While they are not yet formally organized, Bolsonaro’s violent shock troops will continue as a disruptive, anti-democratic force. They are ably assisted by the “Hate Cabinet”—composed of hand-picked operators from Bolsonaro’s inner circle—who bombard social media with horrendous fake news. The most hard-core Bolsonaro supporters, including independent owner truckers and bosses of large trucking firms (some of whom forced their employees to participate) organized over five hundred blockades of highways around the country in the first three days after the elections, calling for military intervention against the election results. They were denounced by several truckers’ unions and roundly condemned by politicians and the media but received formal support from many Bolsonaro cronies. The media have reported numerous cases of the Federal Highway Police assisting the blockaders and Bolsonaro himself, who only tacitly accepted defeat two days after the election, declared that he completely understood his supporters’ frustration with “electoral irregularities.” He only slapped them on the wrist for their “methods” insisting that these were characteristic of the left. Three full days after the election there are still almost two hundred highway blockades.
Popular resistance against the anti-democratic blockades and the lack of formal actions by the PT, allied parties, the trade unions and established social movements are portents of the conflicts to come between the top-down parliamentary approach and radical, grass-roots mobilizations. Reluctant state police have broken up most of the highway obstructions after they were ordered to by the Supreme Court. Yet at least seven barricades in four states were taken down by concerted mobilizations of dock workers, poor local residents and left-wing football fan clubs, including two blockades in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. Initially calling on its members to forcibly unblock the highways, the Homeless Workers’ Movement ended up signing an accord with other PT-supporting social movements and all the main trade union federations to merely “accompany” the actions of Bolsonaro’s shock troops, but not to intervene to rout them.
Bolsonaro has already adopted Donald Trump’s playbook after the latter’s defeat in 2020: 1) Despite being widely debunked, every possible lie about the electronic voting system has been regurgitated to argue that the election was fraudulent; 2) His delayed recognition of defeat speech was a mere two and half minutes and only very timidly accepted the results of the election; 3) He and his supporters have continued to attack democratic institutions such as the Judiciary, alleging that they were victims of political persecution by a supposedly left-wing establishment; 4) Amply using fake news on social media, he has already mobilized his supporters to cause public turmoil to intimidate and threaten, including through physical violence, the left and other democratic forces; 5) He will enlist supporters both at home and abroad—from Trump and Bannon in the US to Orban in Hungary—to bolster his wild conspiracy theory. Racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism will run rampant.
All this amounts to a fascist-inspired attack on the fledgling liberal capitalist democracy in Brazil. This anti-democratic assault has been tried and tested since Bolsonaro won the fraudulent elections in 2018 through massive fake news and a wave of anti-Workers’s Party (PT) sentiment. Bolsonaro encourages his shock troops from below to do his nasty bidding as a complement to his formal, authoritarian politics from above.
There are no better examples of this than the appalling violence during the election campaign. At least four PT activists were murdered in September and October and hundreds of left-wingers were physically assaulted, including one young pregnant woman pamphleting who lost her baby. There were almost two thousand denunciations of electoral coercion by bosses in thirteen hundred different companies threatening their employees to vote for Bolsonaro or face dismissal.
The last week of the election campaign witnessed two bizarre, brutal yet unsurprising episodes by leading Bolsonaro supporters. On October 23, the ex-federal deputy and ferocious Bolsonarista, anti-semite and convicted thief, Roberto Jefferson, attacked the federal police who arrived at his house to arrest him for a vicious and misogynist video against Supreme Court Justice, Carmen Lucia. He fired more than seventy rounds and threw three grenades, wounding two police officers. While his indictment for homicide was officially endorsed by the Bolsonaro government, he received a huge outpouring of support from the Bolsonaro ranks.
And at noon hour the day before the election on a crowded city center street in São Paulo, the reelected federal deputy, Carla Zambelli, one of Bolsonaro’s chief precinct captains in the state, pulled out her gun and pursued two young unarmed black men, supporters of Lula, who had argued with her outside a restaurant. Political commentators repeated that this was another shot in the foot for Bolsonaro but ignore the fact that the support she received for her blatantly criminal and racist behavior not only from rank and file Bolsonaristas, but from leading government figures, including the President’s sons, reflects what we face in the next months and years from the far right.