Brazilian election: Inside the online groups calling for a military coup

“Military intervention NOW!”

If you’ve been following the Brazilian election, this will now be a familiar phrase.

Lula da Silva’s electoral victory over right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in October prompted demonstrations from the former president’s most ardent supporters in over 70 Brazilian cities.

Many claimed that the election was a fraud, that Brazil was “stolen” and called for the military to step in.

Five weeks on, demonstrations continue, but have dwindled. Online, however, these calls are stronger than ever.

Experts have told Sky News that the election result has made calls for a military coup the dominant narrative among Brazil’s online far-right groups which, on Telegram, have seen “increased radicalisation”.

Sky News has analysed over 25 channels and pages across Telegram, TikTok and Instagram associated with Brazil’s far-right.

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In them, we found baseless claims that a coup is imminent, or even already under way circulating in forums with a combined following of over 300,000.

And with Lula’s upcoming inauguration on 1 January 2023, experts say we can expect to see this kind of discourse escalate.

Protesters across Brazil have used the black Brazilian flag to symbolise their view and it's the same online. Here, the image can be seen with the words:
Protesters across Brazil have used the black Brazilian flag to symbolise their view and it’s the same online. Here, the image can be seen with the words: ‘Say no to communism, join this fight, military intervention now!’

One of the largest pages we found currently has over 34,000 subscribers on Telegram – an increase of 11,000 compared to the previous week.

The channel’s description reads: “WE ARE THE RESISTANCE! MILITARY INTERVENTION YES!”

But the channel goes beyond calling for a coup. Many of its posts imply that military intervention may be just around the corner.

One message posted by the channel’s owner tells followers to begin stockpiling water, medicine and food. It’s been viewed over 18,000 times.

Another voice message spanning over 51 minutes details Brazil’s allies and enemies in the supposedly imminent “war” and urges followers to “get ready now”. The message containing the lengthy monologue has been reacted to over 1,000 times.

Videos of military equipment being transported around Brazil are frequently shared here and across many of the channels we looked at.

These screengrabs are taken from a TikTok that had been shared around many of the channels we observed.
These screengrabs are taken from a TikTok that had been shared around many of the channels we observed. The writing on the side of the lorry indicates that it is part of the Brazilian Army’s transportation unit

One clip was originally posted to TikTok with the caption “Patriots ready for this war #sosarmedforces #brazilianarmy”

It was posted in the channel with the message:

“This is without doubt the best coverage of the movements of the Brazilian Army! Very rich in time and details.”

In it, we see a convoy of military vehicles in transit on a busy road.

The woman filming says: “Attention patriots, today on December 4th, there is movement from the army on the main roads.”

“We are seeing they are getting ready for something. What, we don’t know.”

Sky News has not been able to independently verify the reason the equipment in the video was being transported. But Dr Vinicius de Carvalho, director of the Brazil Institute at Kings College London, says the videos show nothing out of the ordinary.

He says: “This is something that happens quite often in Brazil. This video is a convoy of the ECT – which is Brazil’s Army Transport Unit. Their responsibility is to securely transport military equipment around the country.”

The video has been viewed 30,000 times on TikTok. But in reality, it has been seen far more widely. The version posted to the channel alone had an additional 20,000 views.

“The groups that are promoting misinformation currently in Brazil are taking every single opportunity to reinforce their narrative that an intervention is on its way,” Dr de Carvalho tells Sky News.

“But realistically, there is no movement among the Forces that indicate that this is the case.”

This image is one of many similar ones circling in the groups we monitored. It reads
This image is one of many similar ones circling in the groups we monitored. It reads ‘S.O.S Armed Forces, Save Our Country’

Another message we saw across numerous channels points to a 5 December publication by Brazil’s Ministry of Defence.

The guide, which is available on Brazil’s government website, “serves as a doctrinal basis for knowledge, planning, preparation and execution of military mobilisation”.

“Brazil is under military guardianship. It came out in the official journal,” reads one post in a group of 13,600.

Another shared the document with the message: “PREPARE FOR WAR, LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, IT’S SERIOUS.” It’s been viewed over 24,000 times.

“Everything is falling into place,” someone else added.

Further searching on Brazil’s government website reveals that the update is the result of a working group set up in April 2022 to build on a version initially published in 2015.

“This sort of manual is constantly being updated and reviewed. It’s the result of months of studies,” says Dr de Carvalho.

Another image that had been shared around many of the groups. It reads:
Another image that had been shared around many of the groups. It reads: “Brazil needs you!”

These are just some of the narratives being promoted in the groups we observed.

“Even though far-right forums on Telegram and other closed platforms have always been more extreme and conspiratorial than those on the surface internet, there seems to be increased radicalisation in the aftermath of the elections,” says Leticia Cesarino, professor of anthropology at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.

However, Prof Cesarino says claims around electoral fraud have long been peddled on Brazil’s far-right.

“It was kept alive during the Bolsonaro administration in different guises: demand for a print ballot, suspicion about statistics, opinion polls, experts, media pundits and the judiciary system,” she says.

“So the turn to more explicit coup-mongering after the election results was entirely predictable.”

Over five weeks on, these claims can still be heard at protest camps across Brazil.

In Brasilia, demonstrators dressed in the bright colours of Brazil’s flag have been camped outside the military headquarters since the result was announced.

Brazil’s courts have made efforts to quell the spread of misinformation in Brazil in recent years.

Since 2019, the Federal Supreme Court has led an at times controversial inquiry into what they called “digital militias” committing “anti-democratic acts”.

It’s resulted in the court-ordered removal of some of the biggest channels charged with promoting misinformation. Telegram was even briefly banned in Brazil earlier in 2022 for this reason, before being reinstated just two days later.

This has continued in the aftermath of the election. But experts say we can expect to see more, not less, of these narratives as the time for Lula to take office approaches.

“It is likely that anti-fraud discourse will escalate as Lula’s inauguration gets closer. These people are very adamant that Lula must not take office or Brazil will sink into moral and economic chaos” Prof Cesarino tells Sky News.

“These forums are now permanent on the Brazilian internet, and will continue to exist and perhaps even regain growth as a persistent movement for de-stabilising the next government.”

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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