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Nova Resistência in Brazil: Identifying Dangerous Narratives and Stemming Their Influence

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In recent years, Brazil has witnessed the rise of the far-right organization Nova Resistência (NR), which has managed to not only carve out a notable presence on the country’s socio-geopolitical landscape, but has also had its ideas successfully permeate Brazilian society where its radical narratives circulate quite freely with the assistance of its Kremlin connections. Understanding the essence of the narratives propagated by Nova Resistência and the reach which they have managed to carve out for their work with the support of Russia, across various segments of Brazilian society, particularly through Telegram, is important for understanding the vast array of risks which this group poses to societal coherence. It is also important to look beyond Brazil at the way in which the successful spread of this radical ideology in Brazil could potentially be replicated elsewhere.

Before delving into the risks, it is imperative to better grasp the primary stories around which Nova Resistência's agenda revolves. Each of these is intertwined with several sub-narratives that collectively fuel the organization's potent and far too often ignored well-oiled propaganda mechanism, which has successfully penetrated Brazilian society with the assistance of its Kremlin backers. These meta-narratives are not merely abstract concepts; they have been carefully crafted to serve specific purposes whose ultimate goal is to reshape public opinion across the country (with an eye towards using similar models to impact the region more broadly as well as countries beyond the region), fostering a climate which is conducive to the incubation of extremist ideologies.

When discussing these, it is important to first look at what has the greatest potential impact to sow discord and upend social order, namely Nova Resistência’s militarism and its connection to Moscow. Indeed, how Nova Resistência’s followers’ heavy emphasis on militarism can most prominently be seen through the heavy feature in its propaganda of Russia’s reported “triumphs” in the Ukraine conflict. Russia is portrayed as an example of nationalism to aspire to, with Nova Resistência overtly, and often quietly suggesting that Brazil has much to learn from the Russian nationalistic model.

Stories, integral to any such organization’s efforts, which underpin this narrative, frame Ukraine as a hub of Nazi racism and moral decay more broadly. The organization indirectly glorifies divisive political figures, the likes of Donald Trump, who, in their minds, align with these extreme world-views. It is a mistake to view this narrative as simply about foreign policy. Rather, the broader strategic aims of such efforts are to encourage the embrace of a far more aggressive form of nationalism in Brazil; specifically, a form of nationalism which venerates military might and authoritarian leadership as key principals to strive towards. It is exactly this kind of nationalism, which sits well with Russia’s own agenda of sowing discord and upending societal cohesion in select geographies globally.

Looking beyond these very concrete tenets of Nova Resistência’s ideology, it is important to understand the pseudo-intellectualist manner in which the organization operates, promoting a familiar concept called "Multipolarity." As with any pseudo-intellectualist agenda, this narrative attempts to provide an intellectual veneer to Nova Resistência’s extreme agenda by tapping into already existing (and prevalent in Brazil), conservative perspectives on issues such as gender roles, anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment, and pervading stereotypes, alongside justifications for violence against minorities. Indeed such issues have been selected carefully not only because of the role they can play in dividing Brazilian society, but also in their potential relevance in other locales.

These are frequently interwoven with religious undertones that appeal to many religious Brazilians, for example, depicting the West as under the influence of "Satan." This narrative aims to appeal to a more intellectually minded religious audience. Nova Resistência has tapped into a tool that many an extremist organization has employed, namely legitimizing extreme positions under the guise of theoretical discourse, generating an illusion of sophistication around regressive and dangerous ideologies.

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This naturally connects to a further point pushed by Nova Resistência; its deep distrust of the traditional media. Having shown itself to be operating on an intellectual level far superior to that of the “mainstream media”, Nova Resistência’s will, for example, claim that Western media outlets deliberately misrepresent entities like Russia to maintain their own elite, U.S. driven hegemony. Tapping into already prevalent existing skepticism towards the mainstream media, it works to exacerbate divisions and foster an othering-based "us versus them" mentality. According to them, Nova Resistência should be seen as nothing but a beacon of truth, leading a crusade against a vast global conspiracy seeking to obscure reality. This not only discredits often well-established news sources. It also positions Nova Resistência as the sole purveyor of unadulterated truth.

Research was conducted on the network for dissemination which has been built, to spread      the Nova Resistência narrative. This was primarily centered around the encrypted messaging app, Telegram and showed that Nova Resistência content was shared, throughout one year of research, on 752 channels. It should be noted that these channels are not at all monolithic, but rather, work as part and parcel of a complex ecosystem where not only narratives identified with Nova Resistência are pushed. Rather, these are mixed with similar ideologies, all tailored to resonate with specific key target demographics that Nova Resistência aims to reach.

As with any social media effort, influencers who already have an established presence on these channels, play a crucial role. These more often than not present themselves as intellectuals, as a means of lending credibility to Nova Resistência pseudo-intellectual narratives. The operation is complex, with further channels acting as curators, which amplify and legitimize content across the network, mobilizing supporters and inciting action. This is indeed similar to tactics employed by the Kremlin elsewhere.

The implications and potential threats from Nova Resistência's actions are far-reaching, spreading narratives that justify violence and encourage extremist tendencies. These naturally radicalize individuals but, more concerningly, further destabilize an already fragmented Brazilian society, collectively creating an environment ripe for extremist actions and the blossoming of authoritarianism. As noted, they also have the potential to be replicated in other at-risk geographies by Nova Resistência's Russian supporters.

Combatting this insidious influence requires a multi-pronged approach with numerous steps. It must include enhancing media literacy, which will undoubtedly help combat misinformation, promoting inclusive narratives that offset divisive rhetoric, and strengthening legal frameworks, which can be the tools with which Nova Resistência’s actions are curbed online.

This well-coordinated organization cannot be ignored. The agenda is clear; reshaping Brazil’s political and social landscape, with the Kremlin’s keen eye always towards re-enacting this successful model in other countries. Ignoring this is not only becoming impossible, it is dangerous. Instead, we must not only understand but work to expose narratives and methods, taking any steps required to protect the unified fabric of our democratic society.

Bernardo Almeida is a freelance analyst based in Rio de Janeiro, focused on Russian grand strategy in Latin America. He has a MA in conflict studies from the University of São Paulo.

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