How a Brazilian lawmaker helped Lula beat Bolsonaro’s campaign machine

How a Brazilian lawmaker helped Lula beat Bolsonaro’s campaign machine

RIO DE JANEIRO, November 10, “Reuters”: Andre Janones had to fight fire with fire to topple Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

The little-known 38-year-old lawmaker ran a long-shot presidential campaign before joining forces with President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in August, boosting the left’s election campaign online with his raw, no-holds-barred approach. politics.

Iannones admitted in an interview that his use of ad hominem attacks, exaggerations and even physical confrontations with opponents were not constructive for public discourse. But he said that to win and prevent the president from cementing his conservative agenda, Brazil’s left needed to steal a page from Bolsonaro’s playbook.

“This debate impoverishes democracy. It’s a sleazy debate where you incite, you use profanity, you joke,” said Iannones, who denied allegations he was using fake news. “But we have to save democracy. Look at the scenario we live in.”

The son of a domestic worker and a wheelchair-bound father from a small town in the Brazilian interior, Yanones worked his way through law school working as a bus fare collector and only became a federal lawmaker in 2019.

His profile has risen in recent months as he helped the 77-year-old Lula retool his communications strategy, connecting with the lawmaker’s roughly 14 million social media followers via live digital broadcasts, including young and poor voters.

Iannones also raised eyebrows among some in Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) for his vulgar attacks on Bolsonaro and his allies. He appeared for public contempt after an argument with a former environment minister in the audience of a televised debate.

“HERE TO STAY”

It remains unclear how Lula plans to use Janones and his numerical shock troops, who helped secure a narrow electoral victory but could complicate building a delicate left-wing coalition in Congress, where right-wing parties won seats.

Iannones said he would take any job Lula offered him.

In a meeting with the president-elect last week, he said Lula had encouraged him to “continue a strong and mobilized communication strategy under this government.”

One of Lula’s senior aides defended Iannones’ role, saying he could walk where the official campaign dared not. He was Lula’s most prominent ally who threw down the gauntlet bruising run-off race it caught even Bolsonaro’s campaign by surprise.

In recent years, Brazil’s Supreme Court has launched an investigation into Bolsonaro and his so-called “hate cabinet” for allegedly using public resources to spread disinformation online.

Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to a request for comment. He has previously called the Supreme Court inquiry a judicial harassment case aimed at censoring right-wing voices.

Journalist and political commentator Octavio Guedes said Iannones and his efforts to challenge Bolsonaro in the digital trenches were “fundamental to Lula’s election.”

“You can consider. Iannones is here to stay,” he added. “He is a populist, he is theatrical, he knows how to make a scene.”

ONLINE ADVOCACY

After earning her law degree, Iannones advocated for locals in her hometown of Ituyutaba, Minas Gerais state, who were struggling with the public health system. For a decade, he has produced “sensational” videos attacking the system’s failings.

“I would change my voice by shouting, fighting, but obliging the state to fulfill the court’s verdicts,” he said. “And it started working, it started saving lives.”

In 2018, when a trucking strike brought Brazil to a standstill, Iannones found a new cause. One video he recorded on their behalf garnered 60 million views. At the end of the year, he was elected a federal legislator.

Bolsonaro, another no-nonsense politician who quickly embraced the trucker cause, was elected president the same year, using social media to stoke anger over migrant scandals and economic mismanagement under PA governments.

“They realized much faster than we did, back in 2018, that the secret of social media is who defines the debate,” Iannones said, referring to Bolsonaro’s aggressive, mass communications strategy, which has been spearheaded by his son Carlos.

He credited Bolsonaro’s team with a more nimble online strategy, including a number of official and unofficial right-wing channels spreading the same coordinated message.

But Iannones’ professional adulation hasn’t stopped him from aiming below the belt.

Old videos of Bolsonaro speaking at Masonic lodges, considered pagan temples by some evangelical Christians in Brazil, have surfaced online, while he recounted an anecdote he told on a podcast about visiting the homes of teenage Venezuelan girls in which he appeared to imply they were sex workers. . , was used to accuse him of child abuse.

Bolsonaro has denied any links to pagan rituals and dismissed allegations of child abuse as defamatory lies, while apologizing for his comments about teenage girls.

Despite his hell-raising career, Iannones hasn’t lost sight of digital media as a public service. During the pandemic, when Bolsonaro was providing emergency aid for Brazil’s poor, Janones used live video addresses on social media to guide followers through bureaucratic steps to access the money.

Brenda da Silva, a 22-year-old nanny from San Goncalo, Rio de Janeiro, said she started following Yanones during the pandemic after hearing about his videos explaining how to log in from friends, some of whom had lost their jobs. the help.

“When people needed help the most, he was there,” she said.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Additional reporting by Lysandra Paraguasu; Editing by Brad Haynes and Alex Richardson

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