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Opinion: Brazil: A dangerous cocktail of violence and lies

Philipp Lichterbeck
Philipp Lichterbeck
January 9, 2023

The poison spread by Bolosonarism that has seeped into the hearts and minds of ordinary Brazilians is having a worrying effect, says DW's Philipp Lichterbeck.

Police standing behind a sculpture
Will those responsible for the rampage on government institutions be brought to justice?Image: Joedson Alves/AA/picture alliance

Repairing the physical damage following the rampage of the Bolsonarist fanatics will likely cost millions, which will have to come from Brazil's taxpayers.

The harm done to Brazil's democracy and to the country's collective psyche, however, is far greater. A fanatical and violent minority went on a rampage in the capital, Brasilia, on camera. While the liberal media are now calling those responsible by name — "golpistas, criminosos, terroristas," ("coup plotters, criminals, terrorists") — others are still cozying up to Bolsonarism. It's all about ratings, clicks, likes and, of course, a lot of money.

The poison of Bolsonarism

DW correspondent Philipp Lichterbeck
Philipp Lichterbeck reports for DW from BrazilImage: Privat

The biggest mouthpiece of Bolsonarism, the radio broadcaster Jovem Pan, performed several astounding rhetorical pirouettes to somehow justify the acts of the criminals in Brasilia, referring to those that stormed government buildings as concerned citizens. There was talk of the "people" showing their will — conveniently ignoring that the people had already shown their will on October 30 with the election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as president.

Judge Sergio Moro, Jair Bolsonaro's accomplice who paved the way to power for the former president, trivialized the perpetrators, describing them as "invaders" who "must retreat." It was Moro who sentenced Lula to nine and-a-half-years in prison for bribery and money laundering in July 2017. Nearly four years later, however, Brazil's Supreme Court overturned the sentence on the grounds that Moro had been biased.

Fugitive blogger Allan dos Santos, currently in his self-imposed exile in the United States and wanted on an arrest warrant since October 2021 for spreading false information and engaging in anti-democratic activities, urged the lower ranks in the military and police apparatus to disobey orders. Which essentially amounts to calling for a coup. 

Santos is a good example of how a lot of money can be made by disseminating fanatical content. He is one of those who have spread the Bolsonarist poison of lies and half-truths, self-righteousness, pseudo-religious delusion, intolerance, ignorance, arrogance, violence and plain stupidity that has seeped into the minds and hearts of millions of Brazilians and numerous members of Brazil's security forces. It is an ominous development.

Bolsonaro supporters storm government buildings in Brasilia

Remove radical elements

Bolsonarism has given rise to an extreme right-wing grassroots movement in Brazil, whose members believe they are the saviors of the fatherland — without, of course, ever having asked their fellow Brazilians.

They claim to defend decency, truth and freedom against the communists — without really knowing what communism means. It seems all but impossible to bring these people back into the fold of reality. For four years they were fed misinformation and incited by Bolsonaro, his evangelical pastors, ultra-right channels like Jovem Pan, anti-democratic influencers like Allan dos Santos and others of a similar ilk. They believe they are providing legitimate resistance to an illegitimate government. In many cases, they speak quite openly of a "necessary civil war."

The storming of Brazil's center of power is therefore a warning signal. Extremely radicalized groups in Brazil are being financed and logistically supported by members of the business community. They are prepared to use terror and violence and enjoy a certain degree of understanding and support from within the security apparatus.

Attempts to teach these people something like civil, democratic practices again will likely prove futile. Therefore, they and their backers should be taken off the streets and punished — for the sake of the good and safety of the truly righteous citizens.

This piece was originally published in German.