Steve Bannon Wants to Turn Brazil Into the Next MAGA Battleground

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Steve Bannon Wants to Turn Brazil Into the Next MAGA Battleground

Former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon, indicted on
charges of fraud and money laundering last summer, is plotting a political comeback.
And going by his appearance last week at a madcap “cyber symposium” hosted by
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, he seems to have his sights set on Brazil. South
America’s largest and most populous country could be on the precipice of seeing
its 2022 election turned into MAGA’s last stand.Lindell’s cyber symposium was dedicated to the baseless
notion that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump. Bannon gave
a curious performance. First he criticized
Lindell for not providing enough evidence for the otherwise “very powerful” stolen
election theory. Then he warned viewers that a different election might
be at risk: the reelection of far-right authoritarian president Jair Bolsonaro of
Brazil. Bolsonaro’s son, Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro,
also attended Lindell’s conspiratorial shindig. Eduardo was there to draw
specious parallels between his country’s electoral system and that of the
United States (this is a bad comparison—Latin America’s largest nation has a
world-class electronic voting system, mandatory voting, and not
a single credible case of fraud in 25 years). Even though he won
a resounding victory in 2018, Bolsonaro has taken to openly questioning
whether Brazil can carry out a free and fair election next year, and engaged in
a quixotic push to change the way Brazilians vote. He has even raised the
prospect of military intervention to supposedly ensure the integrity of the
vote, parading
army tanks and troops in Brasilia on August 10. To all but his most ardent
supporters, Bolsonaro’s real intentions are obvious. He is preparing to reject
an unfavorable future outcome by sowing doubt now.After Eduardo addressed Lindell’s audience, Bannon took the
stage and called
next year’s presidential race in Brazil the “second-most-important
election in the world,” blithely asserting that “Bolsonaro will win unless it’s
stolen by, guess what, the machines.” In reality, every major polling outfit for
months has shown Bolsonaro losing badly to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva, head of the center-left Workers’ Party and the most prominent voice of
the opposition. Brazilians, not “machines,” seem intent on ousting Bolsonaro.
But Bannon dismissed Lula as “a criminal,” calling him “the most dangerous
leftist in the world.” Bannon was echoing the hyperbolic rhetoric Brazilian
conservatives have long used to describe Lula, a former union leader who became
the first working-class president in Brazilian history upon his election in
2002. Even before Bolsonaro’s election, center-right politics in Brazil were becoming
defined by the dangerously misguided notion that Lula and his party were not
simply democratic opponents to be defeated at the ballot box but criminal
conspirators to be extirpated by any means necessary.Eduardo Bolsonaro’s appearance at Lindell’s event appears to
be the next step in this strategy. Bolsonaro is now attempting to link events
in Brazil to the broader network of fantastical delusions, resentments, and
outrages that fuel the Trump base and, by extension, much of the Republican
Party. Bolsonaro—with Bannon apparently on his side—wants to make Brazil the
next MAGA battleground.This isn’t the first time Bannon has tried to take his show
on the road. Three years ago, Bannon visited several countries in Europe and
beyond in an attempt to stitch together a transnational network of right-wing
nationalists who could jointly withstand what he considers to be the noxious tides
of globalization. As Ian Buruma wrote
at the time, “Bannon sees this effort as part of a ‘war’ between populism and ‘the
party of Davos,’ between the white, Christian, patriotic ‘real people’ (in the
words of his British supporter, Nigel Farage) and the cosmopolitan globalist
elites.” A boastful Bannon proclaimed
that “we’re open for business…We’re a populist, nationalist NGO, and we’re
global.”Despite his meetings with France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Deputy
Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister—and
Tucker Carlson’s new idol—Viktor
Orbán,  Bannon’s so-called “Movement” had
little discernible impact on European politics. This is because, despite the
aura of penetrating insight he cultivated as Trump’s Svengali, Bannon doesn’t
actually know much about how the world works.“While on tour,” Prague-based journalist Tim Gosling observed
in Foreign Policy in 2018, “Bannon’s diatribes tend to focus on Trump,
his miraculous election victory, and the president’s vision of tearing down the
‘global liberal elite.’” Bannon thrives at serving up the warmed over remains
of Trump’s shocking upset but has never managed to come up with new recipes
that can be tested elsewhere: “He pushes all the right buttons: defense
spending, trade imbalances, and Crooked Hillary. But Bannon does it from a
blinkered Washington perspective.” His foreign incursions were self-serving
mythmaking exercises, grist for an ongoing grift. Not until now, with
Bolsonaro, has Bannon found a foreign far-right movement thoroughly interested
in this Washington-centric approach. Bolsonaro’s sons and supporters are
thrilled by Bannon’s support in ways that European conservatives never were.Brazilians outside the far-right, however, were immediately concerned
by the Bolsonaro-Bannon alliance on display at Lindell’s event. Writing
for The Intercept Brasil, this past Sunday, journalist João Filho wrote
that Bannon’s involvement should be seen as a sure sign that the 2022 election
will be contested. “Even if Bolsonaro is not re-elected,” he fretted, “Bolsonarismo
swill remain alive. And they will continue to use Bannon’s know-how and invest
in conspiracies against democracy.” Thomas Traumann, a well-connected and
highly respected political observer writing for weekly news magazine Veja,
Bannon as the link between Bolsonaro’s “tropical version of Trumpism” and the
current insurrectionary paranoia that has gripped Trump’s true believers. Ciro
Gomes, a former governor, cabinet minister, and congressman who will seek the
presidency for the fourth time next year, has harped
on the Bannon-Bolsonaro connection since 2018, decrying the influence that
Trump’s erstwhile advisor has had over the Brazilian president. Bannon’s ability
to shape political outcomes around the world may be overstated, but his
involvement will likely draw the attention of American ultra conservatives to
an election that they might otherwise have overlooked.Bannon endorsed
Jair Bolsonaro back when he was a candidate in 2018, and met with Eduardo that
year as well. After their conversation, Eduardo announced his and Bannon’s
intent “to join forces, especially against cultural Marxism.” Last year, Bolsonaro
and his sons openly rooted for Trump to win reelection, sensing that a Biden
victory would isolate and constrain the Brazilian government for its careless
handling of Amazonian deforestation, among other issues that have raised
international alarm. It is not clear, however, that Bannon has followed
Bolsonaro’s administration particularly closely.Up until now, the Brazilian president’s steadfast support of
Trump has gone without much public reciprocity from either Trump or his
supporters. Bolsonaro stalled for over a month before recognizing Biden’s
victory. Tactlessly, Bolsonaro reportedly repeated
false allegations about fraud in the 2020 U.S. election in a meeting this month
with Biden’s National Security Advisor. And while in the United States for
Lindell’s symposium, Eduardo met
with Trump and invited him to visit Brazil. Bannon’s endorsement of the
Bolsonaro lie that the election will be stolen represents the kind of MAGA world
validation that the far right in Brazil, slavishly attuned to the U.S.
rightwing for inspiration, craves.Despite their well-documented tensions, Bannon remains
closely associated with Trump, always receiving at least partial credit for the
surprise victory in 2016. As a result, the Bolsonaro clan remain drawn to him. As
Bannon signals his willingness to engage in the 2022 Brazilian election, his
relationship with the Bolsonaros might become clearer. It is not unusual for
U.S. political strategists to take their services overseas, of course. It’s
unlikely that Bannon could guide Bolsonaro to victory—but legitimate victory is
probably not the point. Bannon’s main pursuit is grievance, victory merely a
happy accident. The Bolsonaros are offering Bannon a chance to be a player in a
major democracy’s high-stakes election, to be fawned over by unthinking
partisans, and, of course, to keep the grift alive.
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