The theology of dominion



Analysis of the speeches of February 25th and the boundaries of what we define by the term Bolsonarism

The objective of this text is to analyze the speeches given during the massive demonstration on February 25th, called by Jair Bolsonaro. In the context of an escalation of investigations carried out by the Federal Police (PF) in an operation called Tempus Veritatis triggered by evidence that the then president directly participated in the planning of a coup d'état to prevent the inauguration of elected president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The planning was orchestrated together with high-ranking military personnel and summarized in a draft decree. In addition to the draft itself, among the evidence collected by the PF is the testimony of Bolsonaro's aide-de-camp, lieutenant colonel Mauro Cid, and a video of a meeting between the president, high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces and former ministers in which the coup plan was openly discussed.

The decree provided for the arrest of the minister of the Federal Supreme Court, Alexandre de Moraes and the president of the National Congress, Rodrigo Pacheco. During the operation, a second document was found at the headquarters of the Liberal Party (PL), to which Jair Bolsonaro is a member, containing the declaration of a state of siege and, subsequently, the institution of a Law Guarantee operation and of the Order (GLO). In the text, these measures are presented as necessary for the “restoration of the Democratic Rule of Law in Brazil”.

According to the Political Debate Monitor, from USP's School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH), last Sunday's demonstration brought together around 185 thousand people, indicating the social strength and mobilization capacity of the former president. Among the leaders present are four governors, deputies, senators and councilors from different parties, including some from the base of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government. Some absences were felt, such as that of the governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro and two of the former president's children.

Justified by the possibility of staggering judicial investigations, such absences also reflect a process of dehydration of Bolsonarism among political elites, which dates back to its electoral collapse. Without the prospect of a mandate, the former president saw his ascendancy over politicians decrease considerably. The preponderance of physiological interests over ideological interests increases the attraction force of those in the national Executive, over a large part of the political sectors.

The demonstration ended up fulfilling its role for the Bolsonarist camp. It gathered a significant audience that gathered on one of the country's main avenues and, although it did not reach previous levels, it was a relative success, in that it gave Bolsonaro the much vaunted image: “Bolsonaro supported by the people”. These people could stop the country in the event of their leader's arrest.

It was also useful to more clearly delineate the boundaries of what we define by the term Bolsonarism, used to designate a social and political movement triggered by the speeches and figure of Jair Bolsonaro, as an actor capable of unifying distinct groups but articulated by some symbols: order, family and god. Such symbols make up a social political movement that asserts itself as right-wing, using as a unifying element the antagonism towards the left which, if in its social component, has criticism of gender ideology and the idea of ​​human rights, as guiding principles of policies public security and education, in its political-economic component, is characterized by inclusion and social mobility policies.

Hence the elitist component of this movement, which affects segments of the population that somehow feel resentful of these processes of inclusion and mobility, as we have already defended on other occasions (Gracino Junior, Goulart and Frias, 2021).

The event was marked by speeches from important political and social leaders of Bolsonarism such as the former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, the pastor and digital influencer Silas Malafaia and the governor of São Paulo who was Minister of Infrastructure during the Jair Bolsonaro government. The speeches help us to understand this apparent contradiction of a popular movement, since it is capable of attracting thousands of people, including segments of the working class, with anti-popular features, which echo the fear of the elites about the loss of their economic and symbolic privileges in in the face of processes of expanding the consumption capacity of the popular classes, but also their access to education and culture.

In this text, in addition to the ex-president's own speech, we will analyze the speeches of these leaders because we understand that they present guidelines and arguments aimed at their supporters so that they can continue to defend the ex-president, in a context in which he finds himself under legal and legal distress. politically. These guidelines are given different nuances so that they reach different social bases. The objective is to maintain the movement's cohesion and ability to engage, despite important defections that are reflected in the gradual increase in the Lula government's approval ratings.

This dynamic results in part from the improvement in the economic environment, the reduction in the unemployment rate and the increase in consumption, especially among segments of the working class disputed by Bolsonarism. In particular, it is worth highlighting the group formed by those who earn between two and five minimum wages. Formerly called the new middle class or new precariat, this group is made up of heterogeneous segments, but which, in general, end up being excluded from most income transfer policies aimed at the poorest, without, however, being able to access quality private services that continue to be a privilege of the middle and upper classes. Hence the resentment of these segments that end up perceiving themselves threatened by government discourses and programs of economic inclusion, but also symbolic, aimed at racial and gender minorities.

God's army

The leaders of the evangelical field, notably Michelle Bolsonaro and pastor Silas Malafaia, spoke seeking to reach the different segments that make up this group, activating, however, a broader grammar, capable of bringing together other religious people who do not share the evangelical faith, but act according to its political grammar.

Michelle, president of PL Mulher, specifically addressed women and mothers, mobilizing a native Christian lexicon and drawing attention to the dimensions of care and family. She spoke of saving children from death, of bringing food to the needy, of protecting widows. Her speech was a prayer that translates into religious language an exhortation to the Brazilian people to come to the defense of their husband. At the same time, Michelle uses elements in her text that are very common to Dominion Theology: “Who is this king of glory? He is the strong and mighty Lord. The powerful lord in war…People, Brazilian people. Respond. Who is this king of Glory? He is the lord of hosts.”

At this point a brief digression is necessary. Dominion Theology, a theological branch that originated in the USA, preaches, among other things, the submission of the most diverse social spheres to Biblical law. Although its reception in Brazil has many crossings, there is a hard core that we can identify, one of the most widespread doctrines here being that of the 7M movement, or the Mandate of the seven mountains, which states that there are seven areas of society that are crucial for the influence of evangelicals and condition for the second coming of Christ: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. This theological interpretation originating from the 1970s, with roots in the XNUMXth century, has been gaining strength in recent years, especially after the collection of books Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

Released between 1995 and 2000, the collection sold more than 70 million copies and was released in a series of five films, including one starring Nicolas Cage, entitled Left Behind, and the publication of the book Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate (2013), by Wallnau and Bill Johnson, this pastor of the megachurch Bethel Church in California. With the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the movement reached its peak, counting on Paula White, one of its main figures, as a kind of spiritual advisor to Donald Trump.

In this sense, they believe that Donald Trump will play a central role in Armageddon, when the US will join ranks alongside Israel in the battle against Islam. At this point, there is another doctrine that is intertwined with this one, that Israel would be the clock of the world, since God promised to take the people back to the Holy Land at the end of time, as it is in Jerusalem that the great battle of the Armageddon and the triumph of the “lord of hosts”. In this way, the destiny of Israel is linked to the fulfillment of biblical prophecies, being a central part of the eschatological narrative. A fact that partly explains the adherence of evangelicals to symbols of Judaism, as we will discuss below.

Returning to the event, according to research from Survey held during the event, 29% of those present declared themselves evangelical. The extreme right uses clear dichotomies that are easy to assimilate. This proposal eliminates the opponent from the political game, replacing it with the metaphor of friend (everyone who is on my side) eliminated, including physically). Even though evangelicals were a minority in the pro-Bolsonaro act, it is important to remember that it is from this group, especially its main leaders such as Silas Malafaia – the gray eminence of Bolsonaroism – that the main terms and symbols of the political grammar of the Brazilian extreme right emanate. . In short, it is the evangelicals and their leaders, responsible for the keywords of the good versus evil narrative of Bolsonarism, very present in Michelle's speech.

Both Malafaia and Michele appeal to an absolute antagonism, along the lines of Dominion Theology, operating a simplification of a complex reality, creating an “us” (a Christian-moral macro-identity) in opposition to a “them”, seen as demiurges of social destabilization, repositories of the ills and fears that afflict a large part of society in moments of social upheaval. In this case, gay activism, the STF dictatorship, the “petralhas”, the “feminazis” or, simply, the “evil”, the “devil”. It is still interesting to observe how Pastor Silas Malafaia's speech has a double functional role, which, at the same time that it places the pastor in a privileged place in the dispute for the Brazilian religious arena, amplifies his speech beyond the evangelical population.

Unlike other leaders in the Pentecostal evangelical segment, who focus on biographical solutions – such as Edir Macedo, who emphasizes pecuniary issues, or Waldemiro, who focuses on healing –, Silas comes up with a product that is in great demand nowadays, especially post-Lava Jato. The moral discourse given by Malafaia and replicated by countless other evangelical leaders, presents itself as a strong amalgam capable of connecting personal anxieties and fears, arising from a historical moment marked by strong transformations and the emergence of social pluralities, to the discourse morality with a religious background and a long-term narrative.

Evil is not far away, it does not come from outside or from abroad, on the contrary, it sits next to you at school, has lunch with you in the cafeteria at work, in short, such an operation is capable of transforming the indeterminacy generated by the continuous process of social complexification into determined and determinable possibilities, producing interpretations of the world through symbolic generalizations.

It is in this exact context that the flags of Israel come into play. More than declaring the alliance between Brazilian evangelical Christianity and Zionism (a Christian Zionism that really populates the minds of many evangelical groups in Brazil, as shown above), in the act of the 25th, made up of a Catholic majority of 43%, the flags of Israel flew as symbols of the simplifying dichotomy of friend x enemy. The flags of Israel with the pentagram instead of the Star of David revealed the lack of familiarity with the themes.

A few years ago Silas Malafaia stated, in an interview with with the BBC, regarding what he called “Prophetic act for the end of corruption and the economic crisis in Brazil”, which would aim to “declare that corruption will end, that the whole mess will be exposed”. When asked by the journalist about the complexity of the promise, Malafaia argues: “When Israel was experiencing periods of crisis, a prophet raised up and said that times of peace and prosperity would come. And that all changed. So we know this practice.” It is, in this broth of culture, that evangelical grammar and Bolsonarism attract each other, to recall Goethe in the book elective affinities, speaking through the mouth of Captain Otto: “Those natures that, upon meeting, immediately connect, mutually determining each other, call us affines” (Goethe, 2008, p. 45).

Returning to Michelle, many analysts have criticized Michele's speech as being too emotional. However, much political action has a large emotional component, separating emotion from reason is a huge mistake in modernity and only makes understanding social phenomena difficult. The idea of ​​dividing political action into rational and informed ones (I imagine this is what non-Bolsonarists do) versus irrational, emotional and hysterical action, attributed to Bolsonarism, does not seem like a good image to face the challenges posed by the field of extreme right.

It is not because you do politics with emotion that you are against democracy, emotion is an important part of human activity. How many Lula readers are not moved by his rallies, by victories or by the image created in the last inauguration on the way up the ramp with the “excluded now included”? And the first, in 2003? When those present took possession of the sterile environment of the Esplanada dos Ministérios and, in complete ecstasy, bathed in the water mirrors, to the despair of the journalists from Globo who covered the event.

Evangelicals are not alienated and are not irrational, they have a method and strategy, they knew how to conduct the political game here and in the USA, it doesn't matter if the narrative that organized the action has a biblical background. The idea that they are alienated speaks more about the place of analysts, who insist on separating reason from emotion, especially in terms of political action, not realizing that such thinking takes the democratic field into a swampy terrain that is difficult to fight for, as it can isolate an important part of the Lulista electorate, that is, the popular classes.

Thus, although the poor were underrepresented in the event (according to research, the range that earns up to two minimums, in which the majority of evangelicals are concentrated, was 10% of the public), these, as we said, have been the tip of the balance for the PT side since Lula's first election in 2002. Added to this, it is good to remember that the popular classes decide their vote in an even more pragmatic way than other social groups.

However, the poor also engage in politics out of emotion, like the majority of Brazilian society, but they do so, especially, out of necessity, vitalist pragmatics, or short-term survival instinct, which is quite rational. Unlike other social groups that take part in major national political cleavages, the peripheral population decides its vote close to the election, often permeated by close relationships of trust, such as that of a pastor.

Coup is a tank on the street

Bolsonarism is not just a religion. He is also the product of the coming together of different segments of the traditional right. At the São Paulo demonstration, the person chosen to represent these groups was the governor of São Paulo, Tarcísio de Freitas. Although he belongs to the Republican party – a party originally created by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) – and mentioned religious elements in his speech, his speech was emblematic in mobilizing themes dear to political liberalism and even social democracy – ideals that during for more than two decades it was represented by the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), whose stronghold is the state it governs. During the demonstration, his defense of the rule of law, freedom of expression and thought, was accompanied by mention of legal security, as a necessary component for attracting investments, indicating the intersection between the economic and political components of liberalism.

The social components, in turn, were the most emphasized, Tarcísio de Freitas praised spending on infrastructure, the construction of bridges, highways; mentioned the Northeast directly when addressing the Sanitation Framework and hybrid sector works; He spoke about the granting of land titles among other public policies attributed to the former president's government. Up to this point, if it weren't for the mentions of Jair Bolsonaro, the governor's speech could be positioned on the center-left of the ideological spectrum.

Even when he rescued the pandemic, Tarcísio de Freitas did not refer to denialism, but to the importance of aid granted to citizens and businesspeople. In the end, demonstrating our hypothesis that it is from evangelical grammar that the discursive structures of Bolsonarism come from, Tarcísio de Freitas made brief and superficial mentions of religiosity in a sentence in which he says that Bolsonaro cried countless times when dealing with the hardships of the Brazilian people, bending the knee to God in the face of poverty.

However, we believe that the most enlightening passage in prospective terms is when the governor states that Jair Bolsonaro is no longer a CPF, ceasing to be a person to become a symbol of a movement that transcends him. This idea is interesting in that it authorizes this movement to be represented electorally by another person, keeping the former president on the sacred altar, but freed from profane power.

It is even more prophetic that this speech was given by Tarcísio de Freitas, as his name was mentioned as a possible replacement for Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential elections by 61% of those interviewed during the demonstration. In this survey, carried out by the Political Debate Monitor of the University of São Paulo (USP), the former first lady appears in second place with less than a third of the preferences (19%). The governor of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema, from the Novo Party, got 7%. Senator Damaris Alves, from the Republicans, and the president's sons (Carlos, Eduardo and Flávio) obtained 1% of mentions.

The result may suggest that the religious and radicalized components of Bolsonarism are important, but not the majority. This evidence, however, contrasts with the fact that 78% of those interviewed declared themselves “very conservative” on issues such as family, drugs and punishment of criminals, while 18% declared themselves “somewhat conservative”. Perhaps the choice of Tarcísio de Freitas should not be interpreted only in light of the radical x moderate binomial, but as an indication of the precedence of the social issue, in particular, of investments and aid granted to society. It may also be an indication that misogyny is not just a marginal component, but a structuring element of political preferences, presenting itself as an insurmountable obstacle for Michelle Bolsonaro.

Finally, it remains to analyze the ex-president's own speech which, as highlighted by Tarcísio de Freitas, functions as a symbol capable of bringing unity to economically and socially distinct groups. This is because, despite the majority of men (62%, according to USP research); white (65%); educated (67% have higher education) and elitist of the protesters (25% declared to earn between 5 and 10 minimum wages and 26% between 3 and 5), the former president's ability to also win the sympathy and vote of women is unequivocal and non-white, non-educated and non-elite individuals.

However, the fact that it is composed of several groups does not mean that it is not possible to organize them in terms of their more or less nuclear character for the formation of Bolsonarism.

At the beginning of the speech, the former captain states: “Who am I? I'm just like you. But on the side towards Curitiba, from the small city of Eldorado in São Paulo. Maybe 4.000 inhabitants. But there I created myself. There, I discovered the armed struggle in 1970. Where the lieutenant of the São Paulo Public Force Alberto Mendes Júnior was executed by the left, with beatings. As fate would have it, I entered the arms career. I attended the Cadet Preparatory School in Campinas, the Military Academy in Resende [RJ] and went out into the world.”

Jair Bolsonaro's speech reveals an element not yet mentioned in this text, as it makes clear the importance of the military and the memory of the military dictatorship for the configuration of his movement. This is not a marginal element, but a structuring element for the Manichaean antagonism that divides us (the right) from the other (the left). In this sense, the military is praised for having been part of the dictatorship, they are praised for having fought the left, chosen as the enemy to be fought.

This evidence reinforces that found in the analysis of Jair Bolsonaro's legislative trajectory (Silva, 2024), demonstrating that the military is the hard core of Bolsonarism, to which are added public security agents (Military Police, Civil Police and Metropolitan Guard, also mentioned in the speech) and private, responsible for combating another enemy of good citizens: crime. This is a real threat that, however, gives drama and concreteness to the imaginary threat of communism, which, in turn, is mentioned in an excerpt of the former president's speech. Highlighted below, the passage is interesting for illustrating the intertwining of different ghosts in the configuration of this imaginary, but also the guidance for its supporters to act in the spread of fear: “We do not want socialism for our Brazil. We cannot admit communism in our midst. We don't want gender ideology for our children. We want respect for private property. We want the right to defend our own lives. We want respect for life from its conception. We do not want drugs to be released in our country. But to do this we must work every day at home, at work, with neighbors and friends.”

After this initial speech, Jair Bolsonaro shows that despite his defections, he is not alone, praising Tarcísio de Freitas and former minister Marcos Pontes, also present at the demonstration. Soon after, he mentions Senator Tereza Cristina – who did not attend, citing health problems and, for this reason, was the target of criticism in the Bolsonaro media. The former Minister of Agriculture was praised in the speech in a nod to agribusiness, but also to rural producers who perceive themselves as being in some way threatened by the Landless Movement (MST), also mentioned in the speech.

He then addressed economic topics and, in this regard, maintained the ambiguity that characterizes his speeches on this topic (Silva, 2024). When mentioning the Economic Freedom Law, Jair Bolsonaro nods to fiscalists who adhere to neoliberal grammar, however, he then also mentions income transfer programs such as Auxílio Emergencial and Bolsa Família (referred to as such and not with the name given during his government, when it was renamed Auxílio Brasil), whose fiscal impact on public accounts contradicts this same grammar.

Jair Bolsonaro ended his speech with didactic guidance for those working in his defense: “What is a coup? A coup is a tank on the street (…) A coup using the Constitution. I make it clear that a state of siege begins with the President of the Republic convening the Republic and Defense councils. Was this done? No. Although the state of siege was not a coup, it was not called.”

The strategy of differentiating coup and state of siege is interesting, as 88% of participants interviewed by USP Monitor during the demonstration believe that Lula did not win the election and 94% think that they live in a state analogous to dictatorship, given the Justice persecution of Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters. From this perspective, the state of siege would be a legitimate and constitutional mechanism to combat a threat to the Rule of Law: Lula's victory in the presidential elections.

Finally, it is worth highlighting a second, particularly successful purpose of this strategy. It takes the focus away from the military who, according to Federal Police investigations, actively participated in the conception and orchestration of a coup d'état against the elected president. When Jair Bolsonaro says that “a coup is a tank in the street”, indicating that we would be facing a civil and republican articulation, organized under the aegis of the Constitution. The strategy was successful. If the weeks leading up to the demonstration were marked by a wide repercussion of accusations about the high command of the Armed Forces and other officers involved, after Sunday, this issue cooled down.

A feather. Jair Bolsonaro served for 27 years as a spokesman for the most pecuniary and reactionary demands of the Armed Forces. Expelled for vocalizing them, he was covertly supported and supported precisely so that he could publicize them without compromising the high command. The former captain, when defending dictatorship, torture and the shooting of opponents, said what no official representative of the Armed Forces could say without damaging the relationship with civil power.

He fulfilled the role of keeping thoughts alive and articulated, bridging the gap between what was said inside and outside the barracks. With this, he was able to attract those who, although not military personnel or even having not lived through the Military Regime, identify with the patriarchal idea of ​​order that defined the period. Jair Bolsonaro, as well as those who perpetuate these ideals in military schools and other public spaces receiving salaries paid by the treasury, need to be punished. More than that, they are the product of a general amnesty that generated a proto-republic, in which the lack of clarity regarding the limits between the Rule of Law and authoritarianism are the result of an agreed transition, which did not provide due investigation processes. and punishment of crimes committed during the military dictatorship.

It is necessary to remember so that it does not happen again. It is necessary to punish them so that they do not continue.

*Mayra Goulart is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFRJ.

*Paulo Gracino is a professor at the Department of Sociology at UnB.


GRACINO JUNIOR, P; SILVA, MG “Invention of myth”. history project (PUC-SP), v. 76, p. 11-37, 2023.

GRACINO JUNIOR, P.; SILVA, MG; FRIAS, P. “'The humiliated will be exalted': resentment and evangelical adherence to Bolsonarism”. Metropolis Notebooks, v. 23, p. 547-80, 2021

SILVA, MG. From difference to equivalence: Laclaunian hypotheses about Jair Bolsonaro's legislative trajectory. Data – social science magazine, v. 67, p. 1-39, 2024.

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