The Signs of Fascism

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Laurindo Lalo Leal Filho*

I start with a quote. But it is not from any scholar. It says the following: “she is a hysteric, she is an unloved. She's going to smoke her joint there in Sweden”. “She needs a man, male or female. If she doesn't like a man, let her get a woman ”[1]. The author of these beautiful phrases is radio host Gustavo Negreiros, from radio station 96FM in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte. He was referring to 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thumberg, who had delivered a speech in defense of the environment at the UN-sponsored Climate Summit. Until last year, the author of these verbal attacks held the position of Under Secretary of State Tourism. Under pressure from the station's sponsors, he was fired.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to go through these wastes to clearly understand the presence of traces of fascism in the current situation in Brazil and the contribution of electronic means of communication, radio and television in its dissemination. The misogynistic phrases reproduced here are just a simple example of a set of authoritarian speeches transmitted by the media over decades. They support the most different forms of discrimination, building an ideology of separation and subordination between different social groups.

In a recent book entitled How fascism works, the politics of us and them (LP&M), Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University, describes a set of strategies present in fascist ways of gaining and maintaining political power. They are “the references to the mythical past, the propaganda, the anti-intellectualism, the unreality, the hierarchy, the victimization, the law and the order, the sexual anxiety, the appeals to the notion of fatherland and the disarticulation of the union and the good -being public”.

In view of the data selected regarding the radio host from Natal, as it was recent and of relative national repercussion, it is worth mentioning one of the references classified by the author of the book, that of sexual anxiety. He cites an excerpt from a work by Julia Serrano called Whipping Girl in which trans women, by choosing femininity, represent a serious threat to patriarchal ideologies.

She says: “Our male-centered gender hierarchy, within which it is assumed that men are better than women and that masculinity is superior to femininity, there is no greater threat than the existence of trans women, who despite having born men and inherited the privilege of being men 'decided' to be women. By embracing our own femininity, we, in a sense, cast doubt on the supposed supremacy of masculinity. To lessen the threat we pose to the male-centered gender hierarchy, our culture (mostly through the media) uses every available tactic in its arsenal of traditional sexism to shun us” [2].

In the example cited sexism is evident. And it can be seen as a form of combat against what proto-fascists consider a dangerous attack on the gender hierarchy. The international protagonism of a 16-year-old girl, opposing a global system based on the destruction of the environment, is inconceivable for a culture based on gender discrimination, with clear political consequences.

In the Brazilian case, there is a long history of the imposition of values ​​and ideas through radio and TV on a continuously developed scale that ranges from different types and actions of prejudice, passes through political and cultural conservatism, reaches degrees of proto-fascism until it reaches explicitly to fascist messages. Forms that work together and combined.

I am here with the concept of proto-fascism, as an embryonic and rudimentary form present in the formation of a policy of fascist governments. I join Professor Valéria Fontes of the Fluminense Federal University in stating that “the government that was implemented in 2019, presided over by Jair Bolsonaro, has a clearly proto-fascist bias, centrally backed by a primary anti-communism, which considers all other social forces different from itself. even as targets of their “witch hunt”. The motto 'God, homeland and family', verbalized by exponents of the new government, is reminiscent of both the old Integralism (Brazilian-style fascism, founded in 1932 and which disappeared in the 1970s, with its militants absorbed by other parties) and the motto of the hyper reactionary Tradition, Family and Property (Catholic), which rises from the ashes after these elections, with a paramilitary group carrying out rituals of destruction of anti-fascist flags in public universities. The character of the new government does not mean that a 'fascist regime' has been implemented in Brazil, but it shows that there are strong trends in that direction, and its consequences will depend on the national resistance and confrontation, as well as on international tensions” [3] .

The electronic media was decisive for the capillarization of these proto-fascist tendencies and the root of this process is in the way in which the electronic system of social communication was installed and consolidated in Brazil. Based on the American model, but without any of the existing controls in that country, here the public character of information, culture and entertainment, the raison d'être of these media, was eliminated, delivering them to the market.

The public spaces through which radio and TV waves circulate were privatized. Although governed by legal orders that have at their core the figure of the concession of these spaces by the State, in practice they were handed over without major demands to private communication groups that perpetuated their possessions. As a general rule, newspaper owners obtained concessions from radio stations and, with the advent of television, became concessionaires of this new medium, claiming it to be a mere extension of radio. The periodic review of these concessions, determined by the 1988 Constitution, became a mere formality, perpetuating them among their historic holders.

It must be made clear that these concessions are made by the State, through the governments in office, on behalf of society. Thus, it would be up to society, through institutional mechanisms, to monitor and evaluate the quality of services provided by concessionaires. Shy proposals in this sense, made by parliamentarians, did not prosper and those who took these initiatives became the target of journalistic persecution.

Not only in the issue of concessions, the Constitution is disrespected. It innovated by including one dedicated exclusively to Social Communication in its chapters. If turned into law and applied, its devices would have democratized communication and deepened, while there was time, Brazilian democracy. One of them prevented the existence of monopolies and oligopolies in the sector, a rule never enforced, allowing a small number of families to control virtually all communication in the country.

This power was conquered due to this lack of regulation, allowing the sector to operate within the logic of capitalist accumulation, as if it were a segment of the economy, whose commercialized merchandise did not have peculiar characteristics. Information, culture and entertainment are products that do not end with simple consumption because they carry within themselves ideas, values, ways of life, worldviews. Hence the need for special treatment, capable of guaranteeing the greatest possible diversity, giving the recipient wide freedom of choice.

In Brazil, the State has always remained silent in relation to this need and several governments have sought to compromise with communication groups, fearing the strength they have gained.

The coming to power of a government with strong proto-fascist traits is largely the result of the picture demonstrated so far. The commitment of the big communication groups has always been with the interests of the national oligarchies, articulated and almost invariably subordinated to the big international capital. Any attempt to break this logic would suffer virulent and destabilizing attacks.

It was like this in 1954 with the death of President Vargas, in 1964 with the deposition of President Goulart and in 2016 with the parliamentary coup against President Dilma. The only reason he didn't victimize President Lula was because his social inclusion policies guaranteed him popular support capable of neutralizing attacks by the media.

The most recent stage of this destabilization process put into practice by the media has as its central components its articulation with the Judiciary and the campaign to criminalize politics. For the first time in Brazilian history, ministers of the Federal Supreme Court became pop stars earning capable of magazines, newspaper headlines and generous spaces on radio and television.

One of them was called “the poor boy who changed Brazil” [4] for leading the judicial operation called “Mensalão” by the media, a term easily understood by the people, whose formulation is more at the level of propaganda than journalism. Advertising technique that was repeated with the expression Lava Jato, capable of becoming an emblem of an unprecedented operation in the country of articulation between the media and sectors of the Judiciary.

Explained by his mentor, the then judge Sérgio Moro, in an article in which he made it clear that the operation would only be successful if there was strong popular support obtained through the media. He tried to reproduce in Brazil the relationship of the Italian judiciary with the media, in the course of the operation that became known as “clean hands” in that country. And so it was done.

In the Brazilian case, it was later discovered, with the revelations on the website The Intercept Brazil, that the prosecutions and arrests for corruption only served as an ornament to the real objectives of the operation. It was, in fact, a set of actions aimed at criminalizing politics, removing inconvenient actors from it, and curbing the beginning of a more robust participation by Brazil in the international economic scenario, as shown in a recent article by economist Márcio Pochmann on the website Major Card.

He says: “Strange coincidence: the pre-salt discovery would put Brazil in OPEC, Brazilian contractors accounted for more than 3 percent of the construction sector in the world; Embraer was on the rise in commercial aviation, nuclear submarines and booming industry. All of that collapsed with Lava Jato.” And he continues: “the rhetoric of Brazil, above all, breaks down in the concreteness of saluting the US flag, of Trump as guru, of Embraer for Boeing, of Alcântara for NASA, of pre-salt oil from Petrobras to the foreign Exxon, Chevron and much more” [5].

The title of the article published on the Carta Maior website is long, but significant: “Pochmann rides the drone over the disordered mountain of ruins where there used to be a country under construction. On the sign: 'Demolidora Moro & CIA'. Under the mantle of combating corruption, the real objectives of Lava Jato were hidden. The attacks it made on national sovereignty were not and are not part of the agenda of the hegemonic communication vehicles in Brazil.

The threadbare argument of the fight against corruption was used indiscriminately, repeating the same litany used on other occasions here in Brazil and in other parts of the world by right-wing groups and parties against popular governments. “Masking corruption under the guise of anti-corruption is a hallmark strategy of fascist propaganda,” says Professor Stanley” [6].

The overvaluation of Lava Jato, without any critical observation, was associated with and contributed to the criminalization of politics, opening the way for adventurers, as had already occurred and continues to occur in other countries. In the last presidential elections, after supporting the coup and political imprisonment of ex-president Lula, the media found itself without a candidate that it could call its own. The names put up as trial balloons failed and what was left for her was the extreme right candidacy.

In this context, the media committed one of the most dramatic errors in assessing the continuity of the democratic process in Brazil. He bet on the theory of the two demons, equating a candidacy respectful of the democratic order with one that already presented itself with clearly proto-fascist colors. And imposed on society this false equation.

O jornal The State of S. Paulo reached the extreme of publishing an editorial, on the eve of the presidential election, with the title: “A very difficult choice”. It is difficult to know which criteria for analyzing the candidacies led the newspaper to such an arduous dilemma, as well as almost all radio and television stations. The question that was posed, even in the pre-electoral period, was not that of the dispute between two candidacies guided by republican and democratic limits. Only the support of the extreme right candidate for the dictatorship of 64, the practices of torture and the threats of expulsion or imprisonment of his leftist opponents were enough to resolve any doubts. Something the media decided not to do.

Moments like this show how the media stimulates fascist symptoms that are often latent. But it is in everyday life that the less obvious, albeit more persistent, work takes place. All you have to do is watch radio and TV programs in any part of Brazil that encourage hatred and violence, shown at any time of the day or night. In them are present, every day, almost all the evidence of Fascism classified by Professor Stanley and mentioned before.

Violence is exalted in order to fight violence, the helpless are portrayed as criminals, law and order is asked for without much concern for the rights of citizenship, human rights defenders are mocked, patriotic symbols are called for but forget As a result of the sale of national assets, right-wing and far-right candidacies are advertised, leading them to form increasingly larger benches in legislatures at all levels. This is done daily, in homeopathic doses, persistently.

And so the serpent's egg hatches.

*Laurindo Lalo Leal Filho is a retired professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP.


[1]. “Greta Thunberg suffers sexist attacks and supporters launch #SorryGreta”. Capital letter. São Paulo, 18/10/2019.

[2] SERRANO, Julia. Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, P. 15, Berkeley, Seal Press, 2007.

[3] SOURCES, Valeria. “The core of the Bolsonaro government, proto-fascism. left online, 8/1/2019.

[4] “The poor boy who changed Brazil”. In: magazine Veja, São Paulo, 10/10/2012.

[5] POCHMANN, Márcio. “Pochmann flies the drone over the collapsed mountain of ruins where a country under construction used to be. “Demolisher: Moro & CIA”. Major Card, São Paulo, 9/10/2019.

[6] STANLEY, Jason. Idem.

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