Story Publication logo October 26, 2022

Brazil: Praying for Bolsonaro (German)


a man with a ninja mask in a diret road

In the Amazon basin, evangelical groups are training their believers to protect Jesus Christ against...


This story excerpt was translated from German. To read the original story in full, visit Profil. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

Jair Bolsonaro's most radical supporters are evangelicals, loggers, and gold prospectors who continue to push for the deforestation of the Amazon. They form vigilante groups in the jungle and pray for life after a possible second term.

On the edge of the Brazilian rainforest, Jackson Souza, in his mid-40s and an off-duty police officer, laces up his military boots and dons a balaclava. It's a Friday night. Souza takes up position in front of a barracks and waits for the first figures to appear on the mud road. They walk past the torches he and his comrades have set up earlier, coming closer, tentatively, like herded sheep. Anyone who wants to get in here has to get past Souza.

But that is not so easy. Only a few have managed to enter the world that Souza wants to seal off from strangers: the world of the evangelicals, a group of deeply devout and radical Christians who see in Bolsonaro their messiah.

"I want to be prepared to defend the people of God."

Jackson Souza, Golgota member

In theory, anyone can join them; after all, the group wants to expand. Only the press is distrusted. The Brazilian photographer Ian Cheibub has managed to gain access to the scene. For the "Golgotha" project, he accompanied evangelicals for years. When he wanted to take me to one of the camps this summer, we were denied access. This reportage is based on scenes that Cheibub documented back in 2021. They provide answers to a question that is still relevant today: What makes Brazil's radical right-wing president Bolsonaro so popular with fundamentalist Christians? And what does all this have to do with the rainforest?

The answer lies behind the barracks in front of which Souza stands guard. Here begins the world of the "Comando Golgota," a militarized group from the town of Imperatriz in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhão. Two hours from Imperatriz, Jackson and his comrades have set up a training camp with wooden barracks and sleeping tents. They wear uniforms as if they were actually soldiers and not farmers or policemen like Jackson Souza, whose name is different in real life. No one is supposed to know that he holds military exercises here on weekends. What sometimes seems like theater is training for an emergency: "If our country goes to a biblical war, I want to be ready to defend the people of God," says Souza.

Image by Ian Cheibub. Brazil, 2021.

Members of Golgota during a military exercise in northern Brazil. Image by Ian Cheibub. Brazil, 2021.

In role plays, prayers, and long marches, the members prepare for the real thing: a Brazil without Bolsonaro. Image by Ian Cheibub. Brazil, 2021.

Press unwelcome. Guard (not Souza) in the rainforest. Image by Ian Cheibub. Brazil, 2021.

Image by Ian Cheibub. Brazil, 2021.

Image by Ian Cheibub. Brazil, 2021.