Polarization turns to violence in Brazil

. Oct 15, 2018
political violence brazil Political violence is on the rise

“Hey, faggots, beware: Bolsonaro will kill all the poofs,” sang a horde of men on the São Paulo subway. The scene was filmed – and shared on social media – by Luis Othavio Nunes, a homosexual man, who warned: “LGBT people must realize the risk [Jair Bolsonaro] represents to us all.”

Since last year, we’ve warned that the 2018 elections had all the ingredients to be the nastiest campaign in Brazilian history. But we could not anticipate the levels of violence and hatred we have seen. Over the past few days, we saw a journalist stabbed and threatened with rape; several LGBT people being assaulted and/or threatened; a capoeira master being stabbed to death; a woman attacked by three men who carved a swastika on her abdomen, and several swastikas were tagged on the walls of a century-old church in Nova Friburgo, 140 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro.

political violence brazil neo nazi

Since September 30, at least 70 acts of political violence have been recorded in Brazil, according to a recent survey carried out by Agência Pública, an independent journalism organization, in partnership with the Open Knowledge Brazil. The overwhelming majority of these violent acts were committed in the name of Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate who is the heavy favorite to win the October 28 second-round vote for president.

When questioned about these incidents, Mr. Bolsonaro shrugged: “A dude wearing a t-shirt with me does something over the top – what does that have to do with me?”

So, what exactly does Mr. Bolsonaro have to do with it? Well, the former Army captain has built his entire political campaign on bigotry and violent statements. He has already said that gay people should have their homosexuality beaten out of them, that Workers’ Party supporters should be gunned down, and that police officers who kill 10, 15, 20 people should be given medals, not punishment. 

Polarization turns to violence in Brazil

Polarization turns to violence in Brazil

On September 6, Mr. Bolsonaro himself was the victim of the aggressive climate he helped fuel. He was stabbed in the stomach and suffered a life-threatening injury to his intestines – which forced him to undergo two surgeries (and will require a third). “There is a strained atmosphere, but those are isolated cases that we lament and hope they don’t occur,” continued Mr. Bolsonaro.

Political violence: not isolated cases

The survey on political violence across the country doesn’t allow us to consider these cases isolated. They show that violence is not only in the words of extremist militants, but have crossed the frontier into action. The report accounted for 14 cases in the South, 33 in the Southeast, 18 in the Northeast, and 3 each in the Center-West and North. But that number is certainly an underestimation, as the survey did not count cases of intimidation and threats made on social media – only in person. and Open Knowledge Brazil, in partnership with Agência Pública, are compiling those – and new – cases on the website Vítimas da intolerância (“Victims of intolerance”).

Pro-Bolsonaro attackers. Pro-Bolsonaro investigators

On October 7, journalist Guilherme Dadin, 26, was drinking in a bar with a friend at the end of election day, when a man drove his car at him. “It all went so fast, I felt the wheel as if it was pulling me. I just fell into the floor,” he remembers. By the circumstances of the event, he can only imagine one reason for the attack: he was wearing a red t-shirt with the face of jailed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stamped on it.

The drivers fled the scene without giving any assistance or saying anything. “It was a couple, according to my friends. He was wearing a Brazilian national football team jersey [which has become a symbol of right-wing activism].”

political violence brazil neo naziOn the following day, Mr. Daldin went to the Civil Police Department to register the crime, when he saw that the investigators were Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters. “That made me feel impotent, stripped of my rights. I was actually more frightened then than on the previous day. Now, who should we go to?”

Growing violence

According to the Analytics Department of Public Policy at the Fundação Getulio Vargas think tank, which monitors which political matters Brazilians are talking about, political violence has dominated online conversations. Between October 7 and 11, over 2.7 million tweets were about cases of politically-motivated aggression. Over the 30 previous days, the topic hadn’t reached 1.2 million tweets.

After it became clear that violence was worrying voters, Mr. Bolsonaro gave a new response to this wave of aggression. “To this kind of people, I ask them to spoil their ballots or vote against me.” Still, that approach against violence didn’t last for long. On Thursday, the frontrunner in the presidential race once again labeled the press as his “enemy.”

The toxicity in Brazil has become evident since March, when Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was murdered in what the police say was a politically-motivated assassination. In April, shots were fired at a campsite where Lula and some supporters where staying – no one was hurt.

Brazilian prosecutors have started an investigation on a game called Bolsomito 2k18, in which the hero, Jair Bolsonaro, must kill LGBT activists, Workers’ Party members, and feminists in order to pass through its many levels. The game’s description on Steam reads: “Defeat the communist evils in this politically incorrect game and be the hero that will free the nation from misery.”

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