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- John Paul Rathbone YESTERDAY Print this page3
- Last weekend, I went to a screening in Washington of a film about Olavo de Carvalho, the political guru of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s rightwing president. Often called the “tropical Trump”, Mr Bolsonaro was due to arrive the next day to meet the US president. The two leaders are brash political soulmates.
- Within Mr Bolsonaro’s faction-riven administration, Mr Carvalho represents a key group, the hardcore ideologues. The president even showed off a copy of Mr Carvalho’s top-selling book, The Minimum You Need To Know Not To Be An Idiot, during his election victory speech. Mr Carvalho’s expletive-filled denigrations of Islam, the left and gay rights, or “gayzismo”, has brought him a social media audience of more than 570,000.
- Yet this pipe-smoking 71-year-old autodidact, philosopher and former astrologer is almost unknown outside Brazil. Conservative US firebrand Steve Bannon, who co-hosted the screening, wants to change that. “In the US, the conservative movement has peaked-out of good ideas. That is why Olavo is so important,” the former Trump adviser said.
- The 80-odd guests at the Trump International Hotel also included Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son and a powerful politician in his own right. “We couldn’t have won the election without Olavo,” Eduardo said. “Without Olavo, there would be no President Bolsonaro”.
- Mr Carvalho sat with his wife, wearing a three-piece brown-plaid suit, looking donnish. Immensely well-read, his thinking is elusive and esoteric. One recurring theme, though, shared by other populists, is a neo-Marxist insistence on the cultural hegemony that he claims has been imposed by globalists, the left and the politically correct via schools, political parties and the mainstream media and “fake news”.
- For many years, Mr Carvalho’s campaign was lonely and unheeded. But in 2013 Brazilians began to channel disgust with the corruption and mismanagement of the leftist Workers’ party in a series of national protests. Many carried placards saying “Olavo was right”. Brazil subsequently suffered its biggest graft scandal and deepest recession. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was jailed for corruption, and Mr Bolsonaro won the presidency.
- Mr Bannon told the audience at the screening he had high hopes for Mr Carvalho as a “seminal” thinker, and highlighted the latter’s debate with Aleksandr Dugin, a fascist philosopher known as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s guru.
- Blessedly, rather than a political tract, the film was a homage to Mr Carvalho’s domestic life. He left Brazil in 2005 and now lives in Virginia. An American flag fluttered on his porch, his family said grace at meals, dogs wagged their tails. Mr Carvalho fired a rifle, talked philosophy, and chain-smoked. The impression was of a placid and highly learned eccentric, not the prickly monster of public reputation. Then the mask slipped.
- “The media is crazy, all journalists are drug-addicts,” Mr Carvalho barked in his opening comments after the film. “Everything is fantasy!”
- He is famous for picking fights, most recently with Brazil’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, a moderate retired general. “I despise him,” he said.
- Then it was my turn. I asked what he hoped would come of the Bolsonaro-Trump meeting. Mr Carvalho replied the US should help Brazil so it is not sold off to China. “The two countries produce over half of the world’s food. They can make an alliance,” he said.
- When I followed up, “Do you mean a cartel?” Mr Carvalho exploded. “I didn’t call it a cartel. You are putting words in my mouth. You are distorting, malicious. You are a liar.” After he railed about our exchange on Twitter, I suspected a publicity stunt — a “fantasy” to use Mr Carvalho’s own words.
- Mr Bannon was more surprising about journalists and “fake news”. The American had told me earlier, “I love the Financial Times, even if we go hard against each other.”
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