Despatch from Sao Paulo | International

Return of the Green Shirts


Cadres of the Integralist Front, a group inspired by European fascism, are back in Brazil’s streets

On December 24, when most people in the world’s biggest Catholic country were preparing for the Christmas Eve family dinners and prayers, two men appeared at the office of Porta dos Fundo (Back Door), a well-known production company in Rio de Janeiro that makes content for television and online platforms, and flung a couple of Molotov cocktails at its front door. As the office entrance was blasted away and a blaze erupted inside, the attackers fled on a motorbike. The news of attack on Back Door productions, which currently has been streaming a comedy series on the life of Jesus Christ, spread like wildfire across Brazil. As it was a holiday, the office was closed and nobody was hurt in the attack.

In a country, where popular television shows and top stand-ups routinely make fun of everyone — from football icons to the President and the Pope — the bomb attack on the production company, run by some of the most-celebrated comic writers and actors, in the middle of Christmas holidays jolted Brazil.

As the police investigated the attack, there was more shock in store. On New Year eve, it was revealed that one of the main suspects was the local businessman Eduardo Fauzi who was a member of a group linked with the Brazilian Integralist Front (FIB), an organisation inspired by fascism and with a history of spreading violence, fear and lies. “We are not left or right or centre. We seek good ideas, wherever they come from. We are not interested in the ways of progressivism or liberalism. Nationalism is the only way!!!” says the group’s description on Facebook.

Mr. Fauzi has run away to Moscow and the FIB has distanced itself from the attack, but a fear has gripped the Brazilian streets — the Integralists are back. Integralism emerged in Brazil after the end of the First World War. The far-right movement was founded in 1932 under the name of Brazilian Integralist Action (AIB, the party’s logo given in picture) by Plínio Salgado, a journalist who articulated his ideas in a document called the “October Manifesto”. In the 1974 book, Integralismo, Brazilian writer Hélgio Trindade explained how Integralism borrowed its concepts from fascism but tried to be original by claiming to be “spiritualist”. “Their thinking was that the basic principles of fascism must be adapted to the local conditions to create an original political doctrine,” wrote Mr. Trindade in his book.

During the 1930s, when Brazil had a robust communist movement that was becoming increasingly popular among the working class, the AIB cadres — all White — began to hold their meetings and marches in public squares with the message of “God, motherland and family”. From Sao Paulo, the biggest city in the country, to small towns in the north and south, such marches have begun to take place in recent months. Dressed in long-sleeved green shirts with a buttoned collar and cuffs and trousers, the Integralist cadre stand in a military-style formation, wave blue flags with the symbol of sigma, the Greek letter that identifies Integralism, raise their right arm in a Nazi-like salute and shout “God, motherland and family!” after the leaders.

‘Ghosts of our past’

“When I saw them doing a march in downtown Sao Paulo, I was amused and scared at the same time. They looked like clowns but it appeared as ghosts of our past have come back to haunt us,” says Marcos Silva, 22, a university student who was approached by a man in a green shirt to join the group. “I used to think they were history.”

To the young, the Integralists might look like relics of Brazil’s past, but those who follow the country’s history know that the Green Shirts never went away. They were always lurking around, having embedded themselves in the establishment and political parties. Daniel Hunt, a writer and music producer, points out that Miguel Reale, an Integralist leader in the 1930s, was not only involved in the U.S.-backed military coup of 1964 but he also drafted a notorious law, AI-5, which was used to arrest and torture leftist activists during the darkest days of dictatorship that lasted 21 years. “His son Miguel Reale Jr drafted (President) Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, thus ending 14 years of Workers’ Party rule in the country,” says Mr. Hunt.

It was during Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment that Jair Bolsonaro positioned himself as a potential candidate for President. Today, Mr. Bolsonaro is Brazil’s President. More than a week has gone but his government has so far not condemned the bomb attack in Rio. No wonder, the Integralists are feeling emboldened to march the streets of Brazil.

(Shobhan Saxena is a journalist based in Sao Paulo)

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 12:39:22 PM |

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