State of intimidation: MiliCarthyism is watching you

The Un-Brazilian Activities Committee knows who you are, what you do and can sue you

There is no freedom where there is fear, even if the Constitution guarantees that we are all free. Fear can be spontaneous, irrational, a personality trait. For that there is therapy, among other things. But fear can be deliberately fabricated from the outside, both by the state and by society.

When state and society plunge into vigilantism and denunciation, either by police, judiciary or informal militia groups, we enter into a state of intimidation. In this regime of exception to freedoms, intimidation is a public policy and an organized private practice, encouraged by the state itself.

The target brings together people for whom freedom is constitutive of what they do: journalists, teachers, scientists, writers, civil society. Unlike an engineer, an accountant or an orthopedist, who enjoy a generic professional freedom, these activities receive specific constitutional freedoms: freedom of the press, academic and scientific freedom, artistic freedom, freedom of association and assembly. They can thus disturb without the burden of heroism and acute retaliation.

And they do disturb. Bolsonarist-style governments go hunting. Bolsonaro has appointed four watchdogs for state intimidation policy: the General Prosecutor (GP), the Minister of Justice (MJ), the Attorney General (AG) and the super-intelligence service of General Heleno. Prosecutors, judges and police officers stay in the rear, waiting for the call. Bolsonaristas on the corner do the rest of the dirty work.

A state of intimidation emerges from this hodgepodge of cases:

GP orders a journalist to release a report he managed to leak from the intelligence agency (Abin); Abin monitors "bad Brazilians" at a climate conference; GP asks the Bar Association to sanction a lawyer who asks for an investigation against human rights minister; ministries set up dossiers for "antifascists" and "detractors"; AG takes legal action against Minister Salles' critics; bureaucracies and even policemen operate in a climate of apprehension for fear of whistleblowers detecting signs of antagonism.

Bolsonaro urges police against the press; MJ opens secret investigation against lawyer and journalists who criticize the president; the Army requests retraction of a magazine against the assertion of military responsibility for deaths in the pandemics; the medical profession is harassed to prescribe medicine without scientific recommendation; a prosecutor questions a city hall for celebration of women's day with a "communist layout".

In education and research, a university professor signs a "term of conduct adjustment" for having displayed "disapproval" of the president; a student is arrested for an ironic phrase on social network; a state research center demand researchers to ask for authorization to publish studies; movements for the creation of hotlines in schools and universities proliferate; the commission of the national university exam (Enem) suggests replacing the term "dictatorship" with "military regime". In the field of culture, the promotion and funding of the arts is subjected to a political filter.

Intimidation does not come only form the state. The judiciary functions as a very functional puppet for authoritarians. A collective of "conservative lawyers" offers to sue anyone who offends the president. Public figures such as Patrícia Campos Melo, Felipe Neto and Debora Diniz are threatened by a torrent of hatred in social networks and by lawsuits.

Pastors from the Universal Church (main pentecostal church in the country) practice sham intimidatory litigation against writer João P. Cuenca. Due to a phrase posted on social network, he suffers more than 100 identical actions spread across the country, a strategy also used against the journalist Elvira Lobato, years ago.

Many people, due to cognitive hesitation and rhetorical cordiality, prefer to treat words with a kid's glove and avoid the signs of greater moral and political ignominy of the 20th century, such as fascism and genocide, or serious concepts such as state of exception. They have not yet submitted their vocabulary for closer scrutiny.

Obsessive in the search for "functioning institutions", they do not evaluate "how". Legal formalities are enough to prove their presumed thesis. The Official Gazette, in fact, seems to be working. Perhaps they will at least be convinced that we have entered into a state of intimidation and self-censorship, a state of constitutional exception with grains of sugar.

MiliCarthyism produces a fog of uncertainty that makes you ponder several times before practicing the elementary commitments of your profession, if your profession is not meant to pay homage to the government of the day. It is not fear of ordinary constraint, but fear of imprisonment, economic and personal ruin. MiliCarthyism, the McCarthyism of the tropics, is what we have on the horizon.

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