The president seems to be gunning for the second scenario, while preparing for the third. And not without good reason. The so-called Bolsonaristas – the militant hardliners who form his base – have his back. They even created a hashtag #intervencaomilitarcombolsonaro (#militaryinterventionwithbolsonaro) – to rally the troops. Polished videos are circulating in social media and on WhatsApp groups exhorting armed citizens to reclaim their rights and take action against “enemies” of the state, including leftists, atheists, homosexuals and minorities. In a recently released recording of a cabinet meeting the president insinuated that his armed supporters would defend him to the end.
When defying COVID-19 lockdown orders to glad-hand his supporters, Bolsonaro is circulating messages to get them into the street to protest his own government’s lock-down measures. Since early 2019 he has rushed-through no less than 10 decrees and bills to loosen gun availability, with hundreds of thousands of firearms now circulating in what is already the world’s most violent country. The president’s recently deposed justice minister, Sergio Moro, confirmed that these measures could incentivize “armed rebellion” against the lockdown measures proposed by local officials.
Bolsonaro recently tweeted a video clip of Charlton Heston’s infamous “from my cold dead hands” speech. It is one thing for a faded Hollywood actor to wave his fist in defiance, it is quite another when the messenger is the president of the world’s fourth largest democracy.
The risk of Brazil descending into violent unrest is still distant, but growing. The country’s democracy is being pushed to the breaking point. If Bolsonaro and his clan hangs on, as they might well do, it could tip it over the edge. Brazilians would do well to take note, and take action, before it is too late.Print