In the landscape of global information manipulation, the New Resistance emerges as a significant player in the erosion of democracy. The New Resistance is a pro-Kremlin, quasi-paramilitary, neo-fascist organization operating within South America, Europe, and North America. Financed by the Russian government, it stands at the forefront of the Syncretic Disinformation Network (SDN), a pro-Kremlin disinformation and propaganda network that actively contributes to the erosion of democratic values across the globe. Nova Resistência, the Brazilian chapter of New Resistance, is particularly active and working to extend the malign influence of New Resistance throughout Latin America.
The United States’ State Department recently released a report that expressed concern about the potential growth of nationalism in Brazil and spread of Pro-Kremlin disinformation. It portrayed Nova Resistência as a threat to U.S. interests in the continent. Based on the existing information online, it is highly possible that Nova Resistencia is a threat to Brazilian democracy as well.
Defining Democracy and Democratic Erosion
For context as we unpack the potential democratic erosion, there are two fundamental dimensions of democracy: procedural and substantive. Based on Schumpeter’s definition, procedural democracy simply requires the presence of free and fair elections, which is present in Brazil’s democratic system. Substantive democracy, on the other hand, involves more than just elections. Varying definitions all touch upon holding elected leaders accountable for their actions and fostering public participation, so as to protect the democratic institutions of free and fair elections and the protection of civil liberties (Bermeo 2016). In a healthy liberal democracy, media outlets provide impartial and accurate information to enable citizens to form their own opinions/decisions, which Dahl includes in his definition of a healthy democracy (Dahl 1972). Thus, the threat of disinformation is a serious risk for the stability of democracies.
The Fourth Political Theory and The Syncretic Agenda
Nova Resistência plays a pivotal role in promoting the syncretic agenda of Aleksandr Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory (4PT). According to the State Department’s report, Dugin is “a U.S.-sanctioned Russian ‘philosopher’ and the principal proponent of an anti-Western, Russia-led Eurasian imperialist movement.” His ideology seeks to unite the global far-right and far-left against liberalism. It criticizes liberalism’s progress and promotes its main tenets of social justice, national sovereignty, traditional values (including religion), and the shared basic human experience. What this boils down to is a watered down socialism with a vague enforcement system to fight “chaos.” Through the spread of disinformation and propaganda, Nova Resistência actively works to carry out an information manipulation campaign designed to exploit the openness of Latin America’s media and information environment. This is all in an effort to destabilize the democratic process, advocating for an authoritarian, traditionalist world order.
This is all a part of the larger SDN, operating as part of Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, which utilizes various pillars to amplify its impact. These include official government communications, state-funded global messaging, cultivated proxy sources, weaponized social media, and cyber-enabled disinformation. This multi-faceted approach contributes to the erosion of trust in democratic institutions and fosters an environment conducive to anti-democratic sentiments.
Threats to Democratic Norms
Here, we can draw a connection to Kleinfeld’s definition of affective polarization and its potential implications for democratic erosion. Affective polarization refers to the emotional divide between individuals based on their political affiliations, even if the ideological differences are not as stark as perceived. In the United States, for example, affective polarization is evident as individuals harbor negative emotions towards members of the opposing political party (Kleinfeld 2023).
We can also connect some of the movement’s main tenets to populist theory. Populist movements often leverage affective polarization to garner support. Affective polarization is not inherently causing democratic backsliding or political violence; rather, it interacts with voting systems, candidate incentives, and personal relationships. In the case of Nova Resistência, the syncretic agenda promoted by the organization aligns with populist tendencies, fostering an environment where divisive ideologies can thrive, potentially contributing to democratic erosion (Kendall-Taylor and Frantz 2016).
Nova Resistência’s operational mechanics extend beyond disinformation campaigns. The organization co-hosts events with Dugin, featuring high-ranking Russian officials and actively supporting authoritarian regimes. This involvement in paramilitary activities and the promotion of a violent, anti-liberal, neo-fascist agenda directly undermine democratic values in Brazil. These implications that violent acts will go unpunished also promotes affective polarization. The erosion of democratic legitimacy can manifest in attempts to delegitimize elections, disregard the rule of law, or dismiss the importance of checks and balances. Nova Resistência’s alignment with anti-pluralist ideologies and exclusionary principles further exacerbates the erosion of democratic values by undermining the idea that democracy thrives on diverse voices and perspectives. By challenging the rules-based international order, Nova Resistência contributes to the erosion of the democratic norms that underpin Brazil’s political landscape.
The group’s website, hosted in Moscow, serves as a hub for disseminating pro-Kremlin disinformation and propaganda, amplifying the impact of its anti-democratic messaging. The interconnected web of Nova Resistência’s activities fosters an environment where democratic principles are subverted in favor of authoritarian ideals, further eroding the foundations of Brazil’s democracy.
Leadership Impact: Raphael Machado
At the helm of Nova Resistência is Raphael Machado, whose leadership aligns with accusations of promoting anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and anti-Ukraine narratives, as well as expressing support for Bashar al-Assad. Machado’s actions contribute to the erosion of democratic pluralism, fostering an environment where divisive ideologies undermine the inclusive nature of democratic discourse. In response to external scrutiny, Nova Resistência leaders, including Machado, challenged accusations of malign influence outlined in the State Department report. The group’s response acknowledged these concerns but aimed to dismantle what it considered false claims in the report. The organization positioned itself as a threat to U.S. interests in Latin America, rejecting foreign government funding and calling into question the characterization of the group. This strategic response not only deflects external criticism but also showcases the group’s resilience in the face of challenges to its anti-democratic activities, according to both of the linked sources in this section.
Safeguarding Democracy in the Face of Covert Influence
As we unravel the actual influence of Nova Resistência in Brazilian political society, it becomes clear that the organization poses a significant threat to Brazil’s democracy by actively promoting anti-democratic ideologies. Understanding the intricate web of Nova Resistência’s activities is crucial for safeguarding Brazil’s democratic institutions. By addressing the challenges posed by entities like Nova Resistência, the nation can work towards fortifying its democratic foundations and resisting the erosion of democratic values.
- Dahl 1972
- Kendall-Taylor and Frantz 2016
- Kleinfeld 2023