Daniel Silveira, pictured here in Brasilia on April 27, 2022, was convicted last month of attacking Brazil’s democratic institutions but quickly pardoned by President Jair Bolsonaro – Copyright AFP Ed JONES
Marcelo SILVA DE SOUSA
For the Supreme Court of Brazil, he is a criminal. For President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies, he is a hero. Daniel Silveira, a brash and muscular ex-cop turned congressman and convict, divides Brazil five months from the election.
Silveira made international headlines last month after the Supreme Court sentenced him to nearly nine years in prison for verbally attacking the country’s democratic institutions and leading a movement calling for the court’s overthrow.
The next day, acting “in the name of free speech”, Bolsonaro pardoned the first-term congressman from Rio de Janeiro – setting off a firestorm in an already polarized country as he heads into elections in Rio de Janeiro. October, where the far-right president is fighting to win re-election.
Silveira, 39, shot to Brazilian fame — or infamy, depending on who you ask — in 2018, the year he resigned from the Rio state police to run for Congress for the Social Liberal Party.
Inciting a crowd of far-right extremists at a campaign rally, he tore down a street sign honoring the late Rio city councilor Marielle Franco, a feminist and rights activist who was murdered earlier this year -the.
Franco, a leftist hero, was a hate figure for hardline conservatives. Silveira’s act of vandalism helped secure his election in October, riding the same far-right wave that carried Bolsonaro to power.
– ‘The Rock’ of Brazil –
Silveira, whose shaved head and massive physique have drawn comparisons to American professional wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, had already shown a rebellious streak during his six years as a police officer: he was sanctioned 60 times for insubordination and misconduct, according to Brazilian media reports.
He quickly made a name for himself as one of Bolsonaro’s staunchest supporters in the lower house, where he often sported his trademark pin – two crossed pistols.
But he was a relatively low-ranking member of the “Bolsonarista” tribe until his social media rants came up against the Supreme Court.
As hardline Bolsonaro supporters accuse the High Court and Congress of conspiring to block the president’s agenda, Silveira has emerged as the movement’s most feisty leader calling for their ouster.
In a series of videos, he attacked the court, saying its judges deserved “a beating”.
Speaking of Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ordered an investigation into Bolsonaro for spreading misinformation, Silveira said: “People need to go to the Supreme Court, grab Moraes by the neck and throw his little egghead in the trash.” .
He also delivered a passionate defense of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), which Bolsonaro also admires, despite its record of human rights abuses.
– ‘Marketing ploy’ –
In February 2021, Moraes ordered Silveira’s arrest for allegedly plotting “acts aimed at undermining (the Supreme Court) and the democratic rule of law.”
Released on bail but banned from posting on social media, he continued to find ways to wage his war of words against the court.
He ditched the electronic ankle monitor he was supposed to wear, barricading himself in his congressional office in March in defiance of a court order to wear it.
Bolsonaro, who said Silveira’s arrest “wounded (his) heart,” quickly pardoned him when the Supreme Court sentenced him on April 20 to eight years and nine months in prison and stripped him of his right to hold public office.
“In the past, (presidents) freed thieves… I free innocent people,” Bolsonaro said at an event honoring Silveira.
The Bolsonaro camp has made Silveira a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, the congress president’s son, compared him to Jesus, and he was greeted like a rock star on Sunday at pro-Bolsonaro street rallies in Rio de Janeiro.
Silveira’s influence on the right grew alongside his legal troubles, earning him a coveted appointment to the lower house’s powerful constitution and justice committee.
But “the importance of Silveira in the Bolsonaro camp is more symbolic than real,” said political scientist André Cesar of the consulting firm Hold.
While Bolsonaro is overtaken in the polls by the left-wing ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) in the run-up to the October elections, “it’s a marketing ploy… for the grassroots harder,” he told AFP.