Day 6

Jair Bolsonaro supports dictatorships and torture — and he'll probably be Brazil's next president

Intercept co-founder and long-time Brazil resident Glenn Greenwald says Balsonaro's rise is deeply troubling, but not terribly surprising.

The presidential front-runner once told a Congresswoman she wasn't attractive enough for him to rape

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, of the far-right Social Liberal Party, speaks during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. Bolsonaro will face Fernando Haddad, Brazil's presidential candidate for the Workers' Party in a presidential runoff on Sunday. (Leo Correa/Associated Press)

Former army captain and right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro came out in front during the first round of Brazil's Presidential election on Oct. 7.

Now he's expected to win the second and final round against the Worker's Party candidate Fernando Haddad. 

But Bolsonaro's rise and popularity has caused much concern and confusion. 

In the past, he has said that if he had a gay son, he'd prefer him dead. He's called Afro-Brazilians lazy and fat.

He once told a congresswoman she wasn't attractive enough to rape. And he has repeatedly praised the country's past military dictatorship.

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, co-founder of the Intercept and a long-time resident of Brazil.

He tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury that while Bolsonaro's popularity is deeply troubling, it is not terribly surprising. Here's part of their conversation.

In December 2014, you co-wrote an article for the Intercept and the title is "The Most Misogynistic Hateful Elected Official in the Democratic World, Jair Bolsonaro." Why did you call him that?

Well, the immediate incident that had provoked that was that he had told a female colleague, with whom he served in the federal Congress — who had accused him of defending torture and rape as part of the military dictatorship, which he did — that she need not worry because she was too ugly to deserve his rape.

And this is part of a long line of comments he's made that are extremely misogynistic like that, and quite hateful as well. And so we just, at the time, never thought he would one day run for president credibly, but wanted to just point out how someone even just in Congress was that extreme.

He's often depicted wrongly in the Western media as being Brazil's Trump ... he's actually much closer to say Filipino President Duterte.- Glenn Greenwald

So there's proof that he's a misogynist, but polls say that 42 per cent of Brazilian women plan to vote for him. How do you account for that?

Because as human beings we all have a hierarchy of values and at the top of our list is the desire to survive.

And when there is an epidemic of crime of the magnitude that has plagued Brazil for the last several years — just to give you one quick statistic: a person who is a police officer in Rio de Janeiro is more likely to be killed tomorrow than a U.S. soldier was at the peak of the violence of the Iraq War.

Things like freedom of speech and freedom of press and due process and even respect for women seem to be kind of abstract when you're having trouble feeding your children or keeping them and yourself safe. And anyone who promises to kind of do that for you is going to be someone you're willing to empower.

A demonstrator holds a toy gun and a Brazilian flag during a race in support of Jair Bolsonaro. (Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press)

So, that's some of the things that he's promised. He's also promised to take on the opposition and he's said some things about the press as well and on Sunday he's expected to be elected president of Brazil.

As a journalist who's been critical of Bolsonaro, where does that leave you?

I don't think anyone really knows. I mean, he's often depicted wrongly in the Western media as being Brazil's Trump, and he's actually much closer to say Filipino President [Rodrigo] Duterte or even the Egyptian dictator General [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi in terms of what he believes and what he's probably capable of carrying out.

So, I think everybody in Brazil who is part of Brazil's political and civic life — journalists, politicians, artists and the like — who have criticized him in the past are all thinking about what it means for them personally. 

But you're a journalist who has written about him. Have there been ramifications already for you, for writing critically about Jair Bolsonaro over the past four years? 

About four or five months ago he went on to Twitter and used an epithet for LGBTs and translated it into English which is the equivalent essentially of calling someone a faggot, inciting his followers against me.

Just last week a billionaire evangelical far-right pastor, who supports him and owns the second largest media outlet and media conglomerate in Brazil, tried to investigate journalists at the Intercept Brazil, our families, and published an article and threatened to broadcast a story that dug into our past.

So, for sure there's already been some repercussions and there's likely to be a lot more once he actually gets his hands on the levers of power.

Supporters of Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro attend a campaign. (Adriano Machado/Reuters)

Let's talk about this anti-gay stuff because Bolsonaro says that Brazilians don't like homosexuals but they don't persecute them, they don't hunt them. But then, as you say, he used the slur to describe you in public. So you're a gay man who's lived many years in Brazil, how do you think a Bolsonaro presidency will affect you?

A very central prong of his rhetoric for many years, in fact the thing that got him attention, was not so much the misogyny or the racism but the homophobia.

He most notoriously said only two years ago when asked what he would do if he learned his son was gay, he said: 'I would never love a gay son. I'd prefer to hear my son died in a car accident than brought home a boyfriend.'

And there's has already been a kind of wave of violence against LGBTs — mostly against poor people in the favelas on the periphery or in the interior of the country.

But there's certainly, inevitably, an inflaming of that kind of climate in a country that has seen a big evangelical religious wave that's very anti-gay. And just a country that's still socially conservative notwithstanding how Rio de Janeiro is perceived internationally for tourism purposes.

Do you ever think that you might have to leave?

I mean, it's not something we're actively planning. My husband is an elected official here in Brazil. We, last year, adopted two Brazilian children who I regard as being the proper owners of the future of this country.

So we're not packing our bags and it's not something we would do, you know, easily or readily. But I think like most people we know, we are certainly thinking about contingency plans. 

Demonstrators march holding a banner that reads, in Portuguese, 'Women fighting for democracy, and against Bolsanaro,' during a protest against far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Andre Penner/Associated Press)

The language that Bolsonaro uses is the language of the purge. And he said — he's talking about his left-wing political opponents here — he says: either they go overseas or they go to jail. So do you think that he can make good on that, or do you think he'll try to make good on that?

I think he will definitely try to make good on that. I think the big question is, there's really only one faction in Brazil that has the power to stop him, the only one that continues to have any credibility or faith on the part of the population, and that's the military.

Which on the one hand is behind his candidacy in a rather consolidated and unified way. But on the other hand has been steeped over the last 33 years, inculcated with the idea that their principal patriotic duty is to defend the Brazilian constitution and Brazilian democracy.

So whether they would seek to impose limits on how far he can go in these kind of incursions or whether they would be active and eager participants in it, is something I don't think anyone knows. And that's for sure the big mystery the big question mark looming over all of this.

When you look at the problems that Brazil has faced recently, the corruption and the seemingly hopeless poverty that so many people are mired in, should we be surprised that a populist with this kind of extreme platform could gain a foothold?

Absolutely not. It makes perfect sense. And it's the argument that I've been making about Brexit in the UK and Trump in the U.S. and the rise of extremist parties in Western Europe.

Which is that, you know, if you want to you can just call the people who are voting for these movements all kinds of names: racist, sexist, hateful, xenophobes, whatever you want and in some cases that might be true. 

But the reality is that when a ruling class fundamentally fails to safeguard the interest of a huge portion of the population, sooner or later they're going to realize that and they're going to be supportive of whoever is perceived to be on the outside of that system that they hate and threatening to burn it down.

And, I think, until we come to grips with that and start engaging in some self-critique we're going to have a lot more Brexits and Trumps and Bolsonaros in our future.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Glenn Greenwald, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.