Multiple publications in Brazil responded on Friday to the stabbing of conservative presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro with calls to reconsider the “extremism” of Bolsonaro’s supporters and demands for Bolsonaro himself to moderate his language, despite records showing the attacker with a longtime record of membership in a socialist party.
Police arrested a man identified as Adelio Bispo de Oliveira on the scene of a Bolsonaro rally Thursday. The man used a kitchen knife to stab Bolsonaro, who supporters were carrying on their shoulders through a crowd, in the abdomen. While initial reports stated that Bolsonaro had only received a “superficial” injury, doctors later confirmed that the knife had penetrated significantly and caused Bolsonaro to lose almost half of the blood in his body. He is currently in what is being described as “serious, but stable” condition.
Bispo de Oliveira told police that he attacked Bolsonaro because “God commanded it,” a remark that has led to many on the left speculating that the attacker is suffering from mental health problems. The publication Veja revealed on Thursday that Bispo de Oliveira was a registered member of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL); other reports revealed an extensive social media history in which Oliveira reportedly praised Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and repeatedly disparaged Bolsonaro.
In a column in Folha de Sao Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest newspapers, author Igor Gielow argues that the stabbing is symptomatic of a larger “radicalization” in Brazilian politics that began with the movement to oust impeached former president Dilma Rousseff in 2013.
“The attack is the pinnacle of the extreme polarization process that has taken over the country since the June 2013 protests,” Gielow argues, noting that, at the time, “disorganized forces in society exploded in discontent over the direction of public management, and the fringe on the right that developed there gathered strength with the street protests” that led to Rousseff’s impeachment.
Gielow makes the claim that these protesters ultimately lent its support to Jair Bolsonaro. “If that process did not produce corpses, the extremism of the political process literally wounded the frontrunner in the polls,” he continues.
Gielow does not show any evidence that Bispo de Oliveira participated in the street protests against Rousseff, though the BBC reports that he did protest against current President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s successor, and there is no evidence that he was ever a Bolsonaro supporter.
“Could this generate a reflection, a rejection of the defense of those extremes associated with the formation of Bolsonaro’s candidacy?” the piece asks, before asserting that “Bolsonaro’s rhetoric invariably uses violent metaphors.”
To Gielow, it is “an inconvenient irony” that Bolsonaro was stabbed because he vocally supports the right of private individuals to possess firearms, as is legal in the United States.
Folha itself weighed in on the stabbing in an editorial where it warned the left that “nothing could be more catastrophic” than indulging growing conspiracy theories that the attack was a false flag operation to make Bolsonaro more sympathetic, theories that have begun to make their way online. It nonetheless disregards Bispo de Oliveira’s political affiliation, stating, “it appears to be an unbalanced person without connections to any particular extremist group.”
It goes on to describe Bolsonaro’s rhetoric as “frankly scary.”
Gielow’s Folha piece was not the only one to take the opportunity of Bolsonaro’s stabbing to condemn him for “violent rhetoric,” most recently a remark he made that he would like to sweep the vote belonging to the far-left Workers’ Party (PT), whose preferred candidate, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is currently serving a 12-year prison term for corruption. Bolsonaro used the verb fuzilar (“fusillading”) to describe what he wanted to do to PT support, which means “to execute by firing squad.”
Bolsonaro clarified later, “I told a writing class at the Universal Brazilian institution when I was a kid, it was a figure of speech, very simple.” He added that he wanted to sweep with “the PT’s support, not actual PT members. There are a lot of PT members who will vote for me. It’s true.”
“Many reports use the line ‘you reap what you sow,'” columnist Tereza Cruvinel wrote at the Jornal do Brasil. In the end, Bolsonaro says that “you fight vilence with violence,” makes a habit of making shooting gestures around children, and promised on Saturday to “execute the PT’s support by firing squad.” She added, however, that “this should not make the repudiation [of the stabbing] and lesser.”
In Veja, authors Eduardo Gonçalves and Edoardo Ghirotto wrote following the stabbing that, while “a victim is always a victim … Bolsonaro has a penance to pay” for being “responsible for the environment that he himself helped to create.”
The piece claims Bolsonaro engages in “constant praise for violent solutions” that is “an irresponsible invitation to the exacerbation of moods.”
Bolsonaro has made controversial comments throughout his political career, including heckling leftist agitators about the 20th-century Brazilian military dictatorship and some unsightly remarks about his sons being too “well-educated” to consider dating black women. He has largely cleaned up his act in the past year as a presidential candidate and offered an unapologetic right-wing platform: greater economic opportunities, shrinking social programs, and disentanglement with international affiliations made under Lula and Rousseff that are now embarrassing to the country, such as those with China and Venezuela. The result has been a consistent lead in the polls at 22 percent, which is not enough to keep him from having to run in a second election with the runner-up but enough to have kept any other opponent from having a larger coalition of support.
Bispo de Oliveira cited none of Bolsonaro’s remarks in his explanation for why he tried to kill the candidate, instead saying that he was “commanded by God” and that the police would “not understand.” His Facebook rantings, if the account numerous international outlets are citing as his is confirmed valid, accused Bolsonaro not of violent rhetoric, but of planning to sell the Amazon rainforest to the United States and leading a “Masonic conspiracy.”
Bolsonaro is currently in a hospital in Sao Paulo after a complex surgery to save several of his vital organs after the stabbing. His children, Eduardo and Flavio, both lawmakers, have stated they expect their father to return to the campaign trail soon.