Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Brazil’s presidential election is still over a year away, but as his popularity plummets in the polls, the country’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is borrowing a move from the Donald Trump playbook: ramping up baseless conspiracy theories discrediting the electronic voting system.
And what better way to do that than by sending his son to appear on stage at the Cyber Symposium hosted by MyPillow CEO and uber election fraud conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell?
Eduardo Bolsonaro was warmly welcomed onto stage in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Tuesday, during the first day of a three-day event. Lindell has promised to reveal evidence of widespread voter fraud in the U.S. but by the end of day one, no such smoking gun had been revealed.
Bolsonaro, who sits in Brazil’s congress, spent 30 minutes ranting about election fraud, conspiracy theories, and the fake news media, while being cheered on by Lindell and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Bolsonaro, whose father is nicknamed the “Tropical Trump” for mimicking the former U.S. president’s actions and policies, unironically told the audience that “the left in Brazil copied the left in the U.S.” by calling the president a dictator and protesting against him.
Bolsonaro began his presentation by presenting his host with a MAGA baseball hat signed by Trump. Bolsonaro told the few hundred people in attendance that he had met with Trump earlier in the week. “It was a very nice meeting,” Bolsonaro said, without divulging what the pair had spoken about.
In an Instagram post, Bolsonaro shared a picture of himself, his wife, and infant daughter together with Trump in New York. In the post Bolsonaro said he was on the side of “men with unblemished reputation and moral authority, who can talk with their heads held high in the streets any time,” adding that he and Trump were in “alignment on ideals.”
President Bolsonaro has been widely seen as South America’s version of Trump as a result of his embrace of right-wing policies, his COVID-19 denialism, and now, his undermining of the democratic process.
Throughout his presidency, Trump had defended the actions of Brazil’s authoritarian leader, who has been widely criticised for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after he contracted the virus in July 2020, he downplayed the dangers it posed. He has repeatedly flouted mask rules, dismissed social distancing efforts to stop the spread of the virus, and called on his people to “stop being a country of sissies” when it came to the deadly virus.
Critics fear Bolsonaro is now laying the groundwork for a power grab if he loses the vote in 2022. He has called on his supporters to be prepared to “fight with all the weapons.”
For the last 25 years, Brazil has relied on electronic voting machines with no paper ballots. Bolsonaro has long advocated for a return to paper ballots, claiming—without evidence—that the voting machines were rigged.
The country’s top electoral court gave Bolsonaro a deadline of August 2 to present evidence to back up his claims, but no evidence was submitted. Now the court is investigating Bolsonaro for abusing his position of power by spreading false information, and has asked the Supreme Court to do the same.
Bolsonaro’s response was to call Luís Roberto Barroso, a judge who heads the electoral court and who also sits on the Supreme Court, a “son of a whore.”
But the president appears undeterred, and on Tuesday, as his son was speaking in South Dakota, the president staged a banana republic-style military parade outside of the National Congress where lawmakers were voting on a bill that would mandate voting machines print paper receipts. The lawmakers rejected the bill on Tuesday night.
Bolsonaro is clearly keen to generate support for his baseless claims wherever he can find it, and in the CEO of MyPillow, he’s found the perfect ally.
Despite huge hype by Lindell, Bannon, and the right-wing media, the conference has so far been little more than a parody of itself.
Within minutes of the conference kicking off, Lindell claimed the livestream had been “hacked.” As his team worked to get it back up and running, Lindell went into a long-winded rant lashing out at everyone from Big Tech to the mainstream media.
When things finally did start, the promised proof of electoral fraud in all 50 states never appeared. Rob Graham, a renowned expert in cybersecurity and specifically the “packet capture” data Lindell was promising to share, was left exasperated after a day of unfulfilled promises.
And so Eduardo Bolsonaro’s presentation, which also lacked any real evidence, felt perfectly at home at the Cyber Symposium—although Lindell did struggle as he introduced his newest friend:
But who knows, things may improve on day two of the conference. After all, Ron Watkins, the person who many people believe was the anonymous leader of QAnon, is slated to speak.