The murder of a Workers Party activist by a Bolsonaro supporter has shocked Brazil, but it is not without precedent, and reflects the use of incitement by the Bolsonaros and their allies as a political tool.
By Nathalia Urban
Coup threats, radicalization, dog-whistling and political violence have become commonplace in the Brazil since the rise of Bolsonarismo. But with the elections approaching this has escalated to new and dangerous levels.
Bolsonaro threatening cancellation or interference in the elections has already become the norm. Now, not a day goes by without the candidate launching attacks against the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), invoking the support of the military as the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, disagreeing with the forecasts projected by electoral polls, also targets of his ire.
However, in an attempt to maintain power at all costs, Bolsonaro is using a dangerous strategy to radicalize his supporters. On Thursday (07/07), during one of his weekly broadcasts on social media, he said: “I don’t need to say what I’m thinking, what you’re thinking. You know what’s at stake, and you know how to prepare, not for a new Capitol, nobody wants to invade anything, but we know what we have to do before the elections.”
Bolsonaro’s statement came one day after the president of the TSE, Minister Edson Fachin, stated that Brazil could face an even more serious situation than the invasion of the Capitol, recorded on January 6, 2021, in the United States. His son, Rio de Janeiro city councillor Carlos Bolsonaro made another provocation through social media after his father’s, when he posted a photo in front of the Capitol, saying: “Trying to assassinate the President of the Republic, a party being financed by organized crime, annulling parliament with money stolen from Petrobras, none of this threatens democracy, but they will certainly say that these pixels that make up this photograph are a great threat.”
We know that the Bolsonaros were involved in the Capitol episode. Eduardo Bolsonaro, congressman and Jair’s “geopolitical” son was mentioned by Seth Abramson of the Proof website as the only foreigner to participate in a meeting of Trump’s so-called “war council” at the then US president’s private residence, at Trump International Hotel. The episode, which ended with 90 people arrested, dozens injured and five deaths, sought to prevent recognition of Joe Biden’s election to the presidency.
Several allies of the former US president, including Eduardo, were seen at the hotel that day. One of those allies is Michael Lindell, a Republican businessman who played down the invasion of pro-Trump protesters into Congress and campaigned for Trump alleging election fraud.
Eduardo Bolsonaro even published a photo with Lindell when the invasion of Congress was in motion. In addition, the businessman himself stated on the morning of the attack that he was with “the son of the president of Brazil” the night before.
Many considered the Bolsonaro’s rhetoric over the last week or so dog-whistling, an attempt to radicalize his most most fanatical followers. Unfortunately the worst happened.
The murder of Marcelo Arruda
Municipal guard Marcelo Arruda, treasurer of the Workers’ Party (PT) in Foz do Iguaçu, was shot dead on Saturday, 9 of July (two days after Bolsonaro mentioned the Capitol) during his 50th birthday party, whose theme was the PT and former president Lula.
The crime was committed by a Bolsonaro supporter, Federal Police officer Jorge José da Rocha Guaranho, who invaded the party and shot the victim three times.
Civil Police investigator Pamela Suellen Silva, widow of the municipal guard and PT activist Marcelo Arruda, said that: “At the end of the party, this person that no one knew appeared in a car, opened the window and shouted: ‘Out PT, Lula thief, Bolsonaro myth’. Marcelo went to ask him to leave and he took out a gun and pointed it at Marcelo. His wife was in the car with a child and asked him to leave. He went away, but he said he would come back,” Pamela told Globonews.
And she continued: “When he returned I said, ‘Go away, man, we are the police,’ showing that we were police officers. But he started shooting at random, with the intention of killing people at the party.”
On his social media, Jorge José has several posts in support of President Jair Bolsonaro, in favor of guns, and the police.
Some years ago, Guaranho also posted a photo stood next to Eduardo Bolsonaro, with the caption “thanks for the support”.
On Twitter, Guaranho’s devotion to Bolsonaro begins in his profile description. He defines himself as a “federal, conservative and christian criminal police officer”, quotes Bolsonaro and defends guns “for self defence”. The last publication shared by Guaranho is by the former president of the Palmares Foundation, Sérgio Camargo, which associated the Workers’ Party with organised crime – a continuation of the narrative pushed by anti-corruption operation Lava Jato and its disgraced Judge Sergio Moro, who enabled Bolsonaro’s election in 2018 by jailing Lula. The Police agent declared his vote for Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections, and support of Bolsonaristas actions against political opponents.
The violence of this crime has shocked Brazilians, but it is not surprising that after continual attempts by the Bolsonarista far-right to radicalize their supporters, that something like this has happened – again.
In 2018, capoeira master Romualdo Rosário da Costa, known as Moa do Katendê, was murdered by another Bolsonarista. The police inquiry concluded that the crime was motivated by a political-party argument between Moa and Paulo Sérgio Ferreira de Santana, who was 36 years old at the time.
Moa was killed for having criticized the elected president Jair Bolsonaro and declared his vote for Fernando Haddad, of the PT. The assassin, Paulo Sérgio Ferreira de Santana, was reportedly irritated by the statement and attacked the capoeirista with a knife.
A month before the murder of Moa do Katendê, during a rally in the state of Acre, Bolsonaro took a camera tripod, raised it, and mimicked firing a machine gun saying: “We’re going to shoot all the worker’s party supporters here in Acre. Let’s run these hacks from Acre… to Venezuela to eat grass”.
Radicalization and Political Terrorism
Bolsonaro’s extremist rhetoric is a way of shielding himself from opponents or to maintain his position as the leader of the far-right in the country, while keeping his base mobilized despite the collapse of his mainstream political support. And this is not just a campaign strategy, he has done it throughout his administration. Attempts to discredit the Federal Supreme Court, to spread hateful ideologies, and even the disastrous and murderous handling of the pandemic.
According to a study carried out by anthropologist Isabela Kalil in 2019. “There is a group of loyal voters, between 10% and 12%, who support a greater radicalization of the Government. Despite the relatively low number, this wing represents a new phenomenon in politics. They are supporters who, from a communication point of view, act as a group to organize demonstrations and promote attacks on public figures opposing the president. In the quantitative aspect, the group of radicals is still in the minority in the universe of Bolsonaristas, but, in the qualitative, it has great capacity to generate repercussion and undermine the performance of opponents on social networks.”
The scenario changed with the arrival of the elections and especially with the return of Lula as a political opponent, so what were mild threats to the institutions that prevented him from acting as a fascist dictator became a frantic campaign of fear and hatred.
Red-scare in Latin America
With the recent election of Gustavo Petro in Colombia, and Gabriel Boric in Chile, both center-left progressive politicians, the Brazilian government is trying to push a delusional anti-communist terror narrative.
After the election in Colombia, Eduardo Bolsonaro on his Twitter account, the deputy referred to the role that Brazil has today in the face of the news of the progressive field on the continent. “The responsibility of the Brazilian voter only increases. It’s not ‘only’ for Brazil anymore, it’s for the entire region”, with a photo that shows a map of South America showing that Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Chile and now Colombia have turned “communist”.
The Bolsonaro clan’s concern is not new, but it is now a campaign strategy, and not only on a national level, but in the context of garnering support from the global far-right, as represented by Steve Bannon and his billionaire-funded “movement”.
Marco Aurélio de Carvalho, lawyer for Grupo Prerogativas, a group linked to the Lula said that after recent episodes of political violence such as the death of Marcelo Arruda, and also attacks on events with Lula’s presence in Uberlândia and Rio de Janeiro, where the public was attacked by drones carrying out a explosive device filled with animal excrement, the former president’s security was reinforced.
With less than 90 days until the election, Lula is expected to hold events across the country in the coming weeks and months, drawing large crowds, which increases the possibility of attacks. In addition, the former president often interacts with people during rallies, which makes the situation more dangerous. It is important to note that at no point the feeling of revenge or retaliation has been expressed by the Workers’ Party.
About Marcelo’s tragic death, several PT party leaders wrote notes of condolence “Another dear comrade passed away this morning, a victim of intolerance, hatred and political violence”, said the national president of the PT, Gleisi Hoffmann.
Former President Dilma Roussef said: “The assassination of comrade Marcelo Arruda is the result of incitement to intolerance and violence by a government that is arming its followers and creating an environment of political terrorism to intimidate the people. My condolences to his family, especially Pamela (the widow) and her children.”
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro, after spending years indirectly and directly instigating radical and violent behaviour, simply said he “refuses the support from those who practice violence against opponents”.
Lula released a lengthy statement about the case, not only in solidarity with the victim’s family, but also with the murderer’s family, saying that “they lost their father and husband to hate speech encouraged by an irresponsible president. “
Each day Bolsonaro stays in power, his hate speech is creating more victims in Brazil. Marcelo and Mestre Môa died believing again that there was a better alternative than the horror that Brazilians are currently experiencing.