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Brazil: Rise of Neo-Nazi Groups and the Controversy Surrounding Bolsonaro’s Policies

Since 2015, the number of neo-Nazi cells in Brazil has increased by more than ten times, as per researchers at Sao Paulo State's Unicamp university

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

BRAZIL. Itajai: In November of last year, just hours before a social gathering for Haitian immigrants in the town of Itajai in the state of Santa Catarina, a terrifying message was received by the event’s organizer, Andrea Muller. 

The anonymous sender wrote, “Santa Catarina is a land of white people, for white people,” concluding with a Nazi salute and the words “SIEG HEIL.” Although the event proceeded as planned, with police presence and no issues, this email represents a small yet growing number of neo-Nazi incidents in Brazil, coinciding with the rise of far-right parties during former President Jair Bolsonaro’s 2019–2023 term. The Santa Catarina police are currently investigating the email.

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Critics have heavily criticized Bolsonaro, a former army captain, for his policies, which they argue harm the country’s indigenous peoples, as well as his longstanding defense of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

According to Brazil’s Federal Police, the number of investigations into alleged neo-Nazi instigation has surged since 2019, with a significant increase reported this year.

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Under Brazil’s 1989 racism law, the use of Nazi insignia is punishable, and the country’s freedom of expression laws do not protect speech considered to be “apologies for the regime of Adolf Hitler.”

The police department has initiated 21 investigations into suspected production, sale, distribution, or display of swastikas to propagate Nazism this year alone, a stark increase compared to only one investigation in 2018, the year Bolsonaro was elected.

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However, some experts argue that these figures underestimate the scope of the problem on a national level. In April, after a 25-year-old man attacked a Santa Catarina kindergarten with an axe, killing four children, Justice Minister Flavio Dino instructed authorities to investigate any potential interstate activities of neo-Nazi groups. In two earlier school shootings in Brazil this year, the perpetrators wore armbands with Nazi swastikas.

The National Jewish Association of Brazil (CONIB) reported an “unprecedented increase in the number of extremist groups, the majority of which are openly neo-Nazis.”

Researchers from Unicamp University in Sao Paulo state have found that the number of neo-Nazi cells in Brazil has increased by more than tenfold since 2015. In a YouTube video, the researchers attributed the emergence of these organizations to Bolsonaro’s “inflammatory” statements.

While there is agreement that the numbers of neo-Nazi incidents are increasing, there is disagreement regarding the extent of Bolsonaro’s responsibility for this trend.

Guilherme Franco de Andrade, a far-right expert at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, acknowledges that neo-Nazism is undeniably a growing issue but is hesitant to solely blame the former president. He suggests that Bolsonaro’s expansion may be attributed more to a growing conservatism following years of corruption scandals under leftist administrations.

The neo-Nazi problem is particularly severe in Santa Catarina, a state with a significant population of people of German and Italian descent. With 84% of its citizens identifying as white, Santa Catarina has the highest percentage of white people in Brazil.

Arthur Lopes, a police detective overseeing investigations into neo-Nazi groups in Florianopolis, the capital of Santa Catarina state, states that some individuals in the state feel superior due to their ethnic background. Lopes spends a significant part of his day on the dark web, where fascists gather to evade law enforcement.

In November, Lopes’ team conducted its largest-ever bust, apprehending eight alleged neo-Nazis known as Crew 38, who was residing on a rural farm. Some of the males had tattoos of Nazi emblems and wore T-shirts bearing the logo of Hammerskins, a US neo-Nazi group. 

The raid also yielded red, white, and black flags, as well as CDs of what Lopes described as “white supremacist bands.” Lopes believes they were supplying Hammerskins cells in the US and Europe with these materials.

Attorney Luis Eduardo de Quadros, defending the eight men, claims that they are longtime friends who enjoy that genre of rock music, and they “have nothing against blacks or Jews.” Quadros reports being threatened with death for defending them.

Lopes contends that prosecuting those involved in Nazism can be challenging under Brazilian legislation, which he deems “weak” and “outdated,” as the use of symbols referencing the Nazi government and speech denying or defending the Holocaust often go unpunished.

Also Read: Spain Runs the Risk of Lurching to Far-right after US and Brazil: PM Sanchez


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