JIt could be elements of a terrifying novel: the putrid heart of a long-dead emperor, a controversial column by an award-winning author, and online attacks by the sons of a far-right president.
In Brazil, however, the plots are all too real, especially for novelist Julián Fuks.
He was harassed, sent anti-Semitic slurs and received death threats last week after posting a thinly disguised polemic against extremist Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro.
The column was titled “Wanted, a terrorist capable of a subtle act that transforms history”, but the article specified that the summons was figuratively speaking.
Posted a week before Brazil marks the 200th anniversary of its independence from Portugal – a celebration that includes the preserved heart of Brazil’s first independent ruler, Portuguese regent Dom Pedro I – Fuks says a ‘terrorist’ is needed to rewrite Brazilian history.
“Not one of those violent ones, absolutely not an intolerant one, a brutal one, never one of those who are bloody and rude,” he wrote on the website of UOL, one of Brazil’s biggest. “Someone who will make the country come to terms with its past, not in its harsh and ruthless side, but in its vast history of struggle and resistance.”
The subtleties were ignored by Brazil’s far-right, whose well-oiled propaganda machine kicked into gear.
Bolsonaro’s son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, retweeted the article with the comment: “The left is threatening democracy, for real.”
Her brother Carlos – between them they have 4.6 million followers – also shared it online. On Instagram, Bolsonaro’s former culture minister Mario Frias said, “UOL columnist cries terrorism against the president.”
The controversy was recognizable for Fuks, the author of eight books, the first of which, Resistance, won Brazil’s prestigious Jabuti Prize in 2016.
A few days after Bolsonaro’s election, he warned in a prescient Guardian article of “a dystopia taking shape in my country”.
The 40-year-old fled to São Paulo in the days after the abuse began, but has since fought back.
“I used the word terrorist in a figurative sense,” he said, “and from the first line I asserted that the proposal was against all kinds of violence, earthiness, brutality and rudeness “.
“But I underestimated how dishonest the far right would be,” he told the Guardian. “I knew I could be criticized and I knew it was provocative, but I never imagined they would twist it and lie about it so much. They didn’t even try to understand, they tried to twist the message and turn it into something it wasn’t.
These tactics are eerily familiar to other writers who have faced the wrath of Bolsonaro and his cronies. A Senate investigation found that government officials often coordinated online attacks from what is known as the “Hate Bureau”.
Politicians, publishers and literary figures have condemned the offensive, with Portugal’s José Saramago Foundation calling on local authorities to “guarantee [Fuks’s] and the safety of his family and to investigate the origin of the attacks”.
The affair is all the more alarming as it comes one month before the first round of the presidential election which will pit Bolsonaro against his sworn enemy, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Lula is leading in most polls, but Bolsonaro has hinted he will not give up power if he is beaten at the polls.
Both sides have stepped up their rhetoric in recent weeks, and Bolsonaro supporters have attacked Lula rallies with crude devices containing feces and urine.
After a Workers’ Party member was shot dead by a Bolsonaro supporter in July, Lula took to wearing a bulletproof vest during campaign stops.
Bolsonaro’s next big rally is scheduled for Copacabana Beach on September 7 and it was this Independence Day event that prompted Fuks to write his column.
The festivities were enhanced this year by the return of Dom Pedro’s formaldehyde-preserved heart.
After his death in 1834, Dom Pedro’s body remained in Brazil but his heart was taken to Porto. He was flown to Brasilia in a gilded urn last week, where he was received with military honours.
Fuks’ play is dismissive of the theater around the “rotten heart” tour and has shed critical light on current issues in Brazil.
The wanted terrorist, he wrote, should be “one who knows how to put a fitting end to the heart of a self-proclaimed emperor, in order to restore to the people their own hearts, red and alive”.