On Jan. 8th, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s capital in a failed attempt to spark a military coup. In scenes that drew instant comparison to the events of Jan. 6th, 2021 in the US, Bolsonaro supporters smashed windows, destroyed artwork, and even climbed on the roofs of government buildings before being rounded up and arrested en masse by security forces.
In this update to Brazil on Fire, Michael Fox examines the significance of the failed coup in scattering pro-Bolsonaro forces and uniting the country behind Lula, who has already embarked on an aggressive agenda to undo his predecessor’s legacy. While Lula may be triumphant for now, the battle for Brazil’s future is far from settled. As Bolsonaro licks his wounds in exile in Florida, the question remains as to how he might scheme with his US-based allies in the future. Historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez returns to the show to delve deeper into the links between Brazil and the US’s evangelical right and neofascist movements.
Michael Fox: Before we begin, I’d like to say that the first half of this episode is based on reporting I’ve done in recent weeks for The World, The Nation, and other outlets. You can find links to those stories in the feed. OK. Here’s the show….
On Sunday, Jan. 8, Brazilians sat glued to their TV screens or frantically refreshing the feed on their phones as thousands of supporters of the far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro swarmed past security forces in Brasília and pushed their way into government buildings. They ransacked Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidential Palace. Cheering, just as their compatriots did in the 2021 US Capitol raid. “We’ve taken over Congress,” an ecstatic woman said into her cell phone as a mass of people swarmed toward the government buildings. “Brasilia. Jan. 8,” she said. “This is an historic day.” This was Brazil’s Jan. 6.
Videos shared over social media showed scenes of chaos. Majestic government offices wrecked. Windows broken. Nothing like this had ever happened. Not even during the 1964 coup, when tanks rolled on Brazilian streets. Even then, there was no sacking of Brasilia.
On the floor of the Senate, a crowd of people waved Brazilian flags and sang the Brazilian national anthem. They said they were taking their country back. And they believed it.
“The police are on our side. It’s over,” said a middle-aged man wearing a yellow and green Brazilian soccer jersey. “You think maybe we’re right? Brazil!,” he said.
“This is going down in history,” shouted another man off-camera. He’s filming from the top of Congress, pointing his phone camera out over a sea of yellow and green – The colors of both Brazil and Bolsonaro – As they streamed up the ramp toward him. “This is a story that will be retold by my grandchildren. By my great-grandchildren,” he said. “This house is ours.”
This is the legacy of former president Jair Bolsonaro. And though the euphoria of his insurgent supporters would not last long, they will continue to be a dangerous threat to Brazilian democracy.
This is Brazil on Fire, a podcast about Brazil’s descent toward fascism under President Jair Bolsonaro. This podcast is produced in collaboration with The Real News and NACLA. I’m your host, Michael Fox. I’m a long-time radio reporter and multimedia journalist. Over these episodes, I’ve taken you on a journey to understand the story of Bolsonaro’s rise, and his far-right government that’s set the country ablaze.
In the last update to the podcast, we looked at Lula’s electoral victory and the protesters, the fake news and the far-right movement trying to undermine it. In this latest update, number 3, we look at the Jan. 8 attempted coup against Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. We’ll also dive into how Lula has responded, and the attempts to isolate Bolsonaro.
Now, if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know that I have tried to underscore Bolsonarism’s connections with the United States. That’s more important than ever, as Bolsonaro is currently in Florida. He left for the US even before his term was over. And since the Brasilia invasion, we’ve seen a concerning wave of support from the US far right for the Bolsonaro protesters.
In the second half of today’s show, we’ll look at the connections between the Brazilian far-right and Evangelicals in an exclusive interview with historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez. I spoke with her a few months ago for this podcast, when I brought her in for episode three about Evangelical support for Bolsonaro. The interview was so good, I’m going to play it for you all almost in its entirety. In it, she draws the connections between fascism, authoritarianism, masculinity, and the Evangelical movement, in both the United States and Brazil.
But before we get there, let’s head back to Jan. 8. Thousands of Bolsonaro protesters have invaded government buildings, destroying things as they go. President Lula was traveling in the countryside of São Paulo State to assess the damages from major rains there. He responded a couple of hours into the attack in a live address:
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: All those people who did this will be found and punished. They will realize that democracy guarantees freedom, the right of expression, but also demands that people respect the institutions that were created to strengthen democracy.
Michael Fox: He ordered a federal intervention into the Brasilia security force until the end of the month. Within the hour, shock troops swept Bolsonaro supporters from the buildings. Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes suspended Brasilia State Governor Ibaneis Rocha and ordered the removal, within 24 hours, of all encampments of Bolsonaro supporters that had been stationed outside of military barracks for the previous two months.
Alexandre de Moraes: We have to combat anti-democratic people with a firm hand. These people that want to carry out a coup, these terrorists, are not civilized. They have committed riots and crimes. The institutions will punish every one of them.
Michael Fox: By the night after the invasion, 1,200 Bolsonaro supporters had been detained and pro-Bolsonaro encampments around the country were removed, some by force. The military police did the job, with the support of the Armed Forces.
“Until an hour ago, we believed in the army. That they were going to protect us,” said one woman with a camouflage hat and a Brazilian flag tied around her neck. She had been camped with Bolsonaro supporters in Brasilia. In the video posted over social media, her voice is breaking as she holds back tears. “But the army handed us over to the military police. We are being taken out of here like animals, inside buses,” she says. “I don’t know where we are going.” It was an important step to break the myth among Bolsonaro supporters that the military was ready to rise up against Lula.
The Supreme Court and the Senate quickly launched investigations into the invasion. Roughly 1,400 people have been arrested, including Bolsonaro’s former Justice Minister, Anderson Torres, who was in charge of security in Brasília in the week leading up to the invasion.
And Bolsonaro is more isolated than ever. According to polls released days after the attack, Bolsonaro’s online support is at an all-time low. More than 90% of Brazilians condemn the capitol invasion. That includes even staunch Bolsonaro allies, like the head of the lower House, Arthur Lira, and department store billionaire Luciano Hang. “We have a new president. We have a new government,” Hang said in a video released following the attack, in which he denounces the violence and vandalism in Brasilia. “Let’s support the pilot so we have a great flight, because I’m inside the same plane.” It’s a sign of this rare moment of unity that has swept Brazil since the capitol attack.
The day after the invasion, the heads of the Senate and lower House, plus all 27 state governors met Lula and his cabinet in Brasilia. They walked across the esplanade and surveyed the damage of the attack.
CNN Reporter: This is an extremely important scene. We rarely ever see these people together like this, and we see them united. United for the country. United for democracy.
Michael Fox: Sean T. Mitchell is an anthropologist at Rutgers University.
Sean T. Mitchell: I think the invasion has strengthened the position of Lula’s government. Also, the similarity of Brazil’s Jan. 8 to the United States’s Jan. 6, I think, helps consolidate Lula’s international support.
Michael Fox: All of this came less than two weeks after Lula’s inauguration on Jan. 1, which ushered in a wave of hope across Brazil. 200,000 people had amassed for the ceremony. They chanted and cheered as Lula rode through the streets of Brasilia to be sworn in before Congress.
Lula Supporter: I drove two days to get here to see Lula. Lula means freedom. I want to see my daughter be able to go to school and also be able to retire. And that’s not possible right now.
Michael Fox: Traditionally, the outgoing president hands over the presidential sash in front of the Presidential Palace. But since Bolsonaro had left for Florida two days before the inauguration, the passing of the sash was delegated to a group of people chosen to symbolize Brazil’s diversity. They included a cook, a Black trash collector, an Indigenous leader, a disabled activist, and a child.
Helga De Almeida: It’s so exciting. It’s the return of our democracy. The inauguration was so representative, with a diversity of people. We haven’t seen anything like this in the last 4 years.
Michael Fox: Lula has kept his promise to bring diversity into his government. Almost 30% of Lula’s cabinet ministers are women – The highest number ever. He’s created 14 new cabinet positions, including separate ministries of labor, Indigenous peoples, and racial equality.
Over the last four years, Bolsonaro pushed to roll back social programs and privatize state companies. In Lula’s first 24 hours in office, he set out to undo all that. He blocked eight impending state privatizations, including Brazil’s national oil company and the postal service. He also restarted his famous conditional cash transfer program, Bolsa Familia, promising poor families a monthly stipend. It’s a first step in a package of reforms to, once again, fight soaring hunger and rising inequality.
De Almeida says Lula has a Herculean job ahead. And only someone like him, a popular leader who is able to negotiate across the political spectrum, would be up to the task.
Helga De Alemida: Lula now has to begin to reconstruct Brazil. That’s the challenge. Bringing together his governing coalition, and re-establishing the most basic principles, like that the poor have a right to eat.
Michael Fox: He also has to battle the extreme forces creating chaos and trying to overthrow his government. And many fear that did not end on Jan. 8.
[Man speaking Portuguese] That is prominent Bolsonaro ally Rodrigo Constantine. He’s a far-right commentator with 1.5 million followers on Twitter who lives in Florida. In this video shared over social media after the Jan. 8 attempted coup, he says Bolsonaro supporters can’t let up. They can’t be afraid. They have to continue.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro allies and far-right media in both Brazil and the United States have been peddling lies that several Bolsonaro supporters jailed after the Brasilia invasion have died in detention. They call Lula’s government a communist dictatorship. Those false claims have been parroted by far-right allies in the United States.
Joao Feres Jr.: One important thing that should be done is to regulate hate speech and false information in social media.
Michael Fox: That’s Joao Feres Junior. He’s a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University.
Joao Feres Jr.: The Brazilian government has to negotiate stricter norms for operating in social media so they can curtail the circulation of false information and hate speech. That’s a major task, but I don’t think it can be avoided.
The major challenge to Brazilian democracy today is Bolsonarismo, or Bolsonarism. And Bolsonarism is based on communication. That’s the best way to think about this.
Michael Fox: Joao explains that the communication infrastructure propping up Bolsonaro has three pillars.
Joao Feres Jr.: The first is what they used to call the “Cabinet of Hate” and was based in the Presidential Palace. It was under the control of Bolsonaro’s son, Carlos. And it was a network for producing and circulating false information and hate speech.
Michael Fox: We talked about this in episode 4. The Supreme Court pushed back hard against it, and it made some inroads, but many networks of fake news are still rampant over social media and messaging applications WhatsApp and Telegram. Joao says the second pillar is the traditional media.
Joao Feres Jr: And the third pillar are the Evangelical churches that actually use the pulpit to work for Bolsonaro, to campaign, and also to divulge the alternative versions of facts that the Cabinet of Hate produces. This is a lot of the content that circulates in these spheres. So, I think that Lula should really focus on dismantling this whole operation.
Michael Fox: This Evangelical question runs deep, not just in Brazil, but in the United States. That’s because many of Bolsonaro’s most devoutly religious supporters see God as the higher authority. And since they believe that Bolsonaro is God’s choice for the presidency, anything else is illegitimate, including Lula’s democratic electoral victory.
And that is where we stand now.
I don’t know if you saw this video that’s been shared online. In it, a group of Bolsonaro supporters pray for the former president out in front of the Florida home where he’s been staying. These devout followers of former president Bolsonaro are in it for the long haul.
And that’s where I want to go in the second half of this episode. To get a better sense of the importance of Evangelicals for both Bolsonaro and Trump, I’m going to close out with this interview I did a few months ago. I think it helps to put all of this into a much larger perspective.
[AUDIO CLIP BEGINS]
Michael Fox: Would you just go ahead to start off and introduce yourself?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Ok. I’m Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.
Michael Fox: I’m sure everyone says they love the title of your book, which I think is fantastic. And I’m so excited that it is going to be published in Brazil here in a few weeks.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Absolutely.
Michael Fox: One of the things that I’ve been grappling with is how religion plays into fascism. It’s the title of your book, how religion corrupted a faith, or the right corrupted a faith. How does that play into this and into the United States? How has that transformed policies?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: So, the book is essentially a history of white Evangelicalism as a cultural and political movement in the United States over the last half-century or so. And as I researched this, I was surprised. Having kind of grown up adjacent to these spaces, when I went back as a researcher and really looked at what these leaders were saying, I was taken aback by the emphasis on authority. On obeying the authorities that God has ordained, and so that’s patriarchal authority. Wives, obey your husbands. Children, obey your parents. And it’s the entire social hierarchy. The pastor has authority over you. And government. And if it’s a God-ordained government – And that’s really key if these are God-ordained leaders – You owe them absolute obedience.
And as I was reading this I thought, wow this is anti-democratic, right? This is not really compatible with democratic norms and institutions, and I think that’s the rub. Trying to discern what part of these biblical values, Christian social issues, what part of that is actually compatible with a functioning democracy, and at what point do we cross the line into authoritarianism and fascism, essentially.
Michael Fox: This is so important for right now. Because this is so much what my podcast is about, is looking at this question of democracy and dictatorship. How dangerous is this for a supposed democratic system, and, in part, where does this come from? I think the other thing – And we can talk about Brazil in a second – But it is fascinating that it’s not just a US phenomenon. But this is like, if you look at the Christian right, it has these same themes in many different countries, and they play out in very very similar ways. And particularly in Brazil, obviously. How concerned should people be, and why is this playing out like this?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: I’m going to start with what it actually is that we’re looking at, and then I’ll get to how dangerous this is. So where did this come from? In the American setting, you can see in the 1960s and 70s in particular this right-wing mobilization taking hold. It’s not as though Evangelicals weren’t conservatives. And it’s not that Evangelicals weren’t at all politically active – They were. But in the 1960s, it starts to take a much more reactionary posture, and in the context that there is the Cold War.
And so this idea of Christian Nationalism, that America is God’s special nation and that it needs to be defended against enemies, external but also internal, and conservative Evangelicals understood that they had a very special role to play in defending Christian America. So they were supporting a strong military to fight against the communists who are anti-God and anti-family and anti-American, but they were also fighting internal enemies, those who were threatening the strength of the nation.
And when we look at the 1960s, what were those social disruptions in the American South? The Civil Rights movement threatening the social power of white Southerners, many of whom were Evangelicals. You also have the feminist movement and growing backlash against that. And conservative Evangelicals were at the forefront of that movement, the backlash. And you have the anti-war movement, and that was really questioning American greatness and American goodness on the global stage.
In the midst of all of that, that’s where we see conservative Evangelicals really doubling down on the defense of faith, family, and nation. On the support for “traditional” gender roles. Elevating a very macho, warrior-like masculinity over and against the anti-war movement, those hippies that were weakening the nation, the military. Over and against feminists who are emasculating traditional American red-blooded men. And they clothe that all as biblical so they could pull out biblical passages to suggest that women need to be submissive to men and that men and women are very very different, and God designed men, filled them with testosterone to make them aggressive so that men could fight for truth and fight for the defense of the church and the nation.
So you have that going on in the 1960s, and a real emphasis on using that strength to protect the social order, protect social hierarchies. And this is where we see the intersection with law and order politics. At a time when everything seemed to be changing so quickly, and the social disruption of the 1960s, a lot of Americans were trying to adjust, trying to figure out, how do we raise our children with the social unrest, the protest movements? So much really seemed uncertain. And conservative Evangelicals offered certainty, and they offered their vision of order, of security, particularly for conservative white Americans. And so this idea of strong masculinity linked with social order, linked with defending the status quo, defending the privilege, particularly, of white Christians, all came together and moved to the core of their identity and their political agenda. So that’s the background.
Now, how dangerous is this? It’s really hard to discern how much of a danger this ideology presents to American democracy, to democracy more generally, in part because it’s a spectrum. You have many Americans, many American Evangelicals who have just been steeped in this language of Christian America. They have been taught from birth that they have a special role to play, and that they need to defend America and American greatness, and that this is God and country patriotism. And it is just so pervasive. It’s really part of the air that they breathe, and it’s taken for granted, not as a particularly political agenda, it just is truth. It just is what it is to be Christian, what it is to be a good American.
Now among those, many may well continue to support democracy. They may want to see their values play out on the national stage, but they’re going to pursue proper elections. They’re going to try to convince others and bring out the vote and work within democratic structures. So in that case, not much of a threat. There are others who interpret that same rhetoric, that they have a special role to play to keep America Christian or to return America to its Christian identity, and they see that as trumping democracy, because all authority comes from God, and governmental authority comes from God. So government authority that is not aligned with God’s law is fundamentally illegitimate.
And so this is very much a kind of ends justify the means. If you have God on your side, you are righteous, so you can pursue whatever tactics are necessary in terms of voter suppression, gerrymandering, in terms of privileging the Constitutional rights of white Christians over other Americans, these sorts of things. Because, again, God is on your side, and it is right and righteous for you to do so.
So, there is a spectrum. And what’s hard to figure out is more moderate Evangelicals who are patriotic, who believe that this is a Christian nation, how far they’re going to go, where they’re going to draw the line when the right wing is pursuing these values in anti-democratic ways.
Michael Fox: Absolutely. I want to circle back in a second to talk about Trump in a little bit, but there’s two things. First thing, you mentioned something that I thought was very fascinating, and you said that in defense of faith, family, and nation. And I literally, just an hour ago, I got off the phone with a guy who focuses on fascism and the Integralist movement in Brazil, which was the movement of the 1930s that became the largest fascist party in Brazil’s history, and their slogan was “faith, family, and nation”. Bolsonaro, when he was trying to make his…. I mean that’s obviously been his unofficial slogan. But he actually tried to make his own party two years ago, and the slogan of the party was “faith, family, and nation”. So when you mention
“faith, family, and nation”, is that just something that comes up, or is that an actual slogan that you hear often in your work from different folks?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: It’s something I come across. But it’s also my shorthand for describing what I’m seeing. And so you’ll certainly hear that, but that’s what I found a very effective way of wrapping it up. So it’s something that I use frequently, just descriptively, as well as I hear echoed.
Michael Fox: It’s amazing, and it’s also a little terrifying. You having spoken with, like you mentioned, people in Brazil, you’re now getting your book published there in Portuguese. What are they saying about how these issues are playing out there? I know you’re not a Brazil specialist, but how do you see the same dynamic playing out in Brazil, coming from a US perspective?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: So, there are striking parallels, I think, between the situation in Brazil and the rise of Brazilian Evangelicals, and what we see happening in the United States. First of all, the history goes way back.
We could look more recently and look at the growing population of Evangelicals in Brazil and their growing political power. You can also go all the way back to the 19th century and see the influence of conservative white American Evangelicalism on Brazilian Christianity. In the years after the American Civil War, you have Baptist missionaries from the American South heading over to Brazil starting churches, starting organizations. So the roots go way back. More recently, we see this real expansion of Evangelicalism in Brazil, and it’s both influenced by American Evangelicalism, not just through missionaries and pastors, but through popular culture. So through television stations and radio and Christian publishing. A lot of American Evangelical books are being translated into Portuguese, and they’re flooding the Brazilian market, and so you have a lot of cross-pollination.
And what we see happening in Brazil, I think it is running a parallel course. With Evangelicals appealing to Brazilians who are looking for stability, looking for law and order, looking for security, for prosperity. And so, here we see the influence not just of Evangelicalism generally, but of the prosperity gospel in particular, and of this Evangelistic impulse. And so you have charismatic pastors who are starting churches and taking to the airwaves, and it is very much a growth industry. Because the more converts you bring into your fold and the more promises you make about how God is going to bless you if you give your money to us, the more money and power these leaders amass. And the more power in their communities, the more political power they can wield.
That is what we saw take place in the United States in the last several decades, and I think that’s what we’re seeing happening in Brazil as well. So there are a lot of parallels. And you also see that focus on family values, on heterosexual marriage, anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion. These sorts of values being held together with law and order politics and the ends justifying the means, and all held together as “Christian” values.
Michael Fox: Kristin, what did Trump mean for far-right conservative Evangelicals? What was his figure, and how did he support their movement?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: When Trump appeared on the scene in 2015 as a viable political candidate, it was interesting to see Evangelical responses. Early on, a lot of Evangelical leaders were not pro-Trump. In part, they didn’t really know who he was. He had recently been a Democrat. Was he pro-life? Was he pro-choice? Can we really trust this guy? Who is he? As he made himself known over the course of the primary season, as he took to the stage and belittled his opponents, flaunted his political incorrectness, his machismo, as he denigrated immigrants, and stoked violence, and as we came to see who Trump was going to be as a political candidate, as a political figure, that’s when we saw more and more Evangelicals come to his side. It didn’t start with national leaders. It started at the grassroots.
And over time, leaders fell in line. And a lot of observers, including some Evangelical resisters at the time, thought this was a betrayal of Evangelical values. How could family values Evangelicals support a man like Donald Trump? And in fact, that question displays an ignorance of what really is at the heart of Evangelical family values. If we understand, historically, that family values politics was always based on the assertion of white patriarchal authority, then a whole lot of things start to fall into place. And Trump was better than an actual Evangelical at leading the country in this perilous time, so the reasoning went, precisely because he was not inhibited by Evangelical or by Christian virtues, by things like gentleness and kindness and self-control. Because, for decades, they had been stoking fears. Like this rhetoric of war, of culture wars. And it’s us versus them, and God is on our side, but the enemies are just outside of the gates. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.
And this was just ratcheted up during the Obama administration. You have an African-American Democrat in the oval office. Importantly, in 2008 you also saw a small defection of younger white Evangelical voters to the Democratic Party supporting Obama, and conservative Evangelical leaders doubled down, and they were not leaving anything to chance. They attacked Obama and his administration. You have the Obergefell decision, and suddenly not only were Evangelicals talking in terms of the culture wars, but it suddenly seemed like they were actually going to lose the culture wars.
Demographic changes meant that we were coming up upon the end of white Christian America, and so tactics changed. It wasn’t just about getting out the vote, it was about suppressing the other side. Democracy was no longer working in their favor. And that’s when Trump arrives on the scene. The rhetoric is already heightened, and he steps in. And he promises that he will fight for them. He will protect Christianity. And he was the perfect guy to do it, precisely because he would be ruthless on their behalf.
Michael Fox: It’s fascinating. I know we’ve been talking about the parallels with Brazil, but this is another one that’s just shockingly resonant because of Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro, he’s a Catholic, but his language has always been extremely Evangelical: I’m going to stand up for your values. He’s married to a staunch Evangelical, and he’s become more and more religious, and Evangelical, as his administration has pushed along in particular, because this is how he knows he can win people over, and he can really bring people to his side. One of the things I would love to hear your thoughts on is this question of the discourse of God versus the devil, the discourse of good versus evil, which you mentioned a little bit ago. This is something that’s playing out like never before right now in the campaigns. We actually just saw Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle, at a church talking about this is a fight of good versus evil, and we will win because God is on our side. What’s at the root of this? And it’s shocking, and I’ve been speaking with a lot of different analysts and Evangelical analysts, and it’s at a point that we’ve never seen in Brazil.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Yeah. This language of good versus evil, we are on God’s side and the devil is against us, and that is nothing new in terms of the history of American Evangelicalism. That is very familiar, this kind of language of spiritual warfare. It’s very normal in Evangelical popular culture. You’ll hear it from pastors from pulpits and in devotional literature. It’s very common. Now, how that gets applied is where we have to really take a closer look. Some people are going to use this spiritual warfare language in a metaphorical way. And it’s scriptural. You can find passages in the Christian scriptures that you can look to. That we are in this cosmic battle between good and evil.
Now, often that’s interpreted in a more abstract and a more spiritual way right? This is not a battle of flesh and blood. This is a spiritual battle, and, in fact, it’s a battle that’s even going on in your own heart. That’s one way that you could interpret this. Another way is to say, no, we Christians, we Evangelicals, we conservative Evangelical leaders with our hands in politics, we are the ones that are on God’s side. And that’s very powerful language, because it will then connect with the rank and file who are reading this in their devotional literature, who are hearing this on Christian radio and Christian television, and they want to be on the right side of things.
And these political leaders are speaking their language in a way that absolutely resonates with their personal beliefs. And so it seems very clear that if they are on God’s side, well, we have to be on their side. And so it’s powerful rhetoric, it is dangerous rhetoric, because what it does is it not only identifies any critic as on the side of the devil, but it also insulates those who are claiming to represent God from any criticism from any internal critique. As soon as you start to question anything, well, you are of the Devil. You are on the outside. You are attacking us, and it’s very easy to place them outside the fold. So this politically charged rhetoric, we’re hearing it ratcheted up in the United States right now among elements of the Republican Party. It’s not surprising that that’s getting a lot of play in Brazil as well.
Michael Fox: Kristin, very last question, and thank you so much. How key is religion and conservative Christianity for fascism, historically, around the globe? Is this something that you deal with at all?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: You can have fascism without religion. Fascism without Christianity, certainly. Christianity, when wedded to fascism, is a very powerful force because it taps into this private personal devotion. It taps into beliefs long held in families, in churches, in communities. But then it applies those beliefs in new ways, or in more extreme ways, and you don’t just have the connection between devotion and rooting this quest for power in a cosmic good versus evil worldview, although you do have that. You also have, I think traditionally, if we look at things like gender roles and masculine power, that if you look at the right-wing authoritarian playbook, it’s a very familiar rhetoric of you need to fight against the emasculation of society, and we need strong men who are willing to fight, pro-military, pro-law and order, violence is necessary, righteous violence, in order to ensure social order.
This kind of rhetoric dovetails with religious views of gender. Not all. You can find, even within Evangelicalism, progressive views of gender roles. You can find within Christian tradition and Evangelical teaching ideals of masculinity that elevate gentleness and self-control. And you can find Evangelical feminism, long history there as well. But you also find expressions of conservative gender roles that are elevating masculine power, sanctifying male aggression and this protector status, and holding up female submission. And that more conservative vision of gender dovetails with what we see historically as a common trend in fascist regimes as well.
Michael Fox: And that includes Nazi Germany and Italy? Was it kind of a similar situation back then, do you know?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: So I’ll tell you a story here. So, my outside field in graduate school was actually 20th century Germany, with an emphasis on the Holocaust. And I lived in Germany, taught in Germany for a time, long ago. And when I started researching Evangelical masculinity, which was in the early 2000s already, and I was reading these books that were incredibly popular, selling millions of copies, things like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, on elevating this warrior masculinity and testosterone and driven manhood in Evangelical spaces. I was struck by some of the similarities that I had seen in my study of German Christianity in the 1930s and the 1940s. Emphasis on law and order, on this very aggressive militaristic masculinity, and calling this all God ordained. Also female domesticity, submission, all of that. I was aware of that and didn’t really know what to do with that.
When I ended up, years later, publishing my first article on Evangelical masculinity and militarism, the research that would become Jesus and John Wayne, I published it timed to Trump’s inauguration, and it kind of went viral that week, and within a couple of days I heard from a scholar of German propaganda, a man by the name of Michael Lackey. And he wrote to me and said, you know, I read your piece, I read the quotes that you included on this militant Christian masculinity. And he said, are you aware of the connections of just how similar that language is to what we see in the Nazi Christian movement from the 1930s and 40s? He said, you know it’s essentially you… You couldn’t tell the difference. You pull a quote here, pull a quote there. It’s the same thing. And I emailed him right back and said, yes, I know. I’m aware of this. I don’t know if I can say that, but the parallels really are striking.
Michael Fox: Wow, Kristin, that is insane. That’s really wild. I’ve got a lot of things to chew on. Is there anything else you’d like to add, anything else that you think is important?
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Oh let me think… One other thing I’d mention, as I understand it… Just the parallels between how it’s worked in the United States and how it’s working in Brazil. You also obviously see this explicit politicization of Evangelicalism when, a generation or two earlier, Evangelicals were often not particularly politically engaged. I think that was the case in Brazil. And just to understand how this works and how helpful pastor networks are in mobilizing ordinary Christians, mobilizing members of their congregations. I know in the United States this has been going on for decades, and you’ve got both the popular culture, so popular Christian radio shows, talk radio, music, all of this. And the political agenda is not always… It’s rarely front and center, honestly. You tune in to listen to Christian music, to have worship music, and you tune in to hear a program on how to raise your kids. And yet the political loyalties are there and the affinities are there and the community is built around this, this sense of identity is formed very powerfully.
So when these same leaders say, this is our guy, and this is how you should vote now, the loyalty is… It’s just really powerful. And then you’ve got in the churches themselves the access to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, and you can have, in the United States, bulletin inserts. And this is that these are the issues that are important in this next election. And yeah, this is how good Christians vote, and you know they’ll do this all while claiming, oh no, this isn’t political. This is just Christianity, or we’re just living out our faith. But that is an enormously useful system to mobilize voters.
Michael Fox: Thank you so much Kristin, I appreciate it. This is fantastic. Thank you so much, and I look forward to being in touch for sure in the future.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: Absolutely. Take care.
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Michael Fox: That is all for now. The future, under the government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is hopeful and exciting. But there will be many challenges – At the forefront, Bolsonaro and his most ardent supporters.
This was update number 3 to the podcast Brazil on Fire. If you have not heard the other episodes and you’re looking to check out a new podcast series, I suggest you go back and give them a listen. I promise you will not be disappointed. As always, I’m your host Michael Fox. See you next time.