Last week, authorities arrested a Brazilian neo-nazi gang in the São Paulo metro. The four skinheads were carrying knives, axes, and fascist propaganda featuring Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. While the group’s intention was to attack a group of “punk”-rockers, they also carried posters reading “Jews out.”
The incident is one of a growing underground movement of neo-nazism in Brazil. Last May, two Brazilian neo-nazis were sentenced to eight years of jail time for racist remarks on social media. Brazilian law stipulates sentences between two to five years in prison for promoting Nazi or Nazi-related propaganda. However, hate speech by conservative politicians, including presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro, has served to fuel neo-nazism.
Last month, Police unveiled a bizarre plot. Ukrainian right-wing extremists were recruiting members of Brazilian neo-nazi movements to fight against pro-Russian rebels. According to detective Paulo Cesar Jardim, a notorious neo-nazi hunter, a group called Ukraine’s Misanthropic Division ran the recruiting.
Who are Brazil’s neo-nazis
Online forums show Brazil has around 180,000 regular readers of neo-nazi ideologies on the internet. According to investigations by Brazil’s Civil Police, these neo-nazis are typically between 17 and 30 years old, and the majority hold high levels of education. To join a neo-nazi group, newcomers must take a test to prove their knowledge of Adolf Hitler, responsible for the genocide of over 6 million Jews. These neo-nazis believe themselves to be “purely white,” making them of a “superior race.”
Brazilian neo-nazi groups use military clothes, firearms, bombs, and other military equipment with the objective of killing their “opponents.”
“White” Brazilians make up less than half of Brazil’s population, at about 45.9 percent. About 43.4 percent consider themselves “multiracial” and 7.52 percent declared themselves as “black.” 1.1 percent of Brazilians are “Asian” and 0.42 percent are indigenous. Brazil is home to about 107,000 Jews, who are not the only targets of neo-nazi hate crimes. Gays, transsexuals, Afro-Brazilians and other Brazilians of color have also suffered at the hands of neo-nazi attacks and hate speech.
Neo-nazism is strongest in the south and southeast of Brazil, which has the largest concentrations of European immigrants. Indeed, 90 percent of the 300 Brazilian neo-nazi groups identified are concentrated in São Paulo, Rio Grande Do Sul, and Paraná.
Political hate speech
A recent survey of Brazilian neo-nazi groups showed that many felt resentment over the rise of the leftist Worker’s Party. The popularity of conservative congressman and ex-reserve soldier Jair Bolsonaro exploded on neo-nazi sites after he made racist and homophobic comments on television back in 2011. Following his example, Brazil’s neo-nazis took to Twitter and social media to further spread hate speech.
In just one day, Twitter received over 21,000 reports of 11 different accounts spreading hate speech against immigrants, Afro-Brazilians, Jews, women, and gays. According to the director of the study, Campinas University anthropologist Adriana Dias, about 150,000 Brazilians download at least 100 pages of neo-nazi content monthly. When neo-nazis are arrested, the sites serve to raise money to pay for their lawyers. Dias reports that, over the last 10 years, the number of neo-nazi sites has expanded from 8,000 to 31,000.