Throughout much of the world, once-discredited far-right ideologies have seen a recent upswell in support. Nowhere is this political shift more evident than in Brazil, whose far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has come into power despite his extreme rhetoric and connection to police militia groups connected to a variety of criminal offenses and terror attacks like the murder of leftist activist and politician Marielle Franco. In this blog post, we will be exploring the existence of active far-right political parties, extremist groups and the acts of terror they have committed, and the interaction between these groups and other far-right groups across the world.
There are five main active far-right parties in Brazil. These are: Partido Social Liberal (PSL) (Social Liberal Party), Patriota, Partido Social Cristão (Social Christian Party) and Partido Renovador Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazillian Labour Renewal Party). The flagship ideology of the Social Liberal Party (PSL) is their fervent support for law enforcement (Langevin and Ruge). This includes the encouragement of policies favoring the reduction of restrictions on gun use and open carrying. Its less vocalized economic and socially conservative principles include the support of privatization and decentralization and the implementation of policies regarding abortion and the teaching of gender identity in schools respectively (Partido Social Liberal). Similar to the PSL, the Social Christian Party mainly adopts a pro-free-market vision which advocates for liberalism. The Brazilian Labor Renewal Party (BLRP) is most known for its vehement homophobia and some supposed links with neo-Nazi and neofascist organizations. The party’s leader and presidential candidate, Levy Fidelix, in a debate during the 2014 Brazil general election mentioned that homosexuals “need psychological care” and were better kept “well away from [the rest of] us.” (Watts). The Patriota (PATRI) has an anti-communist stance which embraces economic liberalism, however, opposes foreign interference (Eboli). Moreover, it has a distinct Christian centered dogma which condemns racism based on the inclusion of Christians from various racial backgrounds in their group, however, opposes integration with non-Christians (mostly Muslims and atheists) (Tolotti).
I would like to hone in on a dynamic within the far-right which is particularly insidious, and that is its connection with the police. The police have always been a fertile recruiting ground for the far-right. The role that the police play in western capitalist states, particularly settler-colonial states, gives way to racial dynamics that are exploited by fascists everywhere. Additionally, the police are trained, have power within society, and due to recruiting tactics tend to be within a similar demographic makeup to most far-right organizers: middle class, racist, white, male. It is because of these factors, and more, that the police have been a bastion of far-right organizing for years. This is echoed particularly dangerously in Brazil. Brazil had a neo-fascist military dictatorship between 1964-1985. When the dictatorship fell, many military and police personnel remained, and they harbor with them immensely far-right views. In the case of current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, that includes a vocal support for the days of the junta. There are reactionary cops everywhere, it is part of the job, but in Brazil they have organized in most major cities into gangs which provide logistical support both legal and otherwise to far right politicians and criminals. These organizations engage in political activism, and also outright criminal activity. I would like to hone in on a particularly traumatic example of how dangerous these organizations are, and that is the murder of Rio city councilor and socialist activist Marielle Franco. Franco was an afro-Brazilian, queer, socialist activist and politician, who spoke out against the deployment of the Brazilian military on citizens, as well as the corrupt nature of the armed forces. Of course, she found herself the bugbear of Brazilian fascists. In March of 2018, Franco and her driver were murdered in broad daylight by gunfire. The ammunition was purchased by the Rio police, and soon two men were arrested for her murder. They were both “former” policemen, members of the military regime, with close personal connections to the Bolsonaro family. The wife and daughter of one of the murderers were on the Bolsonaro campaign payroll, one man was neighbors and reportedly close personal friends with the Bolsonaro family, and both men received commendations by Jair Bolsonaro’s son. These two men are allegedly connected to a far right crime syndicate within the armed forces in Rio, as appears to be the pattern. This organization appears to engage in everything from drug dealing to political assassinations. This dynamic, the police being the real engine of fascist organizing, is one we would do well to remember. There has been considerable reporting regarding American police and their affinity for right-wing activism, as well as the historical ties between fascist movements and the police in their countries.
In addition to the links between the far-right and police militias, there are far-right extremist groups in brazil that fit the more traditional model of extremist right-wing violence. However, there is a dearth of information available online about their operation. I would posit several reasons for this lack of information. First, the typical underground, uncentralized nature of these groups provides an obstacle towards linking these groups with the crimes they commit. Secondly, the language barrier limits the amount of reporting on these issues that is available in English. Third, the support of the PSL towards police militias makes the existence of these underground extremist groups redundant in a sense, as the areas which would otherwise provide the greatest support towards these groups are instead dominated by police gangs and radicalized individuals may find it easier to enact their violent ideology working through these gangs instead of skinhead or other racist groups. Nevertheless, there are still several far-right groups active in Brazil. Racist skinhead groups are most concentrated in the city of Sao Paulo, with an estimated over 1,000 active skinheads in the city. Carecas do Suburbio (Skinheads of the suburbs) is active in bars in the eastern part of the city and is noted for its ultra-nationalism and anti-gay ideology. Carecas do ABC, named for the three industrial suburbs it is active in, directs its violence towards LGBT people, Jewish people, and afro-brazillian immigrants from Brazil’s northeast. These two skinhead groups are connected to the integralist ideology, a version of fascism more closer to Italian fascism than Nazism, and thus less overtly white supremacist. There do exist, however, avowedly neo-nazi groups, including White Power, which advocates for the secession of the country’s more prosperous southeast as a Jewish-free state. Connected to this idea, in 2009 Brazil’s federal police thwarted an attempted attack by the group Neuland on two synagogues in Porto Alegre; the group’s name is a reference to their secessionist goals. The prior mentioned skinhead groups, among others, have been connected to a variety of attacks, including beatings and murders of members of minority groups but I have not been able to find a source compiling these individual incidents, and there are undoubtedly more attacks they have perpetrated but that have not been linked back to them. Skinheads in Brazil have been active in the punk music scene, forming bands with particular inspiration from Oi! Bands like Skrewdriver. These skinhead groups are now active on the internet; for example, Carecas do ABC uses facebook to advertise its events, including Oi!ktoberfest. Overall, these fascist and white supremacist groups are most prevalent in the southeast and are less of an issue nationally than far-right activity in connection with police militias.
The far-right in Brazil has had global ties dating back to before Bolsonaro’s election. Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Jair Bolsonaro, met with white supremacist hero Steve Bannon during Brazil’s 2018 election cycle and traveled to Italy and Hungary to meet with respective far-right leaders Salvini and Orban. President Bolsonaro’s regime has also been heavily influenced by Olavo de Carvahlo, a Brazillian currently living in Virginia who also has ties with Bannon and was behind the appointment of the fundamentalist Christian Ernesto Araujo as foreign minister (Garcia). As foreign minister, Araujo withdrew Brazil alongside the United States from the UN Migrations Accord, aligned with the conservative governments of the United States and Israel, and sent representatives to a meeting of climate change deniers in the United States (Garcia). President Bolsonaro himself has close ties with Donald Trump. In March, the two presidents met and promised to work together to oppose socialism, specifically in Venezuela (Crabtree). National Security advisor John Bolton called the meeting a “historic opportunity,” and Bolsonaro said that the two countries would “stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God our creator against the greater ideology or the politically correct attitudes and against fake news” (Phillips). These references to traditional family values and political correctness are some of the calling cards of the far-right, and the “fake news” quote takes a page right out of Trump’s playbook. As a result of this meeting, Trump designated Brazil a “non-NATO major ally,” giving them the ability to purchase U.S. equipment and technology, and giving the U.S. its first far-right ally in Latin America. Bolsonaro’s far-right regime has been bolstered by its relationships with powerful American conservatives like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.