Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro stands in front of a US flag during a news conference at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

Brazil under Bolsonaro

Behind in polls, Bolsonaro bolsters his base with far-right rhetoric from the US

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro’s ties with America’s far-right movement deepen as Brazilian conservative groups expand their global connections.

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro stands in front of a US flag during a news conference at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

Credit:

Eraldo Peres/AP/File photo

Last month, President Jair Bolsonaro presided over an American-backed conference of conservatives in Brazil known as CPAC-Brazil. Dozens of speakers warned about the threat of socialism and called for free speech, gun rights and conservative family values.

This was a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), attended by an official US delegation and sponsored by GETTR and Parler, both right-wing social media platforms.

Related: Bolsonaro rallies base on Brazil's Independence Day

Donald Trump Jr. was one of the top speakers who livestreamed from the US.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, a prominent congressman who helped organize the conference (and son of the president) was also a top speaker.

“We are suffering attacks. ... It was never so important for conservatives to unite for the few freedoms we have left in the country.”

Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, CPAC-Brazil promotional video

“We are suffering attacks,” Eduardo Bolsonaro said in a promo shared online for the conference. “It was never so important for conservatives to unite for the few freedoms we have left in the country.”

Eduardo Bolsonaro has become the international face of his father’s movement abroad, traveling back and forth to the US even before Jair Bolsonaro’s election. Since 2019, he’s served as the Latin American head of The Movement, a group led by Donald Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, to help support far-right groups around the world.

In August, Eduardo Bolsonaro met with Donald Trump in New York. Then he flew to South Dakota, where he participated with Bannon in a conference about election fraud. Bannon praised Eduardo Bolsonaro and talked up next year’s presidential elections in Brazil.

Related: Bolsonaro rallies his base with voter fraud claims ahead of elections

“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 the machines,” Bannon said.

Bolsonaro has continued to demand paper ballots and denounce Brazil’s electoral system as fraudulent — without presenting any evidence.

In reality, all of the polls show Jair Bolsonaro falling far behind former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His approval rating has fallen to only 25% of the population. Recently, hundreds of thousands marched in cities across Brazil against President Jair Bolsonaro, blaming him and his administration for their mishandling of the pandemic and for attacking the country’s electoral system ahead of the 2022 elections.

Related: Brazilian Indigenous groups mobilize to defend land rights

Camila Feix Vidal, a foreign relations professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, said it’s one example of far-right, Trump-style tactics being implemented by Bolsonaro and his base.

“The US alt-right has been important, because it has helped to export strategies and techniques, including fake news, that Bolsonaro has implemented. ... So, digital activism has been an important contribution from the US alt-right to Bolsonaro’s base.”

Camila Feix Vidal, foreign relations professor, Federal University of Santa Catarina

“The US alt-right has been important, because it has helped to export strategies and techniques, including fake news, that Bolsonaro has implemented,” Feix Vidal said. “So, digital activism has been an important contribution from the US alt-right to Bolsonaro’s base.”

Experts say the US alt-right is also benefiting from this relationship.

“At this time when they are out of power on the national level in the US, I think they are trying to look at these other places where they could be consolidating their agenda and where they could be pushing forward,” said Fabio de Sa e Silva, an international studies professor at the University of Oklahoma.

“[America's far-right] have this sort of crusader spirit. Brazil is an important country. So, I think they see this as an important battle to win.”

Fabio de Sa e Silva, international studies professor, University of Oklahoma

“They have this sort of crusader spirit. Brazil is an important country. So, I think they see this as an important battle to win.”

Bolsonaro has been a willing ally in this war, and the US flag has become a banner for Brazil’s far-right.

Bolsonaro has paraded with the US flag waving often at pro-Bolsonaro rallies, alongside signs calling for paper ballots and military intervention.

Individuals and groups are increasingly building international connections.

“We need to recognize that that new far-right has global ambitions,” said Sa e Silva. “They despise what they call the ‘globalists,’ but they also build transnational connections — they import and export ideas. They engage in exchanges.”

Eduardo Bolsonaro is looking toward the future. Last year, he founded the Conservative Liberal Institute, which helped to organize this year’s CPAC conference. He’s promised that much more is to come.

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