Jair Bolsonaro has openly cheered dictatorship and publicly insulted women. Now hes deploying Trump-like tactics in his race for the presidency
Jair Bolsonaros disciples had packed the arrivals hall of this far-flung Amazonian airport, united by their contempt for the left and an unbreakable determination to score a selfie with the man they call the Legend.
Hes Brazils hope! A light at the end of the tunnel! A new horizon! gushed Fernando Vieira, one of hundreds of fans there to greet a far-right firebrand who cheerleads for dictatorship but could soon become leader of the worlds fourth-largest democracy.
When flight 2020 delivered the presidential hopeful to his sun-scorched destination in the northern state of Roraima, pandemonium broke out. Legend! Legend! Legend! Legend! the crowd chanted, hoisting their idol into the air and outside through a crush of police officers and partisans.
There, Bolsonaro boarded a carnival float painted like a leopard and began an ear-splitting, hour-long procession through town.
The Legend has arrived! The Legend is in Roraima! The big democracy party has begun! bellowed an MC as the rally crept south, pursued by a honking tide of SUVs and motorbikes.
Since the Pinochet-praising former paratrooper entered politics three decades ago, he has repeatedly called for a return to the kind of military rule Brazil endured until 1985. I am in favour of a dictatorship, he boasted during the first of seven terms as a congressman.
Such incendiary remarks were long dismissed as the ravings of a irreverent and irrelevant extremist as were his equally inflammatory attacks on women, black people, gay people, foreigners and indigenous communities, for which he was last week charged by Brazils attorney general with inciting hate speech.
Now, however, Bolsonaros ideas have taken centre stage, with the father of five leading the race to become Brazils next president after the jailing of his nemesis and main rival, the former president Luiz Incio Lula da Silva.
In a sign the world is starting to take the prospect of a Bolsonaro presidency seriously, Britains ambassador to Brazil recently held what he called an interesting meeting with the 63-year-old.
In his bid to capitalise on Latin Americas lurch to the right, Bolsonaro paints himself as a tropical Trump: a pro-gun, anti-establishment crusader set on draining the swamp into which Brazils futuristic capital has sunk.
On the stump he lambasts not slimeballs and bad hombres, but vagabundos (losers), canalhas (creeps) and bandidos (crooks). He accuses critics of peddling fake news, vows to be tough on crime and repeatedly bashes China. We will do business with the Chinese but we will not hand our territory over to anybody! he told supporters in Boa Vista, to loud cheers.
His speeches, like Trumps, are often rambling, fact-light assaults on syntax that appear nonsensical when transcribed but are strangely captivating when watched up close.
Asked by the Guardian at a press conference following his Amazon motorcadewhat his first act as president would be, Bolsonaro replied: Youre from the Guardian, OK? Youre here because you are interested in Brazil and in this area. If you were poor you wouldnt be here. If you were poor you wouldnt be here. Right? This is such a rich area and open your eyes because the Chinese are buying Brazil. OK?