In Death of democracy, Glenn Greenwald, Threats to journalism

David Miranda and Glenn Greenwald. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

Substantial media coverage over the last year, within Brazil and internationally, has been devoted to threats and attacks they each received, separately and together, due to their work – David Miranda’s as a congressman and Glenn Greenwald’s  as a journalist.

By Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda

Published on The Guardian, Jan 29, 2020
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Demagogues rely on fear to consolidate power. But courage is contagious – that’s why we must join hands and fight back

Substantial media coverage over the last year, within Brazil and internationally, has been devoted to threats and attacks we each received, separately and together, due to our work – David’s as a congressman and Glenn’s as a journalist. These incidents have been depicted, rightfully so, as reflective of the increasingly violent and anti-democratic climate prevailing in Brazil as a result of the far-right, authoritarian, dictatorship-supporting movement of President Jair Bolsonaro, which consolidated substantial power in the election held at the end of 2018.

There was much discussion when David entered congress in early 2019 after the only other openly LGBTQ+ congress member, Jean Wyllys, fled his seat and the country in fear of his life. As a longtime LGBTQ+ celebrity and sole LGBTQ+ member of congress, Wyllys had endured constant death threats and even bullying from fellow members of congress. His multiple fights with Bolsonaro and his sons made him a particular object of contempt by that movement. That they now occupied full-scale power made his remaining in Brazil untenable.

That Wyllys was replaced by another LGBTQ+ congress member provoked a contentious exchange between David and Bolsonaro that went viral on Twitter. David’s substantially increased visibility as the new LGBTQ+ member of congress provoked countless and highly detailed death threats from the Bolsonaro movement toward our family. That David, in 2016, had become the first-ever elected LGBTQ+ member of the Rio city council already had made him a target of much animus in a city dominated by paramilitary gangs and rightwing evangelical groups.

But his new status as the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the lower house of the federal congress made him a prime target of the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ+ Bolsonaro movement. That primal animus was enhanced by the fact that our public 15-year marriage and our two children serve as a living refutation of the false and toxic depiction of LGBTQ+ life as barren, unhappy, sickly and solitary, an anti-LGBTQ+ demonization campaign that is central to the Bolsonaro movement’s political identity.

A massive new wave of media coverage about our family was triggered when Glenn and the Intercept began their series of explosive exposés last June about rampant corruption at the highest levels of the Bolsonaro government, provoking a wave of violent threats, official acts of reprisal and a powerful fake news machine erected by the Bolsonaro movement against their enemies. All of those seemingly endless multipronged attacks culminated last week in criminal charges broughtagainst Glenn by a far-right prosecutor that have been widely condemned domestically and internationally as legally frivolous and a blatant assault on a free press.

But the sense of danger and political violence in our lives, and for many others in Brazil, began almost two years ago. On 14 March 2018, Marielle Franco – the LGBTQ+, black, favela-raised city councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro – was gunned down while riding in her car on the streets of Rio at roughly 9pm in a brutal political assassination. Franco was one of our family’s best friends as well as a rising political star, a vessel of hope to so many people marginalized for decades and who had no voice. The loss was a major trauma, still unhealed, for both the country and for our lives.

Franco was a member of David’s party, the leftwing Socialism and Liberty party (PSOL). David – also black, LGBTQ+ and raised in a violent favela as an orphan – was as unlikely as Franco to occupy political power in a country long plagued by severe inequality, racial inequities and discrimination of all types. Because they shared the same causes of combating lethal police violence and inequality, they sat next to one another in the city council chamber. Her politically motivated murder at the age of 37 brought political violence into our lives as a lurking, terrorizing reality which has only intensified since then.

The end of that year saw the election of Bolsonaro as president despite his decades-long advocacy of a return to the US/UK-supported military dictatorship. That regime brutally ruled the country with torture and murder until 1985, torturing and killing dissidents, journalists and anyone who opposed them. Along with his long-taboo praise for the dictatorship (except when he criticized it for being insufficiently violent and repressive), Bolsonaro, though relegated to the fringes of political life as a congressman for 30 years, gained media attention through a slew of shockingly bigoted comments against the nation’s racial minorities, its indigenous population in the Amazon and especially against LGBTQ+ people.

But in the 2018 election, it was not only Bolsonaro but also his far-right Social Liberal party (PSL), which barely existed the year before, that enjoyed a stunning rise to power. Virtually overnight, PSL, filled with previously obscure and fanatically anti-democratic figures, became the second most represented party in congress, just a few seats behind the center-left Workers’ party that had governed the country since 2002. Among its elected members were two police candidates who, days before the election, had destroyed a street sign erected in homage to Franco with their fists raised in the air.

Just weeks after Bolsonaro’s election, a terrifying scandal was revealed in which Bolsonaro’s eldest son, Flávio, who had been elected to the federal senate in the 2018 election, was found to have employed in his cabinet as a state representative for a full decade both the wife and mother of the chief of Rio’s most violent and feared paramilitary gang. Composed largely of police and military officers, the militia specialized in abusing their law enforcement expertise to carry out highly skilled pay-for-hire assassinations, including – police believed – the assassination of Franco.

A police operation carried out as part of the investigation into Franco’s murder succeeded in apprehending five of the top six militia leaders, but the sixth, who fled and is now a fugitive, was the top leader – the one whose wife and mother were disturbingly employed for 10 years by Bolsonaro’s son. This shocking link of the now all-powerful Bolsonaro family to the most terrifying paramilitary gang of Rio has since been strengthened by newly discovered connections, including photos of Bolsonaro with both of the killers, that one of the ex-police officers arrested for having pulled the trigger that killed Franco was a neighbor of Bolsonaro’s in his gated community, while the other police officer, who was the driver of the car, has a daughter who dated Bolsonaro’s youngest son.

In early 2019, David’s replacement of Wyllys in congress became a much-publicized and dramatic story in a country where anti-LGBTQ+ animus had become a major force in Brazil’s political life and where very few LGBTQ+ candidates ever occupy high office. The acrimonious Twitter exchange between Bolsonaro and David instantly converted David into a new prime enemy of that movement.

 

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