Over the past year, the U.S. social network Gettr, run by Donald Trump’s former adviser Jason Miller, has been sponsoring political events that support the re-election campaign of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president. The events have been organized by the Instituto Conservador Liberal (ICL), the think tank set up by congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, and Sérgio Sant’Ana, a lawyer and former adviser to the Ministry of Education.
The Gettr platform has already provided support in at least four ICL-organized meetings between September 2021 and June 2022: two CPACs — a format imported from the United States where they are known as the “largest conservative event in the country” — and two regional conservative congresses called Brasil Profundo (Deep Brazil). The events feature the Gettr logo as a sponsor.
Structuring the extreme right
With a smaller format than CPAC, Brasil Profundo was launched in December last year and has already been held three times: in Cuiabá, central Brazil, in December, and in the southern cities of Londrina in March, and Camaquã in April.
“Good morning to all those who are listening to us, mainly through Gettr, which is also a sponsor of Brasil Profundo,” said Eduardo Bolsonaro in an interview to Radio Brado on April 5, confirming the company’s support. The conferences have also received support from other sponsors, such as from the Brazilian Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of Mato Grosso (Aprosoja-MT).
Questioned by Agência Pública, Gettr, the ICL and Aprosoja-MT did not disclose direct or indirect amounts connected to the sponsorship of these events and did not answer the questions sent by the reporter. At the U.S. version of CPAC, which took place in March, Gettr disbursed $75,000 to be a “partner sponsor”.
In a separate investigation, Agência Pública revealed that there has been a 100% increase in the number of conservative conferences in 2022 — from 11 in 2021 to 22 in the first half of this election year alone.
For political scientist Carolina Botelho, the events are part of the electoral strategy of the Brazilian far-right. Back in 2020, Eduardo Bolsonaro said at the CPAC congress in the U.S. that he intended to “structure” the extreme right in Brazil. “We have all the ingredients, we just need to organize and grow to build these structures,” he said. Shortly thereafter he founded ICL to promote similar events, in addition to CPAC itself.
Irregularities ahead of October’s election
As the country gets ready for a fiery presidential election in October, the conferences held by the institute belonging to the president’s son and sponsored by the U.S. company sounded like campaign events. The presidential election was a recurring theme in the speakers’ presentations. The politicians, pre-candidates to the National Congress, former ministers of the current government, and Bolsonaro influencers invited to speak attacked Jair Bolsonaro’s main opponent in the polls, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and promoted the president in a “good versus evil” speech.
To cite one example, when referring to Lula at Brasil Profundo on March 12 in Londrina, federal deputy Filipe Barros said that he “was the first president of the republic to be imprisoned, or was the first person in the history of our country whose sentence was lifted by the Supreme Court in what was a clear and bold interference with the electoral process.”
“They did this so that he will run against Bolsonaro in the hope that Lula will beat Bolsonaro, but that’s not going to happen, I’m sure of it,” he added.
Isabela Damasceno, president of the Electoral Law Commission of the Lawyers Guild of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais (OAB-MG), notes that the law prohibits foreign companies from sponsoring electoral events, “since it is expressly forbidden for a political party or a candidate to receive donations in cash or money by a company, even if of foreign origin, including through advertising of any kind.”
She pointed out that even if the sponsorship did not involve a direct money transfer, “it is not in compliance with the regulations. “There was an evident attempt to conceal the sponsorship and avoid the electoral justice’s probing vis-a-vis the donations,” she said, calling it “a classic maneuver”.
“The irregularities in this case are blatant,” she said. “The irregularity is quite clear, because the rule of the resolution is clear, ‘including in advertising’ and in ‘estimable goods’, even if the sponsorship does not involve a financial transfer”.
Attorney Marcelo Weick, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Electoral and Political Law (Abradep), added that if there was financing of pre-electoral campaign through a legal entity, this can be considered abuse of economic power and use of undue revenue.
He also noted that foreign financing in favor of a candidate is a threat to national sovereignty. “Money from non-Brazilian legal entities or individuals has been prohibited since the 1940s because it interferes not only in the transparency of the electoral process and in the equality of opportunities, but there is something much more serious, which is national sovereignty,” he said. “This is a very serious problem that has to be investigated as well.”
Gettr’s brand appears in the advertising material for the conferences, and the social network’s advertisement is sometimes featured on the panel of the events. The 2021 and 2022 national CPACs were attended by founder Jason Miller. A company employee was also sent to the national and regional conferences, from where he did lives which were broadcast on the institutional media profile.
Official Gettr profile used for propaganda
The account “Gettr Brasil Oficial”, managed by company employees, has shared content in which the president appears in campaign mode, such as videos of the motorcades that took place on April 15 and 25 in Ribeirão Preto and Americana. The network’s Brazil team is dedicated to covering pro-government events.
“That’s it, people, together we are stronger and we will give the president the support he needs,” said Vitor Marcelo, a company employee, in a live broadcast on the social network of the May 1 demonstration in Brasilia.
A video of the president visiting Santo Antônio do Descoberto, in Goiás, posted on March 27 on the network’s official page, has the following caption: “Children don’t lie! Look at this reaction! Darn … it’s Bolsonaro! Such a welcome is priceless!” Another post from the same trip says: “The truth is one! President @JairBolsonaro, ANYWHERE HE GOES, is always very well received by the Brazilian people.”
The page also reproduces the president’s weekly speech, and publications of the Social Communication Secretariat of the Presidency — as already revealed by Núcleo Jornalismo.
In Damasceno’s view, “there is a foreign organization that functions as a social network pointing to the possibility of favoring a candidate. According to her, this goes against the entire legislation on the use of social networks in elections and on Internet advertising, “as well as manifesting a clear abuse of economic power, given the contemporary potential impact and disinformation of social networks, an element of concern for the Electoral Justice.”
Brazil has the second largest audience of Gettr, which has six million users globally, second only to the United States. There are about 750,000 users in the country.
The company was founded in July 2021 with the support of a foundation linked to Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. He is a partner of Trump’s former campaign strategist Steve Bannon, who has had close relations with Eduardo Bolsonaro since 2018 and appointed him as the representative of his international conservative movement in Brazil.
Gettr-sponsored conference asks people to vote for Bolsonaro
In the last Conservative Congress sponsored by the platform, held on June 11 and 12 in Campinas, in the state of São Paulo, there were explicit requests to vote for Jair Bolsonaro, which is not allowed by electoral legislation before the official campaign period, which begins on August 16.
“You are elite troops and are here to learn more and fight more. Each one of us has to get at least a thousand votes for our president Bolsonaro,” called Jorge Seif, former secretary of Culture and Fishing and pre-candidate for federal deputy for Santa Catarina.
“I really hope that everyone understands that there is only one path, which is in front of us,” said former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, pointing to an image of Jair Bolsonaro on the big screen during his intervention at CPAC on June 11.
“We were called to transform Brazil with a great leader called Jair Messias Bolsonaro, so let’s go for the victory,” said former Minister of Infrastructure, pre-candidate for the government of São Paulo, Tarcisio de Freitas.
In an interview with Agência Pública, Fernando Neisser, president of the Political and Electoral Law Commission of the São Paulo Lawyers Institute (Iasp), pointed out that there are elements that may justify the opening of a probe by the Electoral Justice to determine whether there was a tone of “anticipated campaign” or “if it is an event that would be within the acceptable limit of the electoral legislation”.
After being questioned by the Federal Police on his last visit to Brazil last year, Jason Miller was more discreet at this year’s CPAC. He criticized Big Tech and claimed that Trump and his supporters are being “silenced” by social networks like Twitter and Facebook — the name ‘Gettr’ references Trump’s campaign, as it sounds like “get her,” or “let’s get her”, which is what the former president used to say in reference to defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I know that everyone in this room feels persecuted because they support President Bolsonaro,” he said. Without mentioning the October elections, he pointed out that the moment is “critical not just for Brazil or the United States, but for all of Western civilization.”
“If we do not defend and embrace our freedoms now, they will be lost forever. This is the time to exercise our God-given rights to free speech, free expression, free press, free assembly, and free worship,” he added. He concluded: “The challenge is now with us, to seize this moment, to make ourselves heard, to never hold back, never give up. This, my friends, is our time, our moment in history. And you can count on me to be with you every step of the way.”
A few hours after the foreign guests’ presentations, Jair Bolsonaro spoke by video call. He said that the use of the electronic ballot boxes is suspicious and attacked members of the Supreme Court.
The 2021 CPAC also included the virtual presence of Donald Trump Jr. At the time, he suggested that China was interested in exchanging Jair Bolsonaro for a socialist president. “Do you go the way of socialism or do you remain strongly for freedom? For me, it is a no-brainer, but we cannot make the mistake of assuming that we are in a fair fight. What we saw in my country is just a blueprint of what is going to happen there,” he said. At the end of the speech, he reinforced the pro-Bolsonaro message: “I hope to see you making the right decision, to fight for freedom in the future.”
Gettr and Brazilian justice
Jason Miller was in Brazil in September last year, in addition to attending CPAC. In ocasion, he was questioned by Federal Police. He also met with President Bolsonaro at the Alvorada Palace.
As he was leaving the country on September 7, the same day of the protests Bolsonaro fomented against the Supreme Court, Miller was taken to the Federal Police headquarters at Brasilia International Airport to be heard as part of the inquiry into a “digital militia”, or army of bots and trolls, which investigates the alleged existence of a coordinated organization to attack democracy. The Gettr founder was accompanied by businessman Gerald Brant, who was the one who introduced the Bolsonaro family, in 2017, to Steve Bannon.
“Open sources indicate that both have links to the aforementioned U.S. citizen Steve Bannon, a person pointed out as one of those responsible for the model of propaganda based on fake news used in elections,” said Federal Police delegate Denisse Ribeiro in the investigation.
Trump’s former strategist has already said that Brazil’s election is the “second most important election in the world and the most important election in the history of South America.” “Bolsonaro will win unless the election is stolen,” Bannon teased.
In the U.S., Miller has been subpoenaed to testify in the parliamentary inquiry investigating the January 6, 2021, invasion of the Capitol.
For the Federal Police, the modus operandi of the network of Jair Bolsonaro supporters involved in the spread of disinformation, as for example in the case of electronic ballot boxes, draws on a communication strategy used in the 2016 U.S. elections and credited to Steve Bannon.
The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) asked at the time for the “immediate suspension of foreign transfers, of services used for donations, of payment of advertising and registration” of dozens of people who publish threats to Brazilian democracy and are also investigated in the investigation of fake news.
Among the profiles cited, for example, is blogger Allan dos Santos, who has been a fugitive from justice in the United States since October 5 of last year. Despite the TSE’s decision, Gettr keeps Allan dos Santos’ profile and his channel Terça Livre on air.
An internal source of the agency told Agência Pública that Gettr is not under investigation, but that it has collaborated with the investigations.
Jason Miller did not answer Agência Pública’s interview requests, but told Folha de S Paulo that he has contacts with TSE and that his goal in Brazil is to “show that it is possible to support freedom of expression, but also to be a responsible platform that does not allow illegal activities or hate speech.”