With the takeover of Congress, the spread of conspiracy theories and the latest school shootings in Brazil, a violent US pattern appears to be repeating itself in Latinamerica. We analyze what is happening and why it is worrying.
Photos: Gustavo Lima, Mediabanco Agency, CanalCNC, La Libertad Avanza
LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos
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So far this year, a series of violent acts have taken place in Brazil that seem like a mirror of the United States in Latin America. The seizure of Congress, the non-recognition of the results of the presidential elections or the increase in violent attacks on schools are examples of this. In fact, the school violence crisis has alarmed the authorities, since in the last year there have been 9 attacks.
One of the most shocking stories of violence in schools came in 2019 when two former students murdered seven people, then one killed the other and then committed suicide. They found connections to these people with racist and extremist groups that celebrated this type of massacre. The other of the two most recent massacres (February 2023 and November 2022) were committed by young neo-Nazis, according to the International Observatory for Studies on Terrorism.
In an investigation by El Hilo, reporter Mauricio Savarese said that the reaction of many people to the current situation is to demand violent responses, such as asking for the death penalty or torture. "We are involved in a situation that does not have ready and quick answers for anyone," he said.
While clearly not all violence or armed attacks are far-right inspired, it is true that this type of violence is on the rise. The hateful, racist, xenophobic, anti-immigration messages that are disseminated and that invite people to take "justice" or guarantee security into their own hands, are echoing in Brazil and other Latin American countries.
Hate speech from the extreme right: an incentive to violence
The speeches and ways of acting of Donald Trump, a figure of global relevance, have served as an example for other politicians. Despite his questionable views and his investigations in court, Trump has seen little impact on his popularity. In fact, it is necessary to remember that 70% of Republicans thought that Biden's election had been a fraud. Thus, Trump has become the prominent figure of the "alt-right."
The extreme right in Latin America, promoted by figures such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Jose Antonio Kast in Chile, María Fernanda Cabal in Colombia or Javier Milei in Argentina, maintain discourses that uphold security, freedom, patriotism and economic growth, which make them attractive to voters. However, their speeches are also constantly xenophobic, homophobic, racist and misogynistic, as well as deniers (or, at least, reductionists) of climate change. Thus, they have distanced themselves from the traditional right, to adopt more radical and, on many occasions, violent positions.
A common feature in their positions has been the defense of carrying weapons. In Brazil, where the extreme right has already governed, there was an almost 500% growth in the registration of arms during Bolsonaro's term. From 2018 to 2022, they went from 117,467 to 673,818 people registered as carriers of weapons, according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security (FBSP).
This ease of access to weapons also explains, in part, the proliferation of shootings. For Amnesty International, "strict regulation of firearms along with strategic violence reduction initiatives are the most effective way to reduce armed violence."
We recommend you read: G7: Do the Big Seven Lack Determination and Commitment to Climate Change?
Keys to understanding hate speech
To understand this phenomenon, we spoke with Jose Luis Salido Medina, a political scientist and researcher at the Euro-Arab Foundation, who has studied hate speech and violence on the extreme right. For the expert, there are three keys to understanding their extremist narratives: social networks, the media, and the content of their speeches, in the current context of democratic systems.
As for social networks, they facilitate the dissemination of messages and the connection between different people throughout the country, and the world. Likewise, the use of bots has increased the capacity to disseminate content and over-dimension the support received, according to the expert. For their part, the media are also key in disseminating these messages " Thanks to the funding that far-right groups and candidates receive from big businessmen and other personalities, on some occasions they manage to create their own channels and broadcast on television," says Salido.
The extreme right has found how to fill identity gaps with their discourses and have defined their national communities around the differences in front of an "other". Jose Luis Salido Medina explains that they have found external enemies (through nationalist positions) and internal enemies personified in the different identities that coexist in societies (anyone who is not white, the LGTBI community, feminism, etc.).
One of the peculiarities of these parties is that they use a discourse that does not reject democracy head-on, but instead stands as defenders of it against that "other" that they define and identify with the establishment. "This also gives them a 'revolutionary' or 'alternative' character in the face of a progressivism that supposedly dominates nations and is destroying them. However, this discourse in defense of democracy and 'tolerance' is usually accompanied by a deep warmongering language, disrespect and fake news; which is highly effective in contexts where society is polarized, and where they themselves are contributing to influencing that gap," he says.
The conspiracy theory is another fundamental element of the messages and speeches that these groups disseminate. For the researcher: "the success of these type of theories is not so much in the lie and in the difficulty of differentiating the false information from the true, but rather it resides in the capacity that these groups have to articulate debates around what it is' the truth', and on the 'tyranny and imposition' of scientific knowledge that 'seeks to establish a single thought'". In addition, these groups are globally interconnected and there are relationships and communication between them.
Finally, the expert clarifies that there is a conflicting relationship between violent actions and hate speech: "Hate speech does not necessarily lead to the perpetration of a violent act, and a violent act does not necessarily lead to the dissemination of more hate speech ". However, both are violent expressions (one verbal and one physical). For this reason: "When hate speech openly cries out for violent action, it is very likely that it will end up producing physical violence, as is the case with the assaults on the US Capitol and the Presidential Palace and Congress in Brazil," says Salido.