The Far-Right Bolsonaro Movement Wants Us Dead. But We Will Not Give Up
BRICS, 3 Feb 2020
Demagogues rely on fear to consolidate power. But courage is contagious – that’s why we must join hands and fight back.
29 Jan 2020 – Substantial media coverage over the last year, within Brazil and internationally, has been devoted to threats and attacks we each received, separately and together, due to our work – David’s as a congressman and Glenn’s as a journalist. These incidents have been depicted, rightfully so, as reflective of the increasingly violent and anti-democratic climate prevailing in Brazil as a result of the far-right, authoritarian, dictatorship-supporting movement of President Jair Bolsonaro, which consolidated substantial power in the election held at the end of 2018.
There was much discussion when David entered congress in early 2019 after the only other openly LGBTQ+ congress member, Jean Wyllys, fled his seat and the country in fear of his life. As a longtime LGBTQ+ celebrity and sole LGBTQ+ member of congress, Wyllys had endured constant death threats and even bullying from fellow members of congress. His multiple fights with Bolsonaro and his sons made him a particular object of contempt by that movement. That they now occupied full-scale power made his remaining in Brazil untenable.
Read: A new film argues that Brazil teeters on the brink of authoritarianism. It’s true – David Miranda
That Wyllys was replaced by another LGBTQ+ congress member provoked a contentious exchange between David and Bolsonaro that went viral on Twitter. David’s substantially increased visibility as the new LGBTQ+ member of congress provoked countless and highly detailed death threats from the Bolsonaro movement toward our family. That David, in 2016, had become the first-ever elected LGBTQ+ member of the Rio city council already had made him a target of much animus in a city dominated by paramilitary gangs and rightwing evangelical groups.
But his new status as the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the lower house of the federal congress made him a prime target of the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ+ Bolsonaro movement. That primal animus was enhanced by the fact that our public 15-year marriage and our two children serve as a living refutation of the false and toxic depiction of LGBTQ+ life as barren, unhappy, sickly and solitary, an anti-LGBTQ+ demonization campaign that is central to the Bolsonaro movement’s political identity.
A massive new wave of media coverage about our family was triggered when Glenn and the Intercept began their series of explosive exposés last June about rampant corruption at the highest levels of the Bolsonaro government, provoking a wave of violent threats, official acts of reprisal and a powerful fake news machine erected by the Bolsonaro movement against their enemies. All of those seemingly endless multipronged attacks culminated last week in criminal charges brought against Glenn by a far-right prosecutor that have been widely condemned domestically and internationally as legally frivolous and a blatant assault on a free press.
But the sense of danger and political violence in our lives, and for many others in Brazil, began almost two years ago. On 14 March 2018, Marielle Franco – the LGBTQ+, black, favela-raised city councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro – was gunned down while riding in her car on the streets of Rio at roughly 9pm in a brutal political assassination. Franco was one of our family’s best friends as well as a rising political star, a vessel of hope to so many people marginalized for decades and who had no voice. The loss was a major trauma, still unhealed, for both the country and for our lives.
Franco was a member of David’s party, the leftwing Socialism and Liberty party (PSOL). David – also black, LGBTQ+ and raised in a violent favela as an orphan – was as unlikely as Franco to occupy political power in a country long plagued by severe inequality, racial inequities and discrimination of all types. Because they shared the same causes of combating lethal police violence and inequality, they sat next to one another in the city council chamber. Her politically motivated murder at the age of 37 brought political violence into our lives as a lurking, terrorizing reality which has only intensified since then.
The end of that year saw the election of Bolsonaro as president despite his decades-long advocacy of a return to the US/UK-supported military dictatorship. That regime brutally ruled the country with torture and murder until 1985, torturing and killing dissidents, journalists and anyone who opposed them. Along with his long-taboo praise for the dictatorship (except when he criticized it for being insufficiently violent and repressive), Bolsonaro, though relegated to the fringes of political life as a congressman for 30 years, gained media attention through a slew of shockingly bigoted comments against the nation’s racial minorities, its indigenous population in the Amazon and especially against LGBTQ+ people.
But in the 2018 election, it was not only Bolsonaro but also his far-right Social Liberal party (PSL), which barely existed the year before, that enjoyed a stunning rise to power. Virtually overnight, PSL, filled with previously obscure and fanatically anti-democratic figures, became the second most represented party in congress, just a few seats behind the center-left Workers’ party that had governed the country since 2002. Among its elected members were two police candidates who, days before the election, had destroyed a street sign erected in homage to Franco with their fists raised in the air.
Just weeks after Bolsonaro’s election, a terrifying scandal was revealed in which Bolsonaro’s eldest son, Flávio, who had been elected to the federal senate in the 2018 election, was found to have employed in his cabinet as a state representative for a full decade both the wife and mother of the chief of Rio’s most violent and feared paramilitary gang. Composed largely of police and military officers, the militia specialized in abusing their law enforcement expertise to carry out highly skilled pay-for-hire assassinations, including – police believed – the assassination of Franco.
A police operation carried out as part of the investigation into Franco’s murder succeeded in apprehending five of the top six militia leaders, but the sixth, who fled and is now a fugitive, was the top leader – the one whose wife and mother were disturbingly employed for 10 years by Bolsonaro’s son. This shocking link of the now all-powerful Bolsonaro family to the most terrifying paramilitary gang of Rio has since been strengthened by newly discovered connections, including photos of Bolsonaro with both of the killers, that one of the ex-police officers arrested for having pulled the trigger that killed Franco was a neighbor of Bolsonaro’s in his gated community, while the other police officer, who was the driver of the car, has a daughter who dated Bolsonaro’s youngest son.
In early 2019, David’s replacement of Wyllys in congress became a much-publicized and dramatic story in a country where anti-LGBTQ+ animus had become a major force in Brazil’s political life and where very few LGBTQ+ candidates ever occupy high office. The acrimonious Twitter exchange between Bolsonaro and David instantly converted David into a new prime enemy of that movement.
The last nine months of our lives, since the beginning of those reports, have been filled with attacks of every kind.
That Glenn had co-founded a growing and increasingly vocal Brazilian bureau of the Intercept in 2016 that was highly critical of the Bolsonaro campaign and then his presidency made us both visible adversaries of this newly empowered far-right movement. That we are a gay, interracial couple in a country governed by a virulently anti-LGBTQ+ movement made each of us separately, but especially together, a particularly reviled yet visible target of their wrath. In sum, the bulk of the hatred devoted to Wyllys quickly transferred to David, to our marriage and to our family. As a New York Times article in July put it: “The two men find themselves on the front lines of the country’s increasingly bitter political divide.”
Since entering congress a little more than a year ago, David has not left the house without armed security and an armored vehicle of the kind that would have stopped the 11 bullets pumped into Franco’s car. We significantly escalated security measures at our home, and our two newly adopted sons had to be driven back and forth to school by security agents.
All of that was the context for the reporting Glenn and his Intercept colleagues began on 9 June 2019, and which has continued through to this day. It is hard to overstate the political impact of this journalism. As the Guardian reported last July, the reports “have had an explosive impact on Brazilian politics and dominated headlines for weeks”.
The last nine months of our lives, since the beginning of those reports, have been filled with attacks of every kind. We have received detailed death threats containing personal, non-public data available only to the state. Many have been directed at our two sons, sometimes with gruesome detail. A month after our reporting began, a news site notorious for being a dumping ground for leaks by Sérgio Moro announced that an agency under his command had initiated an investigation into Glenn’s personal finances, one stopped by the supreme court on the ground that it was clearly retaliatory and thus a violation of the constitutional guarantee of a free press. We learned in September that the same federal agency had also initiated an investigation into David’s personal finances, one launched two days after the Intercept’s reporting began.
With this reporting, the death threats intensified to an entirely new level. Now, in addition to David, Glenn also has not been able to leave home for any reason without a team of armed security and an armored vehicle since last June. The same is true of the Intercept’s Brazil editor, Leandro Demori, who has been the target of horrific threats aimed at his family. The exterior of our house now resembles a fortified prison, and its interior is filled with cameras and guards.
In November, Glenn appeared on a popular rightwing radio and YouTube program alongside a pro-Bolsonaro journalist who had, a month earlier, called on a children’s judge to investigate whether we are sufficiently taking care of our children – on the ground that David works as a congressman and Glenn works on these exposés. When Glenn confronted him on air about having used our children in this manner, the journalist physically assaulted him. The more significant part of the episode occurred afterwards: many of Bolsonaro’s closest allies, including his politician sons and the “guru” of his movement, not only cheered the assault but said their only regret was that the attack on Glenn was not more violent.
It is sometimes hard for citizens of centuries-old western democracies to appreciate how much easier it is for a young democracy like Brazil to easily slip back into full-scale tyranny, or to be violently brought back to it. That Brazil now has a president and is dominated by a political movement that openly seeks such a regression makes the threat all the more acute. In politics, they crave violence and civil conflict in lieu of dialogue and elections because they view those as the necessary conditions to justify a return of dictatorship-era repression. That is why they rely on threats, violence, attacks, intimidation and abuse of state power: they need civil upheaval and institutional conflict as a pretext for the repression they openly support.
When news broke last week that Glenn had been criminally charged, many wondered how that could have happened given that the federal police just weeks earlier had closed its comprehensive investigation into the hacking of Brazilian authorities and concluded that he was involved in no wrongdoing (to the contrary, the report emphasized that Glenn had exercised extreme caution in carrying out his work as a journalist). That the supreme court in July had barred any investigation into Glenn provoked the obvious question: if the high court had barred investigation of Glenn in connection with this journalism, how could they indict him for it?
Brazil is the country we love and we intend to fight this repression, not flee from it.
The answer is that the Bolsonaro movement seeks to prove that they are not limited by law or anything else. To prove that, they will defy court orders, ignore police investigations, ride roughshod over all other institutions – just as the military dictatorship did by decree, using violence, torture and murder of dissidents, ignoring of supreme court orders and summary removal of congress members who even minimally opposed them. The playbook they are using is as dark and horrifying as it is familiar and obvious.
Because Glenn is a US citizen with a valid US passport, we could leave Brazil at any time. David and our sons would be entitled to automatic US citizenship. But we have not done that and we never will. Brazil is the country we love and we intend to fight this repression, not flee from it. Brazil is an extraordinary country, unique in so many ways, and is easily worth fighting for. We could never in good conscience exploit the privileges we have to leave behind a country we love and the millions of people who are not able to leave.
When you live in a country where roughly half the population endured life under a military tyranny, you end up meeting many who risked so much to fight against it and fight for democracy. Brazil re-democratized in 1985 only after two decades of profoundly difficult struggle, protest, organizing and resistance. We personally know many people who were imprisoned or exiled for years for their fight against the dictatorship. Many of their friends and comrades were murdered by the military regime while they fought for the cause of Brazilian democracy.
Courage is contagious. Those are the people who inspire us and so many like us in Bolsonaro’s Brazil who are confronting state repression to defend the democracy that so many people suffered so much to bring about. Demagogues and despots like Bolsonaro are a dime a dozen. They centrally rely on intimidation, fear and the use of state repression to consolidate power. A refusal to give into that fear, but instead to join hands with those who intend to fight against it, is always the antidote to this toxin.
Glenn Greenwald is a co-founding editor of the Intercept. He is also a former Guardian columnist.
David Miranda is a member of the Brazilian Congress for the Socialism and Liberty Party and a Guardian US columnist. They are married.
Tags: Activism, BRICS, Bolsonaro, Brazil, Conflict, Democracy, Journalism, Justice, Media, Politics, Power, Violence, Whistleblowing
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