Brazil has a new president-elect.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the Brazilian presidency on Oct. 30. He defeated far-right president Jair Bolsonaro by just over 2 million votes. Tens of thousands of Lula supporters descended on Sao Paulo’s Paulista Avenue for huge celebrations. Brazil on Fire host Michael Fox was there and he takes us to the streets.
But Bolsonaro supporters were also mobilizing. They shut down highways and called for the military to intervene.
In this second update to Brazil on Fire, we look at Lula’s victory, Bolsonaro’s disinformation campaign that is keeping Bolsonaro’s supporters in the streets, Bolsonaro’s ties to Donald Trump’s former White House strategist Steve Bannon, and how Bannon is trying to spread a fake news fraud narrative to bolster Bolsonaro and divide Brazil, like the United States after Trump’s 2020 defeat. We hear from UFSC International Relations professor Camila Feix Vidal about the shared tactics of the international far-right and University of Virginia Media Studies professor David Nemer about Bolsonaro’s unprecedented use of fake news and disinformation in the election.
This is Brazil on Fire, a podcast about Brazil’s descent toward fascism under President Jair Bolsonaro. We look at Bolsonaro’s far-right government that has set the country ablaze, and how the United States helped him do it. We visit the birthplace of Brazilian Nazism, evangelical churches, and Indigenous villages in the Amazon.
Hosted by Latin America-based journalist Michael Fox.
This podcast is produced in partnership between The Real News Network and NACLA.
Edited by Heather Gies.
Sound design by Gustavo Türck.
Theme music by Monte Perdido.
Michael Fox: I’m walking up the street from where Lula’s hotel is, where they’re watching the result come in. I’m just arriving in Paulista. This is where the party’s going to be, depending on what happens. On the corner there are vendors selling Brazilian flags and Lula’s banner. The streets are open. The cars are still passing, but Lula supporters are still lined up on both sides. Right now, 50% of the votes have been counted and Bolsonaro is up by .5%, so a half of a point. And that’s to be expected. So we’re gonna see how it all plays out tonight. People’s eyes are glued to their cell phones checking the latest results.
It’s election night in Brazil. Oct. 30th. São Paulo. I walk up to a man draped in a red, yellow and blue flag. It’s the flag for the Northeastern state of Pernambuco, both his and Lula’s home state. His name is Ademario da Silva.
Ademario da Silva: I’m so happy to be here. We’ve had a hard time under the current government. And the possibility that Lula could become president again is really good for us, because equality is really important.
Michael Fox: He’s already been out here for three hours.
Ademario da Silva: This street is gonna fill up. You won’t be able to walk here in a little while. I’m sure, God willing, Lula’s victory is just a couple of steps away.
Michael Fox: He was right. 3 minutes later, the crowd explodes. 50.1% for Lula, 49.9% for Bolsonaro. Lula has just broken 50% [crowd chanting]. Within a few minutes, the police block off traffic and people spill into the 6-lane road. The party is just kicking off.
Just before 8:00 PM, Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court declares Lula the country’s next president. He defeats Bolsonaro by 2 million votes, or just under 2 percentage points.
The streets here are packed and people are just ecstatic. The alcohol is flowing. And this is a celebration like people haven’t seen in a long time. Like so many people have talked about, this is a return to democracy. It’s a return of hope. And right now on the streets of São Paulo, it is a massive party.
But elsewhere across the country, Bolsonaro supporters are also hitting the streets alongside far-right truckers. They block roads and highways, rejecting the results while Bolsonaro remains silent.
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. I’ve lived in Brazil for years, and I’ve covered Bolsonaro and his government closely. Over this podcast series, 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. Today, we’re diving into the country’s historic Oct. 30 election and the reactionary forces hoping to reject the vote.
This is Update #2: “Lula Presidente”
So… Before I dive into where things stand now, I should probably say that for the last month and a half, I have been traveling up and down Brazil – Across six different states. Far South, Northeast, even the Amazon. I’ve covered Lula rallies and an Evangelical Bolsonaro event with the first lady. I’ve visited Indigenous communities and seen the impact of the fires and deforestation firsthand. I’ve met with traditional Black communities fighting to hold onto their land. And above all, I have spoken with voters: taxi cab drivers, church goers, workers, teachers, professors, students, small business owners and everyone in between.
And let me say that this is clearly a moment that is both extremely exciting and also very very complicated. On the one hand, Lula is back. But on the other hand, Bolsonarismo, or Bolsonarism, isn’t going away. Bolsonaro won over 49% of the valid votes on election day. In other words, almost half of Brazilians voted for him, his project, and his vision of the country. And I want to focus on this for a moment because, well, that’s what this series is about; Brazil on Fire under Bolsonaro’s government. And also because as the country steers toward Lula’s inauguration and a hopeful return to something more resembling democracy, there will be pushback from Bolsonaro’s far-right allies. So it’s really important to understand where they stand amid all of this, and why.
As we’ve discussed at length in this series, Bolsonaro’s vision for Brazil is authoritarian, rooted in holy war, culture war, faith, family, and nation – As the fascist slogan goes. It’s a vision for a country where he and his supporters are right, and everyone else better just get in line.
I really got a sense of just how deeply this was rooted in Bolsonaro’s supporters when I spoke with a woman named Berenice at a polling station in São Paulo during the first-round election in early October. She came to vote with her husband and son, all of them wearing yellow and green Brazilian soccer jerseys. In recent years, these shirts have become a de-facto symbol of Bolsonaro’s movement. Berenice told me that she knew they, Bolsonaro supporters, were in the majority. And that if they lost, it would be because something had gone wrong with the electoral process.
Berenice: I believe that the good side is going to win.
Michael Fox: She told me, before repeating Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan.
Berenice: God above all. Brazil above everyone. I believe that because we had a big movement on Sept. 7, and for me that movement showed democracy. So, if democracy doesn’t win, I’m going to believe that something is wrong.
Michael Fox: In other words, for Berenice, democracy meant her side winning.
If you remember, on Sept. 7, Brazilians celebrated the country’s bicentennial independence. Bolsonaro transformed that celebration into a huge campaign rally. Now, there were a lot of people on the streets to support his candidacy, but the gatherings were not as big as the student rallies we saw against Bolsonaro’s presidency in his first year in office. Even if a million people marched around the country on Sept. 7, that’s still less than half of one percent of the population.
Berenice: If the other candidate wins, the population is going to be angry, revolted. If the other side wins, it’s not going to be fair, and the people are going to demonstrate.
Michael Fox: And that’s what they did.
On election night, Bolsonaro’s people protested alongside far-right truckers, blocking roads and highways across the country. Videos went viral over social media. Like this one:
The headlights of a line of trucks light up a scene of protesters waving the Brazilian flag. A man off camera says, “Today is Oct. 30. The Brazilian people know we have suffered a serious coup, and we are not going to accept it. We’re shutting things down.”
They set up hundreds of roadblocks across Brazil over the next two days, including the main thoroughfare into the country’s busiest airport, Guarulhos, outside of São Paulo. Some flights were canceled. Federal police stood aside. Finally, on Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes authorized the use of the military police to clear the highways.
Bolsonaro also finally spoke, nearly 48 hours after Lula’s victory was announced on election night. He actually said very little. He didn’t recognize his loss, nor congratulate Lula. But his chief-of-staff Ciro Nogueira said the president had authorized him to begin the process of transition to the next government.
The day after Bolsonaro’s address, thousands of his more extreme supporters rallied in front of military barracks around Brazil calling for military intervention. Some of them are still there.
It’s a twisted message: They called for military intervention to supposedly save their country’s democracy. It doesn’t make any sense, but there is a substantial portion of Bolsonaro’s most ardent supporters that truly believes that Lula is preparing to sink the country into a totalitarian regime, ending property rights, destroying jobs, stealing inheritances, and doing away with their freedoms. Remember, the 1964 military coup was carried out under similar pretexts.
Tarcio Monteiro de Carvalho: We Bolsonaro supporters are in the majority, but we are living on the verge of possible socialism. The other side, the left, is threatening to persecute churches. And the Bible has always given us the principles of how to live a decent life. And you’ve seen that the other side loves to steal.
Michael Fox: A young, Evangelical Uber driver named Tarcio Monteiro de Carvalho told me in São Paulo.
Just to be clear, as we heard in episode 3, the only religious persecution happening in Brazil is from Evangelicals disparaging and even attacking Afro-Brazilian churches. But this narrative of religious freedom being at risk has been part of a well-oiled disinformation machine that has helped Evangelical leaders spread claims that Lula, if elected, would take people’s private property, persecute churches, and legalize pedophilia and other immoral acts.
That’s what I heard at this rally I attended less than a week before the runoff vote at the end of October. The event brought together first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Family and Women, Damares Alves, and roughly two thousand conservative and religious women in Floriánopolis.
They packed the church hall, chanting. “I am Brazilian”, “Lula, thief, your place is in prison,” and “My flag will never be red” – The color of Lula’s Workers’ Party. First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro spoke to the crowd:
Michelle Bolsonaro: We are at war. A war of good versus evil. We know that Lula’s party only wants to kill, steal, and destroy the Brazilian people, and we are not going to allow them. We are here because God gave us this mission, and we are going to continue to fight for the nation.
Michael Fox: This holy war language is deeply pervasive. Bolsonaro’s middle name is Messias, or Messiah in English. And many of his followers actually believe that he was sent by God to save Brazil from the immoral and the corrupt. Pentacostal churches have been pushing this narrative for months in Brazil, telling their churchgoers that it was their religious duty to vote for Bolsonaro.
On election night, as it became clear that the president had lost, religious supporters in the capital Brasilia cried and prayed. If Bolsonaro was sent by God to govern the country, and Bolsonaro lost, many deduced there must have been some sort of problem with the vote count. In video after video of Bolsonaro supporters praying, it’s clear that many protesting the results are devout Evangelicals.
As we investigated at length in a previous episode of Brazil on Fire, in Brazil there is a holy war, a culture war, to capture the hearts of the country by any means necessary.
Bolsonaro’s staunch supporters, like Donald Trump’s most fervent base, maybe make up 20% of the population. They believe that the loss of this war, this election, will mean utter and complete devastation for Brazil.
And during this election, that narrative was spread online with a disinformation and fake news campaign unlike anything the country has seen. It was like the 2018 election on steroids, because the Bolsonaro campaign had years to perfect its message and knew how to push it out over social media, WhatsApp and Telegram.
David Nemer: What we’re seeing this year is something unprecedented. Never heard of it. It’s beyond anything that I’ve ever seen. And the amount of money dumped into these campaigns are also immense.
Michael Fox: That’s David Nemer. I spoke with him in Episode 4 about the rise of fascism in Brazil. He’s a professor at the University of Virginia who has studied fake news and right-wing organizing in messaging applications like WhatsApp and Telegram.
David Nemer: The misinformation that we’re seeing recently, they’ve always been around, especially for political campaigns or war campaigns, when you have a declared enemy. Right before, it was mostly for a financial agenda or maybe a social agenda, but nothing that you would try to destroy the other side or your target.
And now this is what we’re seeing. This is the current state of affairs, that we’re not only interested in beating your opponent, which that’s what you do in an election, but your goal is to destroy, to dehumanize your opponent so much that their lives are no longer valued. That if something happens, if death occurs, then it won’t matter because it was in the name of this fictitious cause. Attempts to destroy an enemy – This is what we saw in the lead-up to the runoff vote, and what we’ve been seeing following the election.
Two days after Lula’s victory, Bolsonaro supporters in the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre spilled into the streets to celebrate the imprisonment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Electoral Court Alexandre de Moraes. Remember, we’ve talked about Moraes in this podcast before. He led the Supreme Court investigations into fake news and Bolsonaro’s so-called “hate cabinet”. He authorized raids on pro-Bolsonaro businessmen who helped to finance fake news schemes.
And in the weeks leading up to the runoff vote, he cracked down on fake news, forbidding conservative outlets from calling Lula a “thief”, and giving social media companies a two-hour deadline to take down false or misleading information.
So, Moraes has been the leading target of hate and animosity from Bolsonaro supporters. And when they saw the news that he was to be jailed, they celebrated as though possessed by the spirit. Of course, the news wasn’t true. But those on the streets believed it was.
Fake news was a major tool in Bolsonaro’s rise, his government, and his attempt to retain power. And in recent years, he’s championed one issue above the rest, pushing a narrative that has eroded confidence in the country’s elections amongst his supporters.
David Nemer: The misinformation that really caught my attention was everything that surrounded the voting machines… The electoral system relying on voting machines has been in place since 1996. And we are known to have, you know, one of the safest electoral systems and the whole world recognizes that it is the quickest also in terms of counting the votes. So then you would think that it would be really hard to create misinformation behind the voting machines just given the trustworthiness in those machines.
Michael Fox: And yet, in the years leading up to the elections, Bolsonaro dedicated huge amounts of time to questioning the electronic voting system and raising expectations of likely fraud, even though there has never been a case of election fraud linked to the voting machines in 25 years of use.
Now, Bolsonaro hasn’t said the “F”-word since the election. But someone else has.
Steve Bannon: I think Bolsonaro, along with Salvini, are two of the most important politicians in the world – On the world stage.
Michael Fox: That’s him, Steve Bannon. Trump’s former White House strategist and an important ally for Bolsonaro on the international stage.
That, after the break.
Michael Fox: Steve Bannon. You probably remember him. Sentenced to 4 months in prison for criminal contempt of Congress. Co-founder of the far-right website Breitbart News, known to platform conspiracy theories and misinformation. Champion of global far-right movements. This is what he had to say last year about Brazil’s 2022 elections.
Steve Bannon: This election is the second most important election in the world, and the most important election ever in South America. Bolsonaro will win unless it’s stolen by what…. The machines.
Michael Fox: The day after Lula’s victory, Bannon said there was clearly fraud. He had done this the day after the first round as well.
The thing is, for Bannon, it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. He wants to sow doubt, just like he and Trump have done in the United States. Bolsonaro is a key ally, and the country is really important for the global far right. To explain exactly how, I want to bring in someone who can help us dive much deeper into Bannon and his relationship with the Bolsonaros.
Camila Vidal: I am Camila Vidal, professor here at Federal University of Santa Catarina.
Michael Fox: I met up with Camila a couple of weeks ago in Southern Brazil. And I wanted to speak with her because she researches the international connections between far-right movements, especially in Brazil and the United States. Here’s what she said about Bannon.
Camila Vidal: He was the person that linked Trump and Bolsonaro’s family. So he is a key figure, you know. He was a man that worked even before the election of Jair Bolsonaro, even before Oct. 2018. So he saw the possibility of the election of this individual and…. We can say that he helped, in a way, to the rise of Bolsonaro. He is very close.
Michael Fox: Bannon first met Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, in New York in the lead-up to Bolsonaro’s successful 2018 presidential run. He allegedly helped on Jair’s campaign and invited Eduardo to be the Latin American coordinator of his far-right organization The Movement. Of course, Eduardo was famously in Washington DC on Jan. 6, the day of the capital riot. He and Bannon have met often.
Camila Vidal: Eduardo Bolsonaro even went to a cyber symposium in South Dakota at one time that was promoted by Lindell.
Michael Fox: That’s Mike Lindell; businessman, conspiracy theorist, staunch Trump supporter. He played a pretty significant role in helping Trump try and overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Camila says what we’re seeing today, in terms of the disinformation campaign, the fraud narrative, the Bolsonaro protests, comes from strategies the far-right has tried and developed elsewhere.
Even Bolsonaro’s slow response to the electoral results was eerily reminiscent of Trump’s silence following his defeat to Joe Biden in 2020.
Camila Vidal: I believe they share experiences and techniques in order to elevate the chances of success in the campaign. This is done not only with regards to Bannon and the Bolsonaro family, but with regards to Bannon acting as a link between all the other far right leaders in the world. So Le Pen, Orbán, Salvini in Italy. So they all form a kind of network where they share experiences, what went wrong, what they did right, and therefore they copy each other when they can, when it works.
Some of the techniques that we can see are similar. They include the use of social media, YouTube. Learn how to create a video, how to boost videos on the Internet, tweets, as well as dissimulate fake news.
Michael Fox: We’ve seen all of this in Brazil during this election.
Now, the pro-Bolsonaro protests in Brazil are as much an attempt to influence Brazil’s institutions, especially the military, as they are a means of swaying the opinion of international viewers. The hashtag #BrazilianSpring went viral over social media a week after election day, clearly pushed by groups outside of Brazil to paint an image of Brazilians rising up in defense of Bolsonaro.
The reality could not be further from the truth. This is not a disputed election, nor is this Jan. 6. Some Bolsonaro supporters have protested, but there is no evidence of fraud – There never has been in Brazilian elections. Their only claim is that they believe they should have won.
Brazil’s elections are overseen by a Supreme Electoral Court, which keeps order – In stark contrast to the hodgepodge of the US electoral system. On election night, Brazil’s electoral court certified and announced the results in less than four hours. Lula’s win was quickly recognized by the US government. More than 90 countries followed suit.
Many Bolsonaro allies have also recognized Lula’s victory. Even influential pastors eventually embraced the incoming Lula government.
Lula won. During his victory speech, he said he would stop deforestation, protect the Amazon, repair the rifts between the different branches of government, and govern for all Brazilians, not just some.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: On this historic Oct. 30, the majority of Brazilians made it very clear that they want more democracy and not less. They want more social inclusion and not less. They want more respect and not less. They want more freedom, equality, and fraternity.
Michael Fox: He promised that his number one commitment would, once again, be fighting poverty and hunger.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: We’re going to bring back the social inclusion programs that lifted 36 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty. Brazil can no longer live with this immense bottomless pit, this immense inequality.
Michael Fox: Lula’s election was a huge victory, both for Brazilian democracy and for Lula himself.
On the streets of São Paulo the night of Lula’s victory, I ran into BrasilWire’s Brian Mier. If you remember, I spoke with him in the last episode of this podcast, just after the first-round vote.
Brian Mier: It’s the achievement of a lifetime for him, because he’s now fully exonerated from 10 years of his name being slung in the mud, falsely accused of corruption to advance US business interests. This is a triumphant moment for him, and not just for him. Because he represents an idea for the Brazilian people of a project of the country. So as he himself says, we’re all Lula, and for that reason it’s a triumphant moment for the Brazilian working class.
Michael Fox: Lula’s vice president, Geraldo Alkman, has been leading the transition to his new government. This week, Lula is heading to Egypt. In his first international appearance since his victory, Lula will join global leaders as a special guest at the COP27 climate change summit. Bolsonaro, very clearly, is not attending. At the meeting, Lula is expected to champion international cooperation. The man former president Barack Obama called “o cara”, or “the man”, is back.
But the road ahead won’t be easy. Lula will face a super-charged opposition in Congress, a rabid Bolsonaro base on the streets, who, like Donald Trump’s supporters, will likely continue to believe the lie that Bolsonaro should have won the election. He will also have to navigate the interests of the broad center-left coalition that helped lift him to power.
But if anyone can do it, it’s Lula, the country’s working-class hero turned negotiator, who has been here before. None of this is new to the president-elect. In his previous terms in office, he also forged a broad coalition and faced out-of-control deforestation and opposition in Congress and on the streets. He says he’s ready. For the Brazilian people who have suffered Brazil’s descent toward fascism, many are eager for him to help lift them out of the abyss.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: We want to return so that no one ever dares to challenge democracy again, and for fascism to go back to the sewers of history, where it should never have left.
Michael Fox: Lula said at an early campaign rally in May. And that is what a majority of Brazilians are hoping for, too.
This was the last update to Brazil on Fire. I’m your host, Michael Fox. See you next time.