Bolsonaro's Far-Right Legacy: Rise of Neonazi Groups in Brazil
Brazil may have a left-wing president in Lula da Silva since January, but the legacy of his far-right predecessor Bolsonaro lingers on. The country has witnessed a significant increase in the number of neonazi groups.
In early June, the federal police launched an operation against a neonazi group in Sao Paulo and Petrolina, located in the state of Pernambuco. These individuals were accused of spreading hate messages through social media, sharing violent videos, providing instructions for explosives, and even promoting murder.
The neonazis are suspected of inciting a teenager who carried out a school shooting in November last year, resulting in the death of four people and injuring 13. Investigators reportedly found evidence related to the group on the perpetrator's smartphone.
The Internet: A breeding ground for radicalization
"The deep web, messaging platforms, and social media have become alarming breeding grounds for radicalization," confirms Guilherme Franco de Andrade, an expert on neonazism at the State University of Mato Grosso do Sul.
While online radicalization is a global phenomenon, Brazilians' high internet usage makes the country particularly susceptible to this issue, calling for greater vigilance.
A surge in violent incidents
According to a study from last year, the number of neonazi cells in Brazil has seen a significant rise: from 75 in 2015 to an estimated 530 by the end of 2021. This could mean there are approximately 10,000 neonazis in the country.
The study, conducted by the late anthropologist Adriana Dias, one of the leading experts in the field, reveals that these right-wing extremist cells fuel hatred against vulnerable groups, including women, Black people, and Indigenous communities.
The increase in neonazi cells coincided with the tenure of former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose association with neonazis was established by Dias.
"Bolsonaro's tirades legitimized hate speech and made right-wing ideologies socially acceptable," concluded the late anthropologist, who dedicated 20 years of research to the subject of hate speech and far-right extremism.
According to historian Guilherme Franco de Andrade, there has been a growing trend of right-wing conservatism among sections of the population since 2000. This was a response to the election of Brazil's first left-wing president, Lula da Silva, in 2003. Right-wing forces intensified the fear of communism, which they believed needed to be defeated.
A deep divide
Brazil is deeply divided, not only politically but also economically. The country has experienced a decline in prosperity in recent years, coupled with widening inequality.
The pandemic has further exacerbated inflation and the fear of social decline. Corruption scandals have fueled massive doubts about the political class and the state of democracy in Brazil.
Bolsonaro as an Accelerant for Extremism
Neonazis did not emerge in Brazil solely because of Jair Bolsonaro, but he has further fueled the atmosphere. In his speeches, he undermined trust in democratic institutions, the judiciary, the electoral system, and political competitors. He incited hatred against minorities and created fertile ground for right-wing extremist ideology overall," says Franco de Andrade.
Under Bolsonaro, the past parliamentary election saw an unprecedented influx of ultraright conservative politicians. Their policies consistently target the rights of minorities. This also highlights the political polarization within the country of its 215 million inhabitants.
Concerns and Hopes
Franco de Andrade finds the development alarming, particularly due to the spread of extremist ideas through the internet.
However, he emphasizes that supporting Bolsonaro does not automatically make someone a right-wing extremist. Furthermore, the number of extremists, relative to the population, is still far from sufficient to bring about a fundamental political shift.