the extremists attempted their own (clumsy) coup, with the certainty of representing the majority of Brazilians, which became a sort of initiation ceremony. After frustration and a feeling of oppression by a corrupt system, many of these people must have strengthened group bonds.

The problem is that, after having crossed the red line and having attempted a coup in person, many might feel that there are no more barriers. In fact, this feeling is a perfect breeding ground for the birth of possible far-right terrorist groups, which could be well-armed and supported by certain factions of the police, the Armed Forces, and an international political network.

In other words, the coup attacks in Brasília may have been the initiation rite of a possible nascent far-right terrorist group in Brazil. Therefore, the Brazilian justice system must be alert and identify the groups that must be dismantled immediately to avoid their complicity with an already consolidated pseudo-political party that is very competitive electorally and with the capacity to bring out fascistic values and practices in society through its huge propaganda machine. Fascism in Brazil is a force that is here to stay, that already goes beyond Bolsonaro and that will probably do without him, even electorally. Defeating this cultural fascism will be a long-term work, which will transcend the current Lula-Alckmin government and should not be affected by the disputes between the left and the moderate right.

*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


PT Investigador en opinión pública, encuadramiento discursivo en los medios y ciencias sociales computacionales. Miembro del Grupo de Investigación sobre Comunicación, Internet y Política en la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Río de Janeiro (PUC-Rio).


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