The Bannonites got what they wanted on January 8 in Brasilia
It's easier to claim you're being oppressed in "Gulags" for a failed insurrection than it is to justify a right-wing military coup. Bolsonaro lost, but Lula may struggle to win the information space.
After the storming of the National Congress in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia on January 8, much has been made of this attempted insurrection as it so closely mirrors events in the United States on January 6, 2021. While I agree there are many in Brazil who have been clamoring for a right-wing military coup to install Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s dictator, I believe focusing only on this possibility obscures another game at work here in the digital space. As I said in November and continued to believe today, the Bannonites who advise Bolsonaro and supported his “stolen election” lies after he lost to now-Brazilian President Lula da Silva do not need a right-wing military coup to occur in Brazil in order to claim victory. They wouldn’t mind if Bolsonaro had found a way to illegally seize power and rule the country, but they are more than happy to keep doing what they’re already doing with Lula in power. In fact, it might even be easier for them from a propaganda perspective for Lula to restore order and begin jailing the people who orchestrated the attack on the National Congress (which he is already doing and must continue doing). The Bannonites have already started echoing the same sentiments and buzzwords we saw after January 6 in the United States. Why work to justify a right-wing military coup in Brazil when you can instead highlight your supposed oppression by the “criminal Lula” and his new government? It’s simply much easier to cast themselves as victims than it is to justify and explain their own victimization of their opponents. This is not to say they wouldn’t, haven’t and aren’t willing to list out the reasons why a right-wing military coup in Brazil was “necessary”. This is simply to say that argument is a harder sell. Images of so-called “political prisoners” being marched away in handcuffs sort of writes itself in your ongoing victimization narrative.
While the insurrectionists in Brazil are rounded up, many of the big influencers who encouraged or at least provided justification for the January 8 attack will continue to blast out the same rhetoric with little concern for the consequences. As Ryan Broderick mentioned on his newsletter, Garbage Day, Bolsonaro’s silence enabled a QAnon style network of messaging to reach its intended audience on sites like Telegram, TikTok and a Chinese video app called Kwai which is popular in Brazil. These ultimately were spread to larger and larger audiences via WhatsApp. The more direct calls for action and violence may die down. After the events of January 8, it will be more difficult to spread this message as these platforms are finally taking action against those spreading this material and local law enforcement will surely dedicate additional resources to observing these discussions in real time. However, even if the potential for a right-wing coup soon lays dormant, the resentment will grow. The anger will increase. There is still plenty of room for pro-Bolsonaro messaging both in Brazil and in the United States through their MAGA allies and on the increasingly extremist-friendly Twitter 2.0. These extremists are engaged in a long-term goal for influence and control, and January 8 will only embolden the members of the movement as they believe they’re winning.
Here’s what the Bannonites want their audience to believe and why it matters.
They feel oppressed by Brazilian law and thus attack those who enforce it.
The January 8 attack in Brasilia on the National Congress included pro-Bolsonaro supporters storming three buildings housing three branches of government—Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential offices. The courts in particular have drawn increasing ire from the Bolsonarists in Brazil who claim the laws they keep breaking are biased against them and enforcing those laws is a sign of growing corruption. This further necessitates a dictatorial takeover of the country in their eyes as a Bolsonaro with complete power would not be constrained by a constitution which he would tear up once installed. It is not enough for them for the left to be wrong or immoral. Those accusations almost appear quaint at this point. No, the stakes have been raised to criminality. In short, these right-wing extremists claim they love “law and order” but only when they are the ones who write the laws and then enforce the order.
Steve Bannon rarely misses an opportunity to link newly inaugurated Brazilian President Lula da Silva to the Chinese Communist Party specifically, communism more generally and Lula’s criminal past. To be clear, Lula was convicted on corruption charges related to Operation Car Wash, a kickback scheme involving construction contracts and bribes paid out over a number of years to various Latin American politicians. Lula was not the only head of state to be taken down by this investigation, and he went to jail for it. When he was later released, Lula’s conviction was overturned on a technicality by the Supreme Court which is now headed by the man who has become the great villain of the Bolsonaro movement—Alexandre de Moraes. He is the same man who pushed back against Bolsonaro’s lies about COVID-19 vaccines (he claimed they would increase the chances of developing AIDS) and more recently he has fought to curb misinformation in Brazil, frequently putting him at odds with right-wing voices in the country who are intent on convincing the public that the presidential election was unfair or “rigged” against Bolsonaro. These same people are unable to prove any of their claims. Nevertheless, the act of simply “asking the question” over and over and over again has convinced roughly 40% of the population that Lula did not receive more votes than Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential election.
Bolsonaro supporters don’t want to talk about voter suppression that was carried out on his behalf in the country. They don’t want to acknowledge that the Brazilian military—a large majority of which support Bolsonaro—looked into these various fraud claims and could find no evidence for them. They want to believe, as many did at the National Congress insurrection on January 8, that the military is coming to save them and restore Bolsonaro to his rightful place in the presidential offices. However, the military didn’t come to support the protestors. They didn’t rise up while thousands camped outside their barracks and begged them to depose Lula and prevent the transfer of power.
I have no love for corrupt politicians, but Bolsonaro and his allies constantly focusing on Lula’s criminality ignores the credible accusations against Bolsonaro while he was president—predictably pushed back on and investigated by the boogeyman Justice de Moraes. These accusations against Bolsonaro should be looked into no more so than was previously done for Lula’s first stint as President. Also, the decision to overturn Lula’s conviction may have been based on a technicality but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision based on the law. Numerous legal experts have weighed in here and said that yes, the court’s offense in Lula’s case was relatively minor. However, based on applicable Brazilian laws, overturning the conviction was the correct action. What does it say about your own candidate if you can’t beat a corrupt ex-president who only got released on a technicality? As ever, the unwillingness for introspection and self-reflection is remarkable.
They claim to be fighting the spread of global communist forces in league with Biden, Lula, the deep state, big pharma and more.
As I said, Bannon and his acolytes claim to be on a perilous quest to bring down the Chinese Communist Party. That’s what they say, anyway, and it’s true that Lula’s first stint as President saw Brazil often supportive of Chinese (and Russian, though they conveniently omit this) interests in the region. Simply calling Lula pro-China though is not enough. According to Bannon, he is a “puppet” of the Chinese Communist Party, and Lula together with Joe Biden is supposedly creating some sort of pincer move against America’s long held interests in Latin America. To understand the supposed logic of this, one must be thoroughly immersed in their rhetoric, but the gist of it is that, according to the Bannonites, Cold War 2.0 is well underway with China cast as the main adversary of the “Traditionalist” Americans who belong to the MAGA movement. In this telling, the CCP has installed Joe Biden as president to do their bidding in coordination with the “elites” of the world which includes variously Big Pharma, the Deep State, Big Tech and other seen and hidden hands you may have heard Trump or those allied with him complaining about over the last few years.
In this sequence of events, MAGA is saving the world from the growing threat of communism, and they’re willing to do anything—up to and including embracing fascism—in order to defeat the new Red Menace. As such, they will continue to cast Lula as a figure of communism. Bannon has recently claimed that Lula idolizes Stalin. As the pro-Bolsonaro insurrectionists are rounded up and arrested for committing crimes including rioting, vandalism and theft at the National Congress, the Bannonites have claimed these Brazilians are the new political prisoners being sent to the “Gulag” by Brazil’s new president who is himself a Stalinist puppet of the Chinese Communist Party. The conspiracy grows ever deeper. The victimization is ever present. Any attempts to uphold law and order are persecution.
Oh and all those images of vandalism at the National Congress building? The Bannonites claim that was only done by agent provacateurs. Sound familiar?
They hate the things they can’t control most of all.
Depsite the fact that MAGA has placed itself in permanent opposition to the “Deep State”, much of the recent messaging around Brazil claims that Bolsonaro needs to remain in power in the country to maintain American interests. They have claimed this is needed to uphold longstanding U.S. policy known as the Monroe Doctrine.
An explainer of the Monroe Doctrine from the National Archives states the following:
The Monroe Doctrine was articulated in President James Monroe's seventh annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823. The European powers, according to Monroe, were obligated to respect the Western Hemisphere as the United States' sphere of interest.
While the Monroe Doctrine’s message was designed to keep European powers out of the Western Hemisphere, Roosevelt would strengthen its meaning to justify sending the United States into other countries of the Western Hemisphere. As a result, U.S. Marines were sent into Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915, ostensibly to keep the Europeans out. Other Latin American nations viewed these interventions with misgiving, and relations between the “great Colossus of the North” and its southern neighbors remained strained for many years.
In 1962, the Monroe Doctrine was invoked symbolically when the Soviet Union began to build missile-launching sites in Cuba. With the support of the Organization of American States, President John F. Kennedy threw a naval and air quarantine around the island. After several tense days, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw the missiles and dismantle the sites. Subsequently, the United States dismantled several of its obsolete air and missile bases in Turkey.
More recently, former CIA director Robert Gates cited the Monroe Doctrine to justify the United States's involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair in 1984, and former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed the doctrine was "alive in well" in 2019 after the Trump administration enacted a fresh round of sanctions against the Cuban government in 2019.
It’s rather strange to see a group of MAGA loyalists who are so stridently opposed to the Central Intelligence Agency cite a doctrine which was used to justify more than one Latin American coup over the last two hundred years—both before and after the CIA’s founding. Nevertheless, they are doing so perhaps because they want power and a place for the US in the world but only if it’s their people calling the shots and only if they’re the ones that are in charge. While MAGA continues to target the “Deep State” and the “Fake News media,” they would rather not destroy these institutions. They want to capture them. They would like to control them and have power over them through whatever means necessary, but if they can’t have the power, they will continue their digital jihad against these institutions. If their destruction is necessary to acheive their ends, then it will be so.
What does the future hold? More of the same.
While most of the biggest influencers in this movement are not directly engaging with or promoting QAnon content, they are advancing many of the same themes—something they’ve long denied doing while continuing to do. There remain an unknown number but extremely online sect of QAnon followers in the United States while their Brazilian counterparts grew considerably in the last few years. Trump remains the key figure of QAnon, for now, in the U.S. while Bolsonaro serves a similar function in Brazil. Both sets of followers have been preaching that a right-wing military coup is coming to wrest control back from the evil leftists. They are infatuated with the idea of their enemies being sent off to prison to face military tribunals and have order restored by their respective strongman. In Brazil, which lived under military rule from 1964-85, this idea is hardly farfetched as it happened within living memory of most of its citizens.
Maintaining the support of QAnon extremists remains an important part of both movements going forward, but put simply, if Trump or Bolsonaro were to have simply given up without a fight after months of online hopium for their hardcore supporters suggesting they would remain in power, how could they continue to portray themselves as the necessary strongmen who may yet one day seize power? That’s why January 8 in Brazil seemingly needed to happen regardless of the ultimate outcome of the day’s events. The energy had to go somewhere. The belief had to be validated with images of insurrection. The fight only goes on if people continue to believe the struggle is persisting. They tried. They failed. They’ll try again in the future, safe in the knowledge that real people believed before and can believe again.
This remains a prelude to 2024 U.S., and the same could be said of a potential Bolsonaro run in 2026. The messaging here is about building to the next election cycle. Trump supporters see what’s happening in Brazil as an extension of what happened in 2020. They must keep reinforcing that idea to keep their support intact and their engagement up. They will keep intensifying the rhetoric to make it seem as if the “hidden hands” are always working against the right, the populists, the MAGA movement and all they supposedly stand for. January 6 in the U.S. and January 8 in Brazil are not isolated incidents to them. They are a continuation of the same war, the same struggle. It never ends because the “evil forces” are all constantly coordinating with each other to undermine them. As such, their responses to mostly fan fiction narratives will continue as well. It will go on and on. It will escalate further and further. This will continue until one day this scam will either be exposed for the scam that it is, or it will go on until the collective hysteria breaks the rules based order of society and the authoritarians seize power.
This is the game. These are the stakes. Buckle up.
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