Image credit: Blog do Esmael
During his radio program on October 9, former grand wizard of the KKK David Duke announced his endorsement for the racist, misogynistic, and extreme-right Brazilian frontrunner in this year’s presidential elections, Jair Bolsonaro. “He is a European descendant. He looks like any white man in America, in Portugal, Spain or Germany and France or UK. He is talking about the demographic disaster that exists in Brazil and the enormous crime rate that exists there, like in the black neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro. He sounds like us. He is also a very strong candidate. He’s a nationalist,” said Duke, excited that “nationalist movements which are basically pro-European are definitely sweeping the world, even in countries you never thought of.”
Riding a wave of rising anger in Brazil against the traditional party system amidst a prolonged recession, high crime rates, and widespread corruption, Bolsonaro won the first round of the Brazilian elections last October 7 by a wide margin, and his once insignificant political force Social Liberal Party (PSL) is now poised to become the largest force in Congress, following legislative elections held alongside the presidential vote. With the second round of the elections less than two weeks away, Bolsonaro was quick to reject Duke’s endorsement. “I reject any type of support coming from supremacist groups,” wrote Bolsonaro in English on his Twitter account. “I suggest that, for consistency, they support my adversary, the candidate of the left party, who loves to segregate the society.” He added that Duke’s statements were offensive to Brazilian people, “the most beautiful and mixed race people in the world.”
The moderate image Bolsonaro is now attempting to project in the lead-up to the second round of the elections is belied, however, by the inflammatory rhetoric on which he built his career on the fringes of political life in Brazil until his recent rise the polls. Just last year, at a speech he gave at a Jewish club in Rio, he said that quilombolas, the descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves who escaped from slave plantations and founded their own settlements, “are completely useless; they’re not even fit for procreation.” When asked in 2011 what he would do if his son fell in love with a black woman, he answered “I don’t run that risk because my sons were very well educated.” And in a country in which indigenous peoples suffer daily attacks on their land, with the assassination of their leaders, Bolsonaro said in an interview earlier this year “If I take office, the Indians will not get another inch of land.”
But oppressed racial groups in Brazil have not been his only target. Bolsonaro has made no bones about his misogyny, explaining in 2015 that women must earn lower wages because they get pregnant and saying to a woman lawmaker in 2014 that she didn’t “deserve” to be raped because she wasn’t attractive enough. Bolsonaro is also notorious for his anti-LGBT views and has said that he would rather his son die in an accident than have a gay son.
With regard to immigration, the political leader has said that Brazil cannot be an open-border country. In the context of a brutal attack last August against Venezuelan immigrants at the Brazilian border in Roraima, he stated that the UN should create “concentration camps” for refugees and immigrants in Brazil.
Equally disturbing are the laudatory remarks he has made about Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, going so far as to call it “glorious” in statements made in 2015 and asserting that under the dictatorship Brazil enjoyed 20 years of order and progress. “The mistake of the dictatorship was torturing and not killing,” said Bolsonaro, who is himself a former army captain.
Bolsonaro’s hateful rhetoric has stoked a climate of political violence, mostly against supporters of Fernando Haddad, the presidential candidate for the Worker’s Party, whom he will face in the runoff on October 28. The recent politically motivated attacks have ranged from verbal assaults to beatings and stabbings, and at least two attacks were fatal. On October 16, a transgender woman was knifed to death in downtown São Paulo by assailants who yelled out Bolsonaro’s name, and on October 7, capoeira Master Moa Katendê, an activist for the defense and promotion of black culture, was stabbed 12 times by a PSL supporter.” The 12 stab-wounds to Maestro Moa’s body came directly from the mouth of Bolsonaro, his party, and his allies, who promote hatred against blacks, northeasterners, and immigrants,” said Marcello Pablito, leader of the Brazilian black people’s organization Quilombo Vermelho.
In a country in which a large part of the electorate is black or of multiple racial backgrounds, Bolsonaro has been toning down his rhetoric in recent weeks, calling for unity among blacks and whites. But although David Duke’s endorsement of Bolsonaro could be seen as detrimental to the political leader’s efforts to win the runoff, the parallels between Bolsonaro’s ideology and the political positions held by Duke, a misogynistic, anti-immigrant white supremacist, are unmistakable.