PayPal blocks Olavo de Carvalho in latest blow for far-right ideologue

. Aug 07, 2020
olavo de carvalho paypal Olavo de Carvalho. Photo: YouTube/Olavo de Carvalho

The Virginia based ex-astrologist and self-defined philosopher Olavo de Carvalho is widely regarded as the ideological guru of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. However, his influence may be waning, as exemplified by a recent move by money transfer app PayPal to block Mr. Carvalho’s account.

PayPal decided to drop the far-right eccentric after a campaign led by Sleeping Giants Brazil, a social media pressure group that aims to persuade companies to remove advertisements from right-wing media outlets publishing misinformation online.

The campaign also demanded that Brazilian payments app PagSeguro close his account. At the time of writing, the company has yet to respond. In a typical move in response to his ban, Mr. Carvalho accused PayPal of being communists.</p> <p>PayPal’s decision to close his account is the latest setback for Mr. Carvalho and his allies. Brazil’s Supreme Court has been progressively cracking down on a &#8216;fake news network&#8217; involving supporters of President Bolsonaro and &#8216;disciples&#8217; of Mr. Carvalho. Last week, one of the most prominent pro-Bolsonaro online activists Allan dos Santos fled to Mexico, allegedly to avoid prosecution for spreading disinformation. Meanwhile, Mr. Carvalho has spent the last few weeks levelling homophobic abuse at the popular YouTuber and <a href="">vocal Bolsonaro critic</a>, Felipe Neto.</p> <h2>Who is Olavo de Carvalho?</h2> <p>Aged 73, Olavo de Carvalho has already lived several lives, from his years as a communist, to leading an Islam-inspired cult, to becoming possibly the most influential &#8216;intellectual&#8217; of Brazil’s new right-wing. Mr. Carvalho is the author of numerous books, including freely translated titles such as <em>The Collective Imbecile </em>and <em>The Minimum that You Need to Know to not be an Idiot</em>. Perhaps the best way of explaining Mr. Cavalho to a foreign audience would be to imagine an Alex Jones-like shock jock figure, with illusions of being an intellect akin to Noam Chomsky, with an unscrupulous penchant for profiteering off wild conspiracy theories and radical teachings.</p> <p>His philosophy is difficult to pin down, believing that Pepsi cola is flavored with aborted fetuses, that Britain&#8217;s Prince Charles is an undercover Islamist agent, and that Albert Einstein invented the theory of relativity to cover up the fact that the world does not revolve around the sun. His latest obsession, unsurprisingly, is denying the severity of Covid-19. According to Mr. Carvalho, there has not been a single proven death from the disease.&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, Olavo de Carvalho is an anti-modernist and anti-rationalist, who rejects the enlightenment and the scientific revolution as being positive steps for humanity, and who seeks to restore the values of that most &#8216;glorious&#8217; period in human history, the Middle Ages. Granted, these sorts of ideas are not new to Brazil, with many of the most extremist figures during Brazil’s military dictatorship sharing a similarly sex-obsessed paranoid anti-modernist and anti-rationalist vision. But it is Mr. Carvalho&#8217;s scatological polemical style, ridden with classical and medieval philosophical references, which makes him stand out from other voices on Brazil&#8217;s far-right.</p> <p>Indeed, Mr. Carvalho’s real genius was becoming aware of the potential of social media in disseminating and monetizing his teachings before any of his contemporaties. He was able to capitalize off swarms of mostly white Brazilian middle-class men looking for a worldview to justify their resentment of the left-wing, feminism, and affirmative action in public education. His online courses — which have had as many as 20,000 students — were offered to anyone to pay and Mr. Carvalho raked in the cash, while in his self-imposed exile in Virginia. Indeed, PayPal and other such payment apps are crucial to this scheme, as his means of receiving income.</p> <p>His relentless attacks on such right-wing bugbears as “Cultural Marxism,&#8221; the &#8220;gay agenda,” and feminism found a captive audience in Brazil. A large part of his audience consists of Brazilian middle-class types who went to private universities and harbor resentment towards elite public universities, which they view as having excluded them for ideological rather than academic reasons.</p> <p>For Mr. Cavalho’s followers, the establishment — under the governments of the <a href="">Brazilian Social Democratic Party</a> and the Workers’ Party — comprised politically correct, center-left types with technocratic leanings. In this milieu, Mr. Carvalho, who lacks formal qualifications in his field and fills his rants with an ample number of anally fixated profanities, suddenly became an anti-establishment figure of sorts for a certain type of Brazilian.</p> <p>His philosophy also gives intellectual cover to the standard right-wing agenda of dismantling public education, viewed as a breeding ground for orgy-crazed, drug-addled communists and teachings of “globalism.”</p> <h2>The President and his guru</h2> <p>Olavo de Carvalho&#8217;s ideas were first introduced to President Bolsonaro by his politician sons Carlos and Eduardo, assiduous fans of his work. In turn, many figures in the cabinet are now dedicated <em>Olavistas</em>, such as <a href="">Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo</a>, and it is rumored Mr. Carvalho was able to directly influence government appointments and firings. His influence was considered so great in the cabinet that Congressman Alexandre Frota once joked most of Brazil&#8217;s problems would be solved by &#8220;firing a missile aimed at Virginia.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the relationship between Brazil’s president and his guru has soured of late. Mr. Carvalho has accused the president of lacking the courage to &#8216;complete his mission&#8217; and keeping &#8216;communist saboteurs&#8217; such as Vice President and Army General Hamilton Mourão in his cabinet. He has frequently attacked Mr. Bolsonaro’s allies in the military for standing in the way of the president’s agenda, though he did suggest the president should use the military to shut down Brazil’s Supreme Court.</p> <p>The PayPal move is not just a hit to Mr. Carvalho&#8217;s credibility, it could be a serious problem for his own revenue. The ideologue could see his sources of income dry up, especially if other companies follow PayPal&#8217;s lead. What&#8217;s more, Mr. Carvalho owes some BRL 2.8 million in damages to Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso for defamation, among other legal fees. Given that President Bolsonaro&#8217;s attention is mostly focused on avoiding impeachment and protecting his family from criminal investigations, the influence of his ideological guru may dwindle further.

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Benjamin Fogel

Benjamin Fogel is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American History at New York University and a Contributing Editor to Jacobin Magazine.

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