On Monday, June 15th, anti-gender activist Sara Winter was arrested in Brasilia in a Federal Police operation. Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes issued a preventive arrest warrant against Winter and five other members of the “300 of Brazil” group at the request of the deputy attorney general, Humberto Jacques de Medeiros, as part of the investigation into the pro-military coup demonstrations on April 19th and their sponsors accused of violating the National Security Law. She is now under surveilled home arrest.
Before that, Winter had already had her computer, cell phone and tablet confiscated also by the decision of Minister Moraes as part of another inquiry conducted by the Supreme Court investigation on fake news promoted by Bolsonaro’s supporters. On that occasion, she used her social media to threaten the minister and trigger the sympathy of her supporters by evoking the figure of mother victimized by the persecution of Supreme Court justices and received a demonstration of solidarity from the son of the president, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro.
Since 2019, the Supreme Court has been one of the main targets of Bolsonaro supporters for whom the Court merely does “judicial activism” and persecutes the government, while “leaving out of jail the real criminals” (“murderers, rapists, pedophiles and the corrupt”). These attacks escalated in the last three months since, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bolsonaro deepened the promotion of chaos as the method that sustains his power and the continuing processes of democratic erosion that it entails.
Since March, Bolsonaro has denied the gravity of the epidemic, claimed that social isolation “killed the economy”, and dismissed data and recommendations from the scientific community and WHO. He participated in a protest calling for the closure of Congress and the Supreme Court as well as the return to the military. He fired two health ministers in less than a month, appointed a general as the interim minister who, in turn, held dozens of key positions in the ministry with other military personnel. One effect of this militarization has been the withholding of data on the number of COVI-19 infections and deaths. The other the irresponsible distribution of chloroquine as a prevention and treatment of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In other critical areas of government, such as education, environment, and public safety, the pandemic has been serving as a smokescreen to concealing omissions, disasters, and arbitrary measures.
At the end of April, Sergio Moro, then minister of justice – a hero of the anti-corruption investigations that overthrew Rousseff and led Lula to prison – resigned. Moro justified his decision declaring that Bolsonaro pressured him to change the head of the Federal Police to defend his son’s interests. From there on, the political scenario has become even more tumultuous and the Supreme Court has been more systematically curbing the excesses of the Executive. As said, the Court is currently conducting criminal and judicial investigations into the accusations made by the former minister.
Led by Sara Winter and others, “Brazil’s 300″ set up a camp near the Ministerial Esplanade a week after Moro’s resignation. The leaders declared the goal that they were there to defend Bolsonaro, the ” leader threatened ” by the betrayal of the former minister’s and to call for a “people’s intervention”. The group is a Fascist phalanx and Sara and other group leaders made public mentions to the “Ukranization” of Brazil and declared, in an interview to BBC, that they were keeping arms in the camp.
On the night of May 31st, the “300” performed a ritual with torches and aesthetical repertoires of the Ku Klux Klan in front of the Supreme Court. On June 13th, two days before Sara’s arrest, the Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a court order suspending the camp, and, in response, Winter published a video on her social media calling the president to react and members of the camp invaded the top of the Congress dome. That same night, the Supreme Court was the target of a blast of fireworks by members of the 300 and other Bolsonaro supporters.
From feminism to anti-abortion activism and then to Fascism
Sara Fernanda Giromini began her political career as a “feminist” in 2011 when she got to the front pages of newspapers and social naked breasts and a painted body. She declared she was creating the Brazilian chapter of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, which at that time was already base in France. In this incarnation, she made performances against the toxic machismo of the then-congressman Jair Bolsonaro. According to feminists who interacted with her at that time, Sara had attitudes and expressed opinions that differed radically from the feminist agenda. To begin with, her name is inspired by Sarah Winter, a famous British Nazi spy. She had a swastika tattooed on her breast and fiercely defended chemical castration of rapists, a proposition that would later be incorporated in the Bolsonaro policy agenda. But, at that moment, none of that was scrutinized or criticized by the media, the academy, or even feminists, probably because her performativity and ability to attract attention was obfuscating.
In 2012, according to coordinator Inna Schevchenko, she was evicted from Femen because of money mismanagement, something that Sara denies. Her “conversion” to Catholicism and anti-feminism happened three years later when she began posting on guilt and repentance in her social media outlets. She also released a video in which she asks for the forgiveness of Christians for her “sins of the past” and the book Not a Bitch! Seven times feminism betrayed me. From there on, she became the cover girl on the anti-abortion and anti-gender movements in Brazil.
In 2018, she became a prominent figure in Bolsonaro’s election campaign and was also a candidate to a House seat, affiliated to the right liberal party DEM (she was not elected and was expelled from the party a few weeks ago when her name was included in the Supreme Court inquiry). In August 2018, she organized in partnership with Ana Caroline Campagnolo –now a state representative in Santa Catarina for PSL– the First Brazilian Anti-Feminist Congress in Rio de Janeiro. Campagnolo herself gained her first round of political visibility in 2016, when she sued her master’s advisor, Professor Marlene de Fáveri (UDESC), a known academic in gender and feminism studies, under the accusation of religious persecution, a lawsuit dismissed in 2018. The event was held in the parish hall of a Catholic church in Rio de Janeiro and counted with the approval of the city Archbishopric. A few weeks later, Winter joined religious and secular groups, such as the MBL, in a protest against the QueerMuseum exhibition in Rio.
With Bolsonaro elected, Winter became a governmental official. Between April and October of 2019, she coordinated the area of Comprehensive Attention to Pregnancy and Maternity of the Ministry of Woman, Family, and Human Rights, working with Minister and Pastor Damares Alves, who praised Sara on several occasions. Upon leaving office, for reasons unknown to date, she toured around Latin America to share her story as a former feminist and to promote the anti-abortion slogan “Save both lives” (in Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay). In early 2020, she was in El Salvador and Mexico, a trip for which she was temporarily detained for migratory reasons in Cancún. On that occasion, Winter attributed her detention to being persecuted by Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Garcia, because of her positions against abortion and received the solidarity of anti-abortion and anti-gender groups and actors from several countries, including Argentinean anti-gender author Agustín Laje.
It is important to understand that Winter’s arrest did not happen because of her anti-gender and anti-abortion positions, but because of her involvement in anti-democratic and anti-constitutional political activities. Moreover, as political columnist Bernardo de Mello Franco has pointed out, Winter made every possible provocation to be arrested. On the other hand, her trajectory is compellingly illustrative of how anti-abortion and anti-gender fanaticism can easily derive into the metamorphic contemporary forms of Ur-Fascism, to recall Umberto Eco’s magisterial reflections on the subject.
It should be also said that her arrest is neither the beginning nor the end of anything. It is just another chapter in the catastrophic Brazilian political pandemonium whose unfolding cannot be easily predicted. In contrast, it is not difficult to predict that Winter’s imprisonment will increase her media visibility, potentially making her the new martyr of Bolsonarist neo-patriotism, which is not a minor achievement given that this is an ideology embedded in sacrificial logic.
Finally, as anthropologist Isabela Kalil argued in a conversation with Op-Ed writer Bernardo de Mello Franco, in addition to potential media and political gains. Winter’s provocations and subsequent punishment have a diversionist effect. Instead of debating the carnage from the COVID-19, that reached over 40,00 deaths in June, many of us were discussing her self-fulfilling prophecy as, in the previous six weeks, Winter has done whatever possible to be arrested. This conduct is not to be exclusive to her style and political abilities. Rather it reflects a modus operandi systematically used by the Bolsonaristas to achieve, step by step, the gradual de-democratization of the country.