Is there a neo-Nazi wave in Brazil? Understand what the numbers and experts say about the issue

Following Bolsonaro’s rise to power, data shows an increase in the number of groups defending ideas inspired by Nazism

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasília (DF) |
Neo-Nazi acts are spreading throughout Brazil, says expert - Agência Brasil

Experts heard by Brasil de Fato and figures on neo-Nazi groups show that the rise of the far right and the election of Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency in 2018 are directly linked to data that points out the advance of neo-Nazism in the country. 

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In the last months, public research identified an increase in the number of extremist groups, crime of apology for Nazism, and intense propagation of neo-Nazi content online.

The interest of academia and the press about the issue reveals a growing concern by researchers, organizations, movements related to the Jewish question, and popular organizations.

“It’s a subject that our field [of study] follows. Somehow, each time it occurs more and more openly and publicly. It had a dangerous and considerable growth”, states Douglas Belchior from Black Coalition for Rights.

Nazism preaches the destruction of all peoples and individuals that could contaminate the presumed purity of the Aryan race. During the 1930s and 1940s, Adolf Hitler put this ideology into practice as a state policy in Germany and the countries he invaded.

From 1941 to 1945, six million Jews were executed in Nazi extermination camps. The genocide of the Jewish people became known as Holocaust. It is acknowledged as one of the most traumatic episodes of human history. Among the victims of the Nazi crimes were Jews, black people, gays, physically or mentally disabled people, Sinti and Roma, communists, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

What do the figures say?

Brasil de Fato has gathered three important statistics released in recent months that relate to the existence of a "neo-Nazi wave" in the country. Understand what each of them points to:

1) Mapping had found 530 neo-Nazi centers

In recent months, many works quantified the occurrence of neo-Nazi manifestations. One of the most prominent studies was made by anthropologist Adriana Dias, who has been investigating the issue since 2002.

A survey released in January this year by the Sunday night TV show Fantástico showed that there are at least 530 neo-Nazi content extremist centers in Brazil, a universe of about 10,000 people.

The figure above represents a 270.6% rise from January 2019 to May 2021. Adriana Dias also highlights that the Nazi centers concentrates in the South of Brazil, but had spread to all the country’s five regions. 

2) According to a survey, the crime of apology has increased

A survey by O Globo newspaper published in May last year showed that the accusations investigated by the Federal Police (FP) for crimes of apology for Nazism also skyrocketed. Until recently, it was rare inquiries of this kind, about 4 to 20 annually. 

The change occurred in 2019 when 69 inquiries of apology for Nazism were set up. The situation worsened in 2020: the Federal Police investigated an average of 110 cases, which means almost a new inquiry every three days. 

Considering the 36 inquiries investigated by the Federal Police in the first five months of 2021, it can be said that last year maintained the uptrend of the two previous years. Brasil de Fato asked the FP about updated data but received no answer. 

Chart shows an increase in police inquiries on apology for Nazism / Agência Senado

3) Brazil is seventh in the ranking of Nazism on the internet

SaferNet Brasil, a non-governmental organization that maps anonymous tips of crimes and violations against human rights on the internet, found 2,516 pages (hosted in 666 domains) in Brazil in 2020. The country is the seventh in the global ranking published by the NGO.

Book author says it is a “red flag”,

To lawyer Milena Gordon Baker, author of Criminalização da Negação do Holocausto no Direito Penal Brasileiro (roughly, Criminalization of Holocaust Denialism in Brazilian Criminal Law), all these signs of an increase in Nazi ideas in Brazil should raise a red flag:

“The studies of genocide show that there is a pyramid of hate. It all starts subtly and worsens little by little. First, at the base of the pyramid, a stereotypical image of a certain oppressed group. Then, starts the pervasive prejudice, discrimination, and hate speech. 

“It is followed by the suppression of rights. Later, there are physical attacks. In the end and at the top of the pyramid, there is genocide. Usually, it goes step by step without people noticing it. That’s why we can’t let the guard down”, states Baker. 

The period coincides with Bolsonaro's mandate

The period of increase in accusations found by the studies coincides with Bolsonaro’s term as president. Michel Gherman, academic director of Institute Brazil-Israel is emphatic to say, in his YouTube channel, that “Bolsonaro is a Nazi”.

According to Gherman, the false thesis adopted by Bolsonaro supporters that Nazism is “ideologically leftist” masks the president's Nazi ideas.

“The perspective of Nazism being leftist is one of the important references to the historical denialism that understands Nazism through ideological lens, not historical ones”, he says.

“Bolsonaro presents himself as a friend of the Jewish people. It has two dimensions. The first one is that, once more, it refuses the possibility that he is a Nazi, just as the thesis of Nazism being leftist. After all, how can a Nazi be a friend of Jews? How can a Nazi raise Israeli flags? How can a Nazi be close to Israel?”, Gherman asks.

Israeli flag used in an act called by Bolsonaro and his supporters in Brasília, in the beginning of the pandemic, May, 2020 / Reprodução/Facebook

In this sense, Gherman defends that Israeli flags and Zionist symbols have been used as a smokescreen to hide Bolsonaro’s Nazi ideology: “It is used to cover-up Nazism, to clean his [Bolsonaro] image up.”

Bolsonarism and Nazism: a two-way path

To Odilon Caldeira Neto, professor of Contemporary History at Juiz de Fora Federal University, the relation between Nazism and Brazil’s president can be established, but that is complex.

Caldeira Neto, one of the coordinators of the Far-Right Observatory in Brazil, points out that it is necessary to understand what differentiates “Bolsonarism” from Bolsonaro himself.

“It’s always recommended to separate Bolsonaro’s government and Bolsonarism. The first is an institutional instance of representation. Bolsonarism is a phenomenon that transcends the government itself. It’s not controlled by the government.”

However, he says that the federal government, on several occasions, waved to the its most radicalized supporters, including those linked to neo-Nazi ideas: "The presence of fascist or Nazi symbols is not only the result of the association of neo-Nazi individuals and militants with Bolsonarism. Often, this is an effort by the government itself."

“The use of slogans, figures of speech, fascist and Nazi symbols is also part of an attempt to position themselves as part of the national and international history of the far-right”, Caldeira Neto states. 

Last year, Brasil de Fato showed five moments in which members of the federal government and Bolsonaro supporters adopted symbols of the ideology founded by Adolf Hitler, responsible for killing six million Jews. 

“It is a two-way path: on the one hand, the neo-Nazi movements and leaders trying to make Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism more Nazi-like; on the other hand, the government is trying to radicalize its supporters using current Nazi and fascist premises and symbols”, Caldeira explains. 

Meeting with representatives of the German neo-Nazi right

Jair Bolsonaro and the German politician Beatrix von Storch, granddaughter of Hitler's minister / Reprodução/Instagram Beatrix von Storch

In July, researchers heard by Brasil de Fato stated that Bolsonaro meetings with German politician Beatrix von Storch, Eduardo Bolsonaro (Social Liberal Party – São Paulo) and Bia Kicis (Social Liberal Party – Federal District) placed Brazil as an articulating center of the global far-right.

Out of any official record of the presidential agenda, Bolsonaro received von Storch in a meeting made public after the politician from the Alternative for Germany (AfD, in German), the German extreme right party, announced on her social media account.

Beatrix von Storch is Lutz Graf von Krosigk’s granddaughter. He was Hitler’s minister of finance. Her other grandfather is Nikolaus von Oldenburg, a member of the Nazi Party and SA (Hitler’s paramilitary force)

One of the leaders of the country's black movement, Douglas Belchior considers that the black and indigenous genocides are historical marks in Brazil, but points out that there is a "novelty" in the ability to organize groups in favor of extermination.

“There is a wave, and it’s new in the sense that it’s an advance in the organization of an ultraconservative feeling, a racist and homophobic one. It has to do with the moment Brazil is now, with Bolsonaro as president and with these feelings politically organized in the groups currently on power”.

Experts ponder that Brazilian neo-Nazism is a “monolithic phenomenon”, being seen, for instance, in online forums of misogynist groups, Holocaust denialist literature, and the actions of skinheads and White Power groups.

Anthropologist Adriana Dias also highlights that the fundamental difference between neo-Nazism and Nazism itself is that the last “was a state policy, a regime that made part of the state”.

“Neo-Nazism is different. It emerged at the end of the Second World War. However, it is not a state movement. It is plural. So, it becomes internalized. [Neo-Nazis] meet in a hidden, unofficial, prohibited way. They are in a non-superficial layer of social discourse, but they exist all over the world".

As a coping strategy, experts recall the case of Germany, where Nazism and the Holocaust are remembered in schools and monuments in order not to throw a part of history into oblivion and not make room for repeating it.

"In Germany, in addition to an intense process of denazification, memory is valued as a means of reflection and learning about the past", points out Adriana Dias.

The anthropologist also highlights the importance of dialogue as a way of preventing extremism: “I think that the more we communicate, the more education evolves and we develop empathy. Consequently, we will know how to respond to genocides. I would like us to be [a country] more and more diverse because we would certainly be much less close to genocides”.

Edited by: Vivian Virissimo