Brazils government looks to the US for inspiration and the US alt-right copies how Bolsonaro supporters use social media
When Jair Bolsonaros culture secretary published an official video paraphrasing Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, it wasnt just Brazilians who were stunned. The video, in which Roberto Alvim called for a rebirth of art and culture in Brazil while Adolf Hitlers favourite Wagner opera played in the background, sent shockwaves around the world.
Alvim was sacked within hours, as Brazilians asked: was this an aberration, a one-off, or even a communist trick? And what did it say about the far right presidents communications masterplan?
Analysts said the use of such extremist tactics is typical of the brinksmanship, trolling and meme tactics used by the US alt-right who are often referenced by powerful members of Bolsonaros government.
The term alt-right was popularised by white supremacist Richard Spencer and has been linked to Stephen Miller, a white nationalist and senior adviser to Donald Trump who has himself benefited from far-right support and at times nodded to it.
Pushing the limits and goading liberals are classic alt-right tactics, said Rodrigo Nunes, a political philosophy professor at Rio de Janeiros Pontifical Catholic University.
This is done in the US by people on the fringes of the public debate, and here it is done by people in the government, Nunes said. Sending messages to people in the most extreme fringes of the far right.
Alvim denied knowing he had quoted Goebbels. Brazilian media reported that he was well aware that he was echoing Hitlers propaganda minister and even joked he would be called a Nazi.
The playbook is the American alt-right, Nunes said. In that sense, Brazil is the first alt-right government in the world.
Its not hard to find other such rightwing dog-whistle messages around Bolsonaros government.
His congressman son, Eduardo, and special adviser of international affairs Felipe Martins both have Twitter profile pictures which use a sci-fi, collage aesthetic called vaporwave or fashwave associated with the alt-right.
Martins profile quotes Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night the Dylan Thomas poem quoted in the manifesto of far-right terrorist Brenton Tarrant, accused of killing 51 people in the Christchurch mosque attacks.
These are common tropes, said Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor in the American Culture department at the University of Michigan and author of Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate. In turn, the US alt-right is interested in Brazil because they like Jair Bolsonaro and the way he and his supporters have used social media, she said.
The Bolsonaros also use offensive statements to distract media attention from damaging scandals. In the past month alone, the president told a reporter he looked terribly like a homosexual as explosive details about a money laundering inquiry into his senator son Flvio swirled. Last week, he said on Facebook live that Indigenous people are increasingly becoming human beings just like us.
Thats part of the spectacle, like the shock and awe going on in the US, said Stern.
Like Trump, leading Bolsonaristas are good at plausible deniability making an extreme comment, then withdrawing it or claiming it was misconstrued.
Eduardo Bolsonaro and finance minister Paulo Guedes have both said Brazil could reintroduce notoriously repressive legislation from Brazils military dictatorship if street protests like those in Chile were to erupt. Both later backed off, but the subject had entered the national conversation.
And while Alvims conservative art competition has been suspended, many Bolsonaristas still believe that Brazilian culture is decadent, infested with leftist ideals, and in need of a conservative transformation.
Its back to Nazi ideas of what is degenerate art, how young families are being corrupted, Stern said. [The idea] is out there and its entering the discourse.