In Brazil, conspiracies are for professionals
Brazil is fertile ground for QAnon to grow in. Conspiracy theories are widespread among a population with low media literacy and encouraged by a far-right government. However, the QAnon conspiracy, which says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media, is not so significant here. Not yet, anyway.
There is no mention of President Jair Bolsonaro in the origins of QAnon, but some of his admirers and supporters have already listed him alongside Trump as one of the leaders elected to save the world from the paedophile and satanic collusion of liberals and leftists. In far-right demonstrations in Brazil, some people have held signs with QAnon symbols.
‘But we have no evidence of any significant penetration by the QAnon conspiracy in Brazil. I’m afraid that too much anticipation might end up spreading the phenomenon, as happened in the United States,’ warns Pablo Ortellado, a Professor of Public Policy at the University of São Paulo. He mentions US research showing that due to fear of it, liberals are twice as aware of the conspiracy as conservatives.
The Brazilian ultraconservative movement has always pointed to paedophilia as one of the country’s main problems – much worse than the genocide of black and poor youth in slums. Fear of sexual violence against our children is used as a tool to boost the narrative that our families are at risk. The survivors’ dignity is less important than the culture war.
Take, for example, the case of the 10-year-old girl, pregnant after being raped by her own uncle, which made the headlines in Brazil in August. She faced many obstacles to having an abortion, although legal in such cases. Officials from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Family and Human Rights allegedly tried to influence the family against a termination. Bolsonaro supporters went to the hospital to threaten doctors and the girl herself, calling them murderers.
According to a survey conducted by the Datafolha Institute, about nine per cent of Brazilians would not want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. This is the result of anti-vaccine campaigns but also fake news and conspiracy theories that have suggested that the Chinese will inject chips into the population and control them through 5G cell phone technology.
Datafolha found another similar figure: seven per cent of Brazilians think that the Earth is flat. This is related to education levels, but not exclusively. While 10 per cent of those who completed only elementary school believe that the world is as flat as a pancake, six per cent of those who have finished high school and three per cent of people with higher education also maintain that view.
Bolsonaro himself is responsible for spreading conspiracy theories, with real-world impacts. For example: that satellite images and videos of fires in the Amazon are fake and the forest is not burning. The president talks of a conspiracy of NGOs, foreign governments and indigenous peoples, determined to prevent our development and leading to the internationalization of the Amazon under UN authority.
While defending these theories, he also empowers loggers, illegal miners and cattle ranchers to continue devastating the forest.
In other words: in Brazil, conspiracies are for professionals. But the serious risk is not what the country might learn from QAnon, but what QAnon might learn from the country.
This article is from
the November-December 2020 issue
of New Internationalist.
- Discover unique global perspectives
- Support cutting-edge independent media
- Magazine delivered to your door or inbox
- Digital archive of over 500 issues
- Fund in-depth, high quality journalism