PBS Claim: GOP ‘Immersed in These Far-Right Networks…From Moscow to Budapest’

News & Politics

Under the graphic “Exporting Extremism,” PBS News Hour host Geoff Bennett set the table to compare right-wing extremists in the U.S. and Brazil in the opening moments of Wednesday evening’s show: “And the attack on Brazil’s government by a far-right mob raises concerns about how extremism in the U.S. has spread abroad.”

Journalists can make connections between the Trump camp and Brazil’s ex-leader Jair Bolsonaro. As usual, though PBS was using January 6 to smear the entire Republican Party: 

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: The scenes of Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters storming Brazil’s capital were eerily reminiscent of the January 6 insurrection here almost two years to the day earlier. Both attacks were inspired by lies of election fraud, but the ties between the two are deeper. Former President Trump and the defeated Brazilian leader share allies and a playbook. Joining us to break down the network of anti-democracy, far-right figures that traffic in extremism is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, historian at New York University. Ruth, thanks so much for joining us. What is the clearest connection between former Brazilian President Bolsonaro and Mr. Trump?

Ben-Ghiat, who has also appeared on liberal MSNBC to rant about the authoritarian GOP, laid out the connections:

BEN-GHIAT: Well there is a very direct connection in the form of Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of his sons, who is a member of Congress who has often come to the states. He was in Washington, D.C. on January 5 at the White House speaking with Ivanka Trump. And he’s very close with Steve Bannon, who is an advisor of Bolsonaro as is Jason Miller….

Then Barron-Lopez set Ben-Ghiat up for an even more extreme take on the U.S. Republican Party, asking the professor “What other international leaders or influencers are in this network?” The Republicans are out to “destroy democracy,” she said: 

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BEN-GHIAT: Well, it is important to see the Republican Party today as not only a party that is dedicated to destroying democracy at home. And it’s quite relevant that in February 2022 the GOP decreed that the January 6 attack was quote “legitimate political discourse,” meaning the coup attempt and the violence, was they consider it a valid way to meet their political goals.

Is that right? No. The New York Times put more context in a Republican Party resolution against Republicans who joined the House January 6 Committee:

On Friday, the party went further in a resolution slamming Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger for taking part in the House investigation of the assault, saying they were participating in “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

After the vote, party leaders rushed to clarify that language, saying it was never meant to apply to rioters who violently stormed the Capitol in Mr. Trump’s name.

But Ben-Ghiat was on a roll: 

But, and this has in common with a lot of extremists abroad, and they are — the GOP is immersed in these far-right, right networks that stretch from Moscow to Budapest and it is well known, you know, the amount of interchange with Orban. They had their political Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest. Tucker Carlson broadcast for a whole week from Budapest.

But also in Rome now with the new neofascist prime minister [Giorgia Meloni]. She gave an interview at the Washington Post and she said that, that she’s attended the National Prayer Breakfast and she said that the GOP and her neofascist party are kindred spirits and that the GOP’s battles were similar to things that they discuss as well.

Barron-Lopez didn’t challenge those smears likening the elected GOP to “neofascism.” Instead she just kept equating “strongmen” Trump and Bolsonaro: “And you say strongmen like Mr. Trump and Bolsonaro aren’t necessarily going to go away….”

A transcript is below, click “expand” to read:

PBS News Hour

January 11, 2023

7:26:53 p.m. Eastern

Amna Nawaz: For now, calm has been largely restored in Brazil after supporters of the former president swarmed the Brazilian congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace on Sunday. But what if any connections are there between Sunday’s attack and other antidemocratic moves worldwide? Here’s Laura Barron-Lopez.

Laura Barron-Lopez: The scenes of Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters storming Brazil’s capital were eerily reminiscent of the January 6 insurrection here almost two years to the day earlier. Both attacks were inspired by lies of election fraud, but the ties between the two are deeper. Former President Trump and the defeated Brazilian leader share allies and a playbook. Joining us to break down the network of anti-democracy, far-right figures that traffic in extremism is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, historian at New York University. Ruth, thanks so much for joining us. What is the clearest connection between former Brazilian President Bolsonaro and Mr. Trump?

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Well there is a very direct connection in the form of Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of his sons, who is a member of Congress who has often come to the states. He was in Washington, D.C. on January 5 at the White House speaking with Ivanka Trump. And he’s very close with Steve Bannon, who is an advisor of Bolsonaro as is Jason Miller. And Eduardo Bolsonaro after his father lost the election came to Florida and met with all of these characters and was encouraged to continue to contest the election. So there is a common playbook that Trump and Bolsonaro have followed where you disseminate — you know, you get the public to lose faith in the electoral system and Bolsonaro did this relentlessly. And this was not a theme in Brazil before. Then you have a personality cult so people will believe your false claims.

Laura Barron-Lopez: And Steve Bannon and Jason Miller both also former Trump advisors. You’ve also said this is not as simple as American right-wing forces exporting extremism What other international leaders or influencers are in this network?

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Well it is important to see that the Republican Party today as not only a party that is dedicated to destroying democracy at home and it’s quite relevant that in February 2022 the GOP decreed that the January 6 attack was quote “legitimate political discourse” meaning the coup attempt and the violence, they considered it a valid way to meet their political goals.

But, and this has in common with a lot of extremists abroad and they are, the GOP is immersed in these far-right, right networks that stretch from Moscow to Budapest and it is well known you know the amount of interchange with Orban — they had their political conservative political action conference in Budapest. Tucker Carlson broadcast for a whole week from Budapest. But also in Rome now with the new neofascist prime minister. She gave an interview at the Washington Post and she said that, that she’s attended the National Prayer breakfast and she said the GOP and her neofascist party are kindred spirits and that the GOP’s battles were similar to things that they discuss as well.

Laura Barron-Lopez: When you talk about Victor Orban in Hungary as well as Vladimir Putin in Russia, is there a common playbook across all of these figures whom you’ve called strongmen?

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: These are people who use you know, disinformation. They repress dissenters. They also, I refer to the strongmen as these leaders who use machismo and they, the personality call is very very important because people bond to them and they believe the fraudulent things they say about them. So in Bolsonaro’s case, you know, he got people to believe he was the victim. Victimhood is very important to all of these strongmen. And he also disseminated the idea that violence might be necessary. This is another hallmark of these extremist leaders. In June 2022, he said he’s setting up that violence might be necessary if he loses. He said if necessary we will go to war. And they did go to war for him on January 8.

Laura Barron-Lopez: And you say strongmen like Mr. Trump and Bolsanaro aren’t necessarily going to go away. But Daniel Twining of the International Republican Institute told my colleague Nick Schifrin this:

Daniel Twining: I think we can look at the fact that our system worked. That that’s the long-term takeaway. The institutions held. Good people, Republican and Democrat, proceeded to effect a peaceful transfer of power and guess who had a bad subsequent year or two following January 6? Actually it wasn’t the United States. We had political change. We had some economic renewal. What, the people who had a bad year were actually dictators, in Iran, Russia, and China.

Laura Barron-Lopez: So what do you say to that assessment that overall, democracy seems to have held?

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: We are witnessing a time when authoritarianism is being revealed to be weak. I mean these protests in China are a really big deal, as they are in Iran. And Putin’s war is a classic example of autocratic backfire where the terrible performance of the Russian military is showing that it is an institution that has been ravaged by Putin’s kleptocracy. And by institutionalized lying that everybody is too afraid of falling out a window to tell the truth. So authoritarianism has never been weaker in a sense, and but that is why these people are kind of roaring back, grasping at anything they can do. It’s like their last chance to prevail.

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