Note from BBT: With all eyes focused on the actions of white nationalists in the US and the clear understanding on how people are and would be treated differently for similar acts, not much has been made of the recent death threats that black women elected officials have received in Brazil since the last election cycle. Of course it made headlines in Brazil, but I guarantee that not many people beyond Brazilian borders are even aware of what happened.
A growing neo-Nazi movement is perhaps one of Brazil’s dirtiest little secrets. I mean, how can there be supporters of a neo-Nazi movement in a country that considers itself to be free of racial hatred, racism and racial inequality? It’s something that perhaps won’t make sense to you until you remove the mask and see what lurks behind the mask of racial democracy. When I first discovered the existence of extremists, and support for neo-Nazis, fascism and even the KKK in Brazil, it caught me off guard too.
One of the keys to understanding Brazil is the factor of denial. One can be as racist as they wanna be, they just have to publicly deny it. Numerous reports over the years have shown that Brazilians will openly admit to knowing people who are blatantly racist but these same people would never admit being racists themselves.
You see, the belief in black inferiority and hatred of blackness has always existed in Brazil but the proclamation of the country being a racial democracy was a sort of pact that all Brazilians promised to adhere to even as they regularly made racist jokes and prayed that their children were born not showing any signs of the African ancestry that most Brazilians carry in their bodies.
The 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro seemed to signal to Brazilians that they could let those inner feelings come out as many researchers point directly to the influence of the extreme right leader as the source of more and more open hostility. With Donald Trump’s days as the POTUS numbered, many in Brazil have started the countdown to what they hope will be the end of the Bolsonaro Administration as well.
Calls for impeachment of Bolsonaro have gained support lately with 106 votes in Brazil’s Congress being supportive of impeachment against 42 who are against it. 365 members of the Câmara (Congress) have yet to position themselves on the issue and 342 votes are necessary for impeachment.
Whatever Bolsonaro’s fate may be, his presidency has shown a side of Brazil that many probably didn’t know existed. It’s in this environment that a number of elected women have had to take threats to their lives more seriously than ever before. Especially considering the unsolved assassination of Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco has passed more than 1,000 days
Threats from neo-Nazis to black and trans councilwomen alarm and expose advance of extremism in Brazil
Attacks against city councilmen occurred in December and police are still searching for the culprits. Victims report routine of fear experts warn of escalating threats in the country, while the US reflects on trivializing hate speech on the networks
Racial injuries (slurs), unfortunately, are not new to teacher Ana Carolina Dartora, 37. The first black councilwoman elected in the 327 years of Curitiba’s City Council, and the third most voted in the Paraná capital in the 2020 elections, her campaign was permeated by attacks, especially on social networks. Until then, Carol Dartora – as the councilwoman affiliated with the Workers’ Party (PT) is known – considered the messages harmless. But in early December – after an interview with Mayor Rafael Greca (DEM) in which the mayor said he disagreed with the existence of structural racism in the city – she received a message by e-mail threatening her with death, including a mention of her home address.
In the text, the sender calls the councilwoman a “freak”, “bird’s nest hair”, and says he is unemployed and with a wife that has cancer. “I swear I will buy a 9mm pistol in Morro do Engenho and a one-way ticket to Curitiba and I will kill you”. The message also said that it was no use her to look for the police, or walk with security guards. Although Carol heard from some people that the threats were just “Internet stuff,” experts heard by EL PAÍS ponder that one should not underestimate hate speech – the example of all the discussion that has pervaded the United States since Wednesday, January 6, when Donald Trump’s extremist supporters invaded the Capitol in protest against the president’s defeat, causing five deaths.
The e-mail, with the same text, was also sent to Ana Lúcia Martins (PT), also the first black woman elected as a councilwoman in Joinville, Santa Catarina. Trans councilors Duda Salabert (PDT) of Belo Horizonte and Benny Briolly (PSOL) of Niterói (RJ) were also threatened by the same sender. So far, police investigations have shown that the orchestrated attack came from a neo-Nazi cell that operates mainly in the depths of the Internet, the so-called deep web. The provider from which the message was sent has a registration in Sweden, which makes it difficult for civil police and, in the case of Paraná, the Cybercrimes Combat Center to track it.
“I kept looking at the message perplexed, without being able to process much. The astonishment of other people from the party gave me the alert,” Carol told EL PAÍS. “The violence is not only objective. Political violence has accompanied my trajectory and that of the other councilwomen who are threatened, with barriers that are being created so that we don’t succeed. No woman should face so many things to exercise a basic right of democracy,” she said.
Since then, fear has been part of the daily life of the councilwoman of Curitiba. “I’m trying to be more discreet. I’m even thinking about changing my hair. This is very minimized, despised. People think it’s bullying, an Internet thing. It’s very clear the issue of gender, of sexism allied to racism”. But it was on the Internet, for example, that attacks on the US Capitol by far-right groups that didn’t accept Trump’s defeat by Democrat Joe Biden were planned for weeks.
Affiliated to the PT since the 1980s, Ana Lúcia Martins, 54, was the first woman elected by the party in Joinville, Santa Catarina and, like Carol Dartora, the first black woman on the City Council. The teacher, physical educator and alphabetizer began her formation and political participation while still in her adolescence, in youth groups of the Igreja do Cristo Ressuscitado (Church of the Risen Christ), in the neighborhood of Floresta, where she was born and grew up. She decided to run for the seat after a long maturation with the black and women’s movements.
After her victory in the 2020 elections, the first intimidation already appeared on Twitter, when she was still celebrating her victory. “A fake account came and commented: ‘now we need to kill her for the substitute, who is a white man, can take over’. So it wasn’t a question of hatred of the party, or just machismo. The hate was really racial,” she points out. Days later she received the same e-mail from the same sender as the councilwoman from Curitiba. “In the face of this accusation we thought we couldn’t neglect it anymore,” says Ana Lúcia, who is now escorted by security guards paid by party members. According to her, these people raised funds to bear the costs.
The councilwoman was offered the Federal Witness Assistance Program. “For us that’s no good, because I couldn’t exercise my mandate there, and we want that guarantee,” Ana Lúcia points out. The Santa Catarina Military Police offered rounds and vehicles at public events, as long as the councilwoman requested it in advance, via the office.
Note: Another recently black woman elected official that is perhaps the most intriguing to me is the case of 32-year old Suéllen Rosim of the city of Bauru of São Paulo state. Rosim was the target of racist insults as well as death threats after she denounced the prejudiced comments of her political rivals.
“Favela face” and “people of color have no competence,” were some of the racists and cowardly insults against Suéllen Rosim. Another comment directed at her was “we cannot elect that woman with a favela face to be our mayor. These people will sink Bauru.”
I find intriguing is that Rosim is with Patriota, a political party of the extreme right party. A large percentage of Brazilians were very much bothered by the center left politicals of the PT (Workers’ Party) under the leadership of Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rouseff for 14 years before anti-leftist movements and what many saw as a coup led to the eventual impeachment of Rouseff at the midway point of her second term.
Over the course of the PT years, it was very common to hear middle class Brazilians express dismay at seeing so many non-whites having access to college, flying on planes and enjoying middle-class lifestyles that the vast majority of black and brown Brazilians had never enjoyed throughout Brazil’s history. This resentment was one of the reasons that led to the rise and electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro.
What reactions against Rosim show is that, even though one would think she would seen by conversatives of “one of theirs”, her skin color trumps her political leanings. She may not be a leftist, but she is still black, a sentiment that Brazilians have denied existed for decades.
Here extreme right views, like those of Bolsonaro, didn’t stop people from making comments such as:
“I have nothing against (them), but these dark-skinned people, who look like outcasts running this city, it will be the end” or “these people of color, represented by this Suéllen, won’t know how to manage the city, they have no competence.”
An attorney with the Municipal Directory of the PT in Curitiba and also a professor at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) Law School, Paulo Opuska said he believes that more assertive measures regarding the protection of Carol, Ana Lúcia and other councilmen will occur under pressure from international entities. He, who is following the case, made a report about it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Opuska sought out the Secretariat of Public Security of Paraná (Sesp) to request security from the state’s councilwoman. “Secretary [Romulo Marinho Soares] didn’t respond to Carol. You can’t let responsibility go out of the hands of the agent [State]. We have to be careful not to trivialize. It’s not difficult to what happened to Marielle [Franco] in a city like Curitiba, whose structural racism appears in the mayor’s own speech.
In a note, the Secretariat of Public Security states that “after there was a request for a hearing for the secretary to tend to the elected councilwoman, he appointed a specialized delegate, a member of Public Security, to receive her (considering that he had other previous and external agendas). Thus, the councilwoman had the proper service,” argues the department. Still according to the entity, the case requires a “complex investigation”.
Need for reaction
In the analysis of the professor of the Education Sector of the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and coordinator of the Nucleus of Afro-Brazilian Studies (Neab), Megg Rayara Gomes de Oliveira, there is a consent on the part of the Public Power for these neo-Nazi groups to move with a certain freedom. The first black transvestite to obtain a doctorate from the university where she teaches today, Meggy says that the accusations of black women end up being discredited. “To be valid you must go through the tutelage of white people. People respect the position our title uccupies. It’s not the black woman who is respected but the elected councilwoman”.
She also criticizes the parties’ actions on the coercion suffered by the councilwomen. “They are from three left-wing parties, which are not giving importance to the gravity of these threats. It’s clear that the PSOL didn’t pay attention to everything that happened to Marielle. It seems that the parties are not very concerned with protecting these bodies”.
A pioneer in Brazil in research on neo-Nazi groups moving on the Internet, anthropologist Adriana Abreu Magalhães Dias says that neo-Nazism in Brazil is a “myriad”. “There are many groups, each with one or several cells that sometimes share the same base,” she explains.
In her doctoral thesis at Unicamp, she brought together more than 15 years of research with websites, forums, blogs and communities to describe how these extremists think. “There are anti-gay, white supremacist, Hitler groups, those that tend toward nationalist discourse. In the boil of the eggs, what there is is hatred. That seeks to break a person’s humanity, to prevent them from having their personality recognized,” she explains.
According to anthropologist Adriana, the situation in Brazil today is serious and there was a growth of these groups after the election that took Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency in 2018, with a rather violent discourse. “The situation is getting serious in Brazil, and people are not realizing it. Civil society needs to react strongly. What happened to Marielle cannot happen to these councilwomen. They need to be protected by the state. As civil society that thinks about the civilization process, we have to react”.