RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil has opened an investigation into the behaviour of a public prosecutor, who is accused of publishing Nazi propaganda on social networks.
Marya Olimpia Ribeiro Pacheco published seven posts on her personal facebook account, including Nazi posters, swastikas, and messages in support of Adolf Hitler. The posts have been live for five years, but Brazil’s public prosecutor's office is investigating now after they were publicized by local media last week.
The prosecutor Ribeiro Pacheco, who coordinates legal proceedings before the country’s highest courts, is the daughter of a former police director called Hitler Mussolini Domnigues Pacheco. The posts were first revealed by news outlet Congresso em Foco on September 22, which reported that Ribeiro Pacheco had used her personal facebook profile to publish a series of Nazi-related advertisements in 2016. Since then, the self-declared member of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s “digital militia” has used her social networks as a space for wide dissemination of material related to far-right agendas, it reported.
Almost immediately after the accusations were published, Ribeiro Pacheco’s facebook account was restricted to the public but screenshots seen by VICE World News and published on local media show posts featuring exaltations to the Führer and a message that reads, “Kampf für führer und volk” (fight for the leader and for the people). Another calls on workers to be soldiers of Hitler, whose leadership resulted in the genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust and millions of others, including Soviet prisoners of war, gay men, and Roma.
Shortly after the report, Facebook announced that it had deleted several of Pacheco’s Nazi-related posts. In a public statement, the company said that it does not allow “content that praises, supports or represents Nazism and we have removed infringing content mentioned by the report”.
Ribeiro Pacheco will now have ten days to submit “the information [the Public Ministry] deems pertinent” to explain exactly what she was intending with her posts, before a verdict is decided. Federal District Deputy Fabio Felix has also called for her immediate dismissal.
Ribeiro Pacheco could face one to two years in prison, as well as a fine, according to criminal lawyer Bernando Fenelon from Brasilia.
Any act that “uses symbols” of Nazism “for publicity purposes” is considered a crime under Brazil’s Federal Anti-Racism law, said Fenelon. The same law also makes it a crime to produce, sell or distribute material that contains Nazi symbols, as well as using publications and media to spread Nazism.
Bolsonaro denied being a “fascist” in 2017 after a senator accused him of such before his electoral victory. Many analysts claim the president shares several of the movement's extremist tendencies, like racism and intolerance.
Brazil’s president welcomed far-right German lawmaker Beatrix von Storch from the AfD party at the presidential palace earlier this year, a move that was widely denounced by critics.
“Neither Bolsonaro nor any elected official should welcome an AfD politician. Germany’s far-right AfD party accepts holocaust trivilization & denial and uses xenophobic rhetoric,” tweeted the Anti-Defamation League.
The prosecutor Ribeiro Pacheco is part of a wave of a new generation of conservatives that have enrolled in the Brazilian far-right philosopher Olavo de Carvalho’s online philosophy course. Self-educated Olavo is widely celebrated by many, including President Bolsonaro and his sons, as the intellectual founder of Brazil’s far right. He is known to have inspired the Bolsonaro government’s social media presence, known as the “hate cabinet”.
This isn’t the first time Ribeiro Pacheco has run into problems with Brazil’s judicial system. The prosecutor has also been under fire for her support of controversial conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice intented to change an individual’s sexual orientation. At the time, she argued that she was “exercising her right to freedom of expression” – a justification that has emerged recently for discriminatory posts in Brazil.
Ribeiro Pacheco’s behaviour crossed the limit of what is acceptable practice for freedom of speech, said the lawyer Fenelon. “The limit of freedom of expression is the law. The minute you act against the law, you’ve become removed from freedom of expression,” he said.
Since Bolsonaro, a former army-captain who has spoken fondly of Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, took office in 2018, Neo-Nazi sentiment such as that expressed by Ribeiro Pacheco, has skyrocketed, according to data experts.
In 2020, Safernet Brasil, which focuses on internet human rights, received 9,004 reports on posts alleged to contain Neo-Nazi content, across 3,884 pages – 1,659 pages of which were removed. In 2019, the non-profit received 1,071 reports for Neo-Nazi content.
Repeated expressions of hatred against minorities by the Bolsonaro government and the rise of the extreme right in Brazil have activated the movement, said Thiago Taveres, president of SaferNet Brazil.
“It’s undeniable that the repeated demonstrations by members of the government, which evoke gestures and words typical of Nazi iconography, have empowered these cells in Brazil...this makes these groups feel legitimized and empowered.”