Rightwing radical was a towering figure in Brazil who was adored and abhorred in equal measure by millions of followers and foes
Last modified on Tue 25 Jan 2022 23.37 EST
Olavo de Carvalho, the coronavirus-denying mentor of Jair Bolsonaro and Brazil’s radical right, has died in the United States, with one of his children citing Covid-19 as the cause.
“The family … asks for prayers for the professor’s soul,” relatives said on Twitter after announcing the death of the 74-year-old polemicist – a towering figure in contemporary Brazilian politics who was adored and abhorred in equal measure by millions of followers and foes.
The statement did not say how Carvalho – a former astrologer who repeatedly trivialized Covid as the “moronavirus” – had died. However, his estranged daughter, Heloísa de Carvalho, said coronavirus was the cause.
“He has blood on his hands,” she told the magazine Veja, blaming her father’s “denialist ideas” and dissemination of fake news for the Brazilian government’s delay in purchasing Covid vaccines. “But I do not celebrate his death.”
Bolsonaro – whose shock 2018 election was turbocharged by Carvalho’s extreme and often expletive-ridden teachings – lamented the loss of “one of the greatest thinkers in our country’s history” and declared a national day of mourning. “Olavo was a … beacon for millions of Brazilians,” Brazil’s ultraconservative president claimed.
The president’s son, Eduardo, also celebrated the pipe-smoking septuagenarian whose influence was such that he reputedly named several members of Bolsonaro’s cabinet despite having lived in the US since 2005.
Progressive Brazilians – disgusted by the leading role they claim Carvalho played in poisoning their country’s social and political life and spreading life-threatening misinformation about Covid – rejected such eulogies.
Before his death Carvalho continually minimized coronavirus – which has killed nearly 625,000 Brazilians and 5.6 million people globally – peddled conspiracies about its origins, and attacked those trying to slow its spread. It is unclear if he had been vaccinated.
In May 2020, as Covid pummeled South America, Carvalho tweeted: “The fear of a supposedly deadly virus is nothing more than a little horror story designed to scare the population and make them accept slavery as they would a present from Father Christmas.”
Carvalho branded containment measures “the most enormous and sordid crime ever committed against the entire human species” and once alleged the global health emergency “simply doesn’t exist”. On another occasion he said only “a perfect fool” would believe the spread of the “Chinese virus” was accidental.
“Does the moronavirus really kill people or does he just help them become statistics?” he wondered last January as Brazil’s death toll rose to over 200,000.
When Twitter deleted one of Carvalho’s posts for violating its rules on spreading harmful or misleading information about Covid, he told the company’s then president Jack Dorsey: “You can stick your network up your” buttocks.
Felipe Neto, one of Brazil’s top online influencers, tweeted: “The far right will now try to turn Olavo de Carvalho into a martyr, a hero. Olavo is one of the main culprits for the sea of mud into which we have sunk.”
Journalist André Fran wrote: “My condolences to all those whose relatives have fallen victim to the Bolsonarista hatred and denialism that Olavo did so much to a disseminate.”
Carvalho’s daughter also had harsh words for her father, who was reportedly diagnosed with Covid on 16 January. “May God forgive him all the evil he has done,” she tweeted, recalling losing a friend to Covid on the day her father falsely claimed the world had not seen a single confirmed death. “She was a widow and left three orphaned children under the age of 10.”
Brian Winter, a Brazil specialist who interviewed Carvalho at his rifle-filled Virginia home, said Bolsonaro’s guru had helped import “a kind of tropicalized Fox News culture focused on gender, guns and anti-globalism”.
Winter said during the first decade of this century – as Brazil flourished under the leftist government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – Carvalho was widely considered a “crazy crank”. However, during the 2010s, as the country sank into profound recession and political turmoil, his intellectual-sounding “profanity-laced vitriol” against the left suddenly gained traction. Bookshops sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his most famous work, The Least You Must Know to Avoid Being an Idiot – a tome Bolsonaro promoted after winning power.
Winter remembered first seeing Carvalho’s name at a 2013 anti-government protest on a poster reading: “Olavo was right.”
“He and Bolsonaro were products of the titanic trauma that Brazil endured during the 2010s: the worst recession in a hundred years, the collapse of the political establishment, corruption scandals everywhere you looked, 70,000 homicides a year. Out of this despair, he and Bolsonaro happened to emerge as the winners because they sounded so radically different from anything that happened before. That was their appeal.”
Many believe that appeal is now fading, with former president Lula seemingly poised to trounce Bolsonaro in October’s election.
“Part of the struggle Bolsonaro is having now is that he’s still going around talking about gun rights and gender and these other Olavista ideas in a Brazil where people just want solutions to the pandemic, hunger and unemployment,” Winter said.
“Bolsonaro is playing the Olavista oldies and most Brazilians want to be hearing something else.”