Terrorism in Brazil? Obscure Eco-Terrorists Threaten President’s Life

The cover of the main Brazilian weekly magazine, Veja, printed on July 19 the image of an alleged terrorist who’s threatening the life of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. The alleged terrorist was interviewed and told the magazine about the plans of his organisation.

The so-called eco-terrorist, called Anhangá by the magazine, is a member of the Sociedade Secreta Silvestre (Sylvester Secret Society – SSS), which presents itself as the Brazilian branch of Individualists Tending to the Wild (ITS), a Mexican organisation with alleged presence in Chile, Brazil, Greece, Spain and the UK. The group was founded in 2011 and members refer to themselves as eco-extremist. They have been investigated for promoting attacks on politicians and businessmen in several countries. ITS is a right-wing group vaguely inspired by the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski), although they say they disagree in terms of strategy.

The Unabomber was a supposedly anarcho-individualist terrorist opposed to science and technology, who had universities as main targets of his letter bombs between 1978 and 1995. The ITS is responsible for a series of bombs sent through mail to businessmen in Mexico – just like the Unabomber – as well as of placing bombs in public places all over the country.

ITS claims to have attacked several targets all over the world, yet there’s no credible evidence proving whether these isolated attacks were indeed perpetrated by a single organised group or if they have a real active cell in Brazil who claims to have detonated a pressure cooker bomb outside a shopping mall in Brasilia in 2016, days before the Olympic Games took place in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

It is unknown if the threats against the President’s life are credible or just a stunt. An inside job similar to the attacks perpetrated prior to the imposition of AI5, Institutional Act No. 5 of December 1968, was carried out by a group of 14 policemen from the former Public Force (as the Military Police of São Paulo was called at the time). The perpetrators executed a series of bombings, at least one bank robbery, among other crimes that ended up being attributed to the left.

The AI5 suspended the mandate of congressmen who oppose the military who seized power in the 1964 Military Coup, and culminated in the suspension of any constitutional guarantees to opponents of the regime, beginning a period of indiscriminate torture by the state.

Brazil has a long history of terrorism, particularly promoted by the state or far-right paramilitary groups. The years of the dictatorship were punctuated by resistance from small left-wing guerrilla groups and, on the right, groups such as the CCC (Command of Hunting Communists) hunted down alleged communists – in addition to state violence, with torture, deaths and disappearances that have not been clarified to date.

During the Dilma Rousseff administration, the anti-terrorism law was approved and soon after its approval, a group of 15 supposedly Islamic State Brazilians supporters were discovered. According to authorities, they were planning to attack during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. They were arrested by the Federal Police within the Operation Hashtag and 8 people were convicted of penalties ranging from 5 to 15 years in jail.

To this day the case is still shrouded in mystery and according to the public defender’s office, the suspects had their rights of defence severely curtailed.

Bolsonaro was stabbed during the electoral campaign and, in an interview in July, he said he was aware of the recent threat against his life. “The Bureau of Institutional Security was aware. The risk of any world leader or me being attacked will always exist”, he said.

According to Veja’s report, the Brazilian Federal Police is also aware of the possible threat posed by the alleged terrorist group and has been hunting down its members who, would have already attempted to carry out at least three attacks in the Federal District, where Brasilia, the country’s capital, is located.

There was an aborted attempt on the president’s life during his inauguration, a bomb placed in front of a Catholic church in the city of Brazlândia, about 50 km distance from the presidential palace (that failed due to an issue with the detonator), on December 2018. Also, in April of this year two cars from IBAMA, an environmental inspection agency, were burned and graffiti was found in the area with death threats to the environment minister, Ricardo Salles.

With poor and flawed English, the SSS published a long note about its activities on the website that is considered the official ITS portal. They describe ITS as not of the left or the right, rather “far beyond politics” and “a nihilist group of an extremist ecological tendency,” denying any links to Bolsonaro and claiming 2016’s attack and complaining about a series of “fake news” about the organisation and its activities.

In January, police said they arrested three suspects for being members of the SSS. The group, however, mocked the police in a statement saying that “you made a mistake, stupid,” adding that “until today, they have never touched one of our fingers: the Secret Society remains free and in touch”. The suspects were later released for lack of evidence.

What is known so far is that only two attacks claimed by the group actually happened, one with burnt IBAMA cars and the pressure cooker bomb. None of them caused victims. All other attacks or attempts have failed and the police seem to have no idea who is responsible – or even if they are actions of the same group.

Experts consulted by InsideOver, however, point to the irresponsibility of Veja magazine in the face of many doubts and a threat to the president’s life, ensuring the group’s spotlight by amplifying its message.