The Portuguese far-right party Chega was hit by several blows in the last three months. An investigative piece by the recent Portuguese Consortium of Investigative Journalists uncovered the connections between Chega and a far-right police movement while showing that there is a huge problem of structural racism in the Portuguese police.
But that wasn’t the only thing setting Chega back. The Constitutional Court rejected the statutes that govern the party’s internal life, saying that the power held by Chega’s leader, André Ventura, was a “serious obstacle to the party’s internal democracy.”
On the other hand, the denialist movement is still alive in Portugal, and Hells Angels are again active in the country. And they came back with a murder.
The hate speech of 591 policemen
This year was marked by a major journalistic investigation into the Portuguese security forces’ hate speech. A team of anonymous digital investigators identified 591 policemen from all over the country making racist, xenophobic, sexist, and homophobic interactions – comments, likes, posts – on Facebook. A lot of these interactions were collected in Facebook groups exclusive to police forces and closed to the public.
The digital investigators shared this database with the Portuguese Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and this story was published on the major Portuguese outlets – SIC, Público, and Expresso – and on a non-profit investigative media platform, Setenta e Quatro.
An analysis made by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists – of more than three thousand images collected by the digital investigators – of the database found that 72% of the almost 600 policemen’s interactions were racist, xenophobic, sexist, and homophobic; 42% made violent threats against politicians, women, minorities and alleged criminals. The policemen demonstrated, likewise, an utmost disrespect towards the rule of law.
The victims of the police racist comments were the Roma community, the African community from the suburbs of Lisbon’s Metropolitan Area, left politicians, Mamadou Ba, a black activist, and Joacine Katar Moreira, a Bissau-Guinea-born former lawmaker. The policemen also threatened to collectively rape Fernanda Câncio, a Portuguese journalist that writes regularly about the police forces.
Another interesting finding of the Consortium of Investigative Journalists was that almost 76% of these policemen were sympathetic to the far-right party Chega and its leader, André Ventura; more than 50% liked movements to the right of Chega, such as the identitarians – and lots of them showed admiration for António de Oliveira Salazar, the Portuguese fascist dictator.
The connections between Chega and Movimento Zero, a police forces movement similar to Blue Lives Matter, were also made clear by the journalists.
This in-depth report confirms the repeated warnings of structural racism in the Portuguese police forces made by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the anti-discrimination body of the Council of Europe.
The reaction of the Portuguese authorities against the numerous reports that show that the Portuguese police have a systemic problem of racism and a connection to far-right ideals, however, has been repeated denial of the problem.
However, because of the scale of the investigative report made by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Portuguese government and the judicial authorities were forced to act – it set the media agenda for several days after the story was published, on the 16th of November.
Both police forces, Polícia de Segurança Pública and Guarda Nacional Republicana, and the Inspeção Geral da Administração Interna, the disciplinary body that oversees the police, launched an investigation about these racist interactions on Facebook, ordered by the Interior Ministry. The Attorney General’s Office, in turn, also launched an investigation after the publication of the investigative stories.
The Government promised to launch an Observatory against Hate Speech at the beginning of 2020, and after the report, it finally seems that it is going to fulfill that promise before the end of 2022.
The report also triggered a hearing: the Interior Minister and the leaders of IGAI, GNR, and PSP were in Parliament to answer questions from the Portuguese lawmakers about the reports made by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Every Portuguese party represented in Parliament condemned the behavior of the policemen demonstrated by the journalists, except, of course, CHEGA. The far-right party denied that there was a problem in the Portuguese police and launched an attack against the journalists to try to hurt their credibility. The party’s propaganda paper published a piece about the reporters, supposedly demonstrating their connections to the “far-left”. This piece was reproduced in several foreign far-right outlets (here and here, for example), showing a high degree of European coordination.
Portuguese judge defends neonazi by attacking an anti-racist activist.
On the 27th of October, 2022, judge Carlos Alexandre issued an instructive decision to proceed with a defamation and injury lawsuit filed by neo-Nazi Mário Machado against anti-racist activist Mamadou Ba. To sum it up, the activist of Senegalese origin will go to court early next year for the alleged defamation of the Portuguese most famous white supremacist and former leader of Hammerskins Portugal.
Mamadou Ba wrote on his Facebook in June 2020 that Mário Machado was “one of the main figures responsible for the murderer of Alcindo Monteiro”.
Alcindo Monteiro was a 27-year-old Portuguese citizen born in Cape Verde murdered by white supremacists on the night of the 11th of June 1995. The white supremacists were celebrating the 10th of June, the former “Day of the Race,” and beat several black citizens during that night, injuring five and killing Monteiro. Mário Machado was among the nine white nationalists detained that night by the police and was condemned to four years and three months in prison.
While Mário Machado was not the material murderer of Alcindo Monteiro (that was João Martins, the person Mamadou Ba was actually talking about on his Facebook post), the court in 1997 said it clearly: “All the defendants involved in each of the aggressions against the victims described above acted in concerted efforts, wanting to achieve the physical integrity and lives of the victims, as they were black, which they achieved.”
Mário Machado has been a famous far-right personality since then and has captured sensationalist attention from the mainstream media. He was the leader of Frente Nacional (National Front), the armed arm of the fascist party Partido Nacional Renovador (PNR), and the neo-nazi organization Nova Ordem Social (New Social Order). Machado has been indicted for crimes of racial discrimination, aggression, kidnapping, and illegal possession of weapons.
Mamadou Ba, on the other hand, is the favorite target of far-right attacks and insults. After doing his Ph.D. in Canada, nowadays, Mamadou Ba has been one of the faces of the anti-racist struggle in Portugal for the last 15 years, being the spokesperson for the association SOS Racismo, created in the 1990s. Mamadou had to live under police protection a couple of years ago because of the racist threats he received.
Judge Carlos Alexandre, in turn, has been widely proclaimed by the far-right because of his involvement in corruption cases highly covered by the media, like the prosecution of José Sócrates, Portugal’s former center-left prime minister. Alexandre has a similar populist judicial posture to Sergio Moro, the Brazilian judge of the Lava Jato case who ended up occupying the Justice Ministry of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. The CHEGA’s leader, for example, has flirted with the possibility of Alexandre being the party’s candidate for the Presidency of the Republic. There are also several far-right Facebook pages dedicated exclusively to supporting the judge, some managed by PNR officials. Carlos Alexandre, who sometimes gives interviews, has never condemned such pages.
When Carlos Alexandre announced the decision to proceed with the defamation and injury lawsuit filed by Mário Machado against Mamadou Ba, he wrote that the anti-racist activist could not “substitute itself for the courts and invoke the right to freedom of expression.” And stated: “Can a person carry an anathema all his life, imputing to him the participation, in any capacity, in a homicide, whose deed has already been introduced in court and object of a thorough judgment and with the judgment of the supreme court of justice, where he is acquitted of this specific crime, but condemned by another? And call that freedom of speech?”
This decision was even weirder if we take into account that the Attorney General’s Office accused Mário Machado of incitement to hatred and violence and also of illegal weapon possession a few days before the 27th of October.
The restrictive pandemic measures are gone, but the denialist movement is still here.
The Portuguese government has ended all measures to contain the covid-19 pandemic. Wearing a mask is not compulsory anymore, except in health installations or nursing homes. It is not required to get any kind of test to get in restaurants or night places, nor even in cases of infection with the “new” coronavirus the citizens have any kind of restriction. The times when the daily reports dominated media attention are also long gone. Covid-19 has been treated as any other infectious disease by the Portuguese state and almost everyone in Portuguese society.
Almost everyone, but not everyone. The covid deniers movement essentially united around the extra-parliamentary party Alternativa Democrática Nacional (National Democratic Alternative, ADN), whose leader is Bruno Fialho, and the association Habeas Corpus, run by the former judge Rui Fonseca Castro, remains active. It organizes meetings with dozens of people from north to south of the country, including in the Azores and Madeira autonomous regions. In the intricacies of these groups, there are also very small groups: Cidadania XXI and Associação 21-26.
Riding on the constitutional review opened by the Assembly of the Republic, the denialists organized demonstrations once again in the city of Lisbon. What’s at stake are the bids to introduce in the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic the possibility to order a lockdown without a state of emergency, proposed by the Socialist Party (PS, center-left), which has an absolute majority in parliament, and the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right). If these proposals get a two-thirds majority in parliament (necessary for a constitutional review), to which the favorable votes of PS and the PSD would be enough, the isolation or internment of patients would be possible.
The denialists saw this proposal as the confirmation of their conspiracy theories: the covid-19 pandemic is a farce to cover up to establish a sanitary dictatorship. It was with that certainty that they demonstrated on the night of the 11th of November in front of a hotel in Marquês de Pombal, where PSD’s highest officials were meeting to approve the party’s constitutional review project. The protest gathered a little more than a hundred protestors, and their posters said, “who falls asleep in democracy awakes in a dictatorship” or “perfect democracy has the appearance of a democracy.”
The night would not end at the door of this hotel in the heart of the Portuguese capital. Just a few meters away, the Socialist party political commission was meeting with a similar purpose. After the protest near the social-democratic meeting, the demonstrators moved to Largo do Rato, where the headquarters of the Socialist party, the ruling party, is located. This shift to the PS’s headquarters opened room for the Portuguese denialists to question the prime minister, António Costa, and to deliver to him a document where they accuse the constitutional review project of his party of “destroying the cornerstones of the separation of powers.”
The party leaderships of both parties seem to be a bit sensitized to the denialist’s command words. The Assembly of the Republic will start discussing changes to the constitutional reviews proposed by the parliamentary parties.
Denialists worry Portuguese police and secret services.
The Portuguese police and secret services have attentively monitored the denialists groups since the former head of the Assembly of the Republic, the socialist António Ferro Rodrigues, was the target of several insults by the covid deniers after exiting a restaurant near parliament with his wife in September of 2021.
In August of the same year, the admiral Gouveia e Melo, the main person responsible for covid-19 vaccination, was also the target of insults and was even pushed several times by a group of denialists at the door of a vaccination center in Odivelas, in the outskirts of Lisbon.
The Portuguese security forces strengthened the safety of the covid deniers’ main targets, which include political representatives, also health professionals, and members of the vaccination coordination teams.
In the yearly security report published in May of 2022, the Portuguese security services raise a red flag. The report says there is a growing rapprochement between far-right movements of neonazi inspiration and the denialist movement and points to the radicalization of their “speech and action,” extending “the scope of their struggle based on conspiracy theories, and searching for international partners, passing from a protest movement to a movement against the system .”
Hells Angels’ Motard that is a defendant in the case of the attack against Los Bandidos was found dead in Algarve.
The 35 years-old members of the motard gang Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, Rui Silva, was found dead by the Guarda Nacional Republicana on the 4th of December of this year in the mountain range São Brás de Alportel, in Algarve.
Rui Silva was stabbed several times in the neck and shot in the head once. The Portuguese authorities suspect it was an execution to settle a reckoning between Hells Angels members. The Judiciary Police says the body was found a few days after there was higher movement than usual of foreign Hells Angels members in the region.
The victim was one of the 89 Hells Angels members detained on the 18th of June after this motard gang group invaded a restaurant in Prior Velho, Loures, on the outskirts of Lisbon, where the neonazi Mário Machado was reunited with Los Bandidos members (Machado was part of this group back then).
The “Hells Angels” entered through the front door of the restaurant, destroying tables and chairs and violently beating the rivals of “Los Bandidos”: six were injured, and three were hospitalized, among them a vice-president of “Los Bandidos” from Germany.
The “Hells Angels trial,” in which gang members are accused of hundreds of crimes, including criminal association, attempted murder, illegal possession of a firearm, extortion, and drug trafficking, is still on trial under tight measures of security. Rui Silva was one of the defendants, having been in custody for a while.
Prior to his alleged murder, he was under house arrest with an electronic bracelet awaiting trial in another case in which he was accused of theft and robbery by the Attorney General’s Office.
Constitutional Court rejects the statutes of Chega and forces the party to convene a new congress.
This November, the Constitutional Court rejected Chega’s statutes for the second time, forcing the far-right party to convene a new Congress.
In Portugal, the Constitutional Court verifies if the statutes which govern the parties’ internal life are in accordance with the constitutional principles of the country. All amendments, therefore, must be validated by the court.
The changes approved in Evora’s Congress in 2020, the last time the party convened before Viseu’s Congress in 2021, were rejected by the judges for procedural reasons: the main meeting of the party was convened without the changes to the internal rules of Chega being included in the Agenda. But this time, the decision was different and more severe. The Constitutional Court understood that the changes approved in Viseu violate Portugal’s fundamental law.
In the judgment, the court accused the statutes of excessively concentrating the power in the party’s president’s hands. Among these excessive powers of the president of the party enumerated by the judges was the possibility to choose the composition of “an important set of internal bodies”; the “huge range of competencies” held by the president, including the nomination of all candidates for the Assembly of the Republic or the Presidency of the Republic; and the power to “immediately suspend or cease the functions of any national body or any of its members.” This is, in the opinion of the judges, a “serious obstacle to the party’s internal democracy.”
The Constitutional Court also censured the “extension of the prohibition of registration” of members of the far-right party “in associations and bodies directly or indirectly associated with another party or dependent on it.” In the opinion of the judges, the “interpretive range” of this statutory provision includes “the prohibition of belonging to associations without any political-partisan character,” therefore clearly unconstitutional.
The judges also point the finger at the fact that the changes promoted at the last congress of the party forced members to moderate their “verbal and written language in private and in public.” “It results in a restriction on the fundamental rights of militants,” such as “free expression of thought,” the court explains.
Chega has a new congress to adopt the party’s statutes to the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic scheduled for January 2023. It may be that the third time’s a charm.