Mightier Than The Sword

In March 2021, the Brazilian Left won a resounding victory: the overturning of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s 2017 conviction on false corruption charges. “Lula”—who once had a near 90 percent approval rating near the end of his presidency—can now run for president against current right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro in 2022 and potentially deliver a devastating blow to the Brazilian Right. Much of this was possible because of the reporting of Glenn Greenwald. In Greenwald’s latest book, “Securing Democracy: My Fight For Freedom And Justice in Brazil,” the longtime journalist reveals the details behind his greatest expose yet.

Before you ask: this book was indeed written by that Glenn Greenwald—the frequent guest of Tucker Carlson, the media contrarian who mocked congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for refusing to work with Senator Ted Cruz following the 2021 Capitol Riots, and the cancel culture critic who bizarrely claimed that the people behind #MeToo did not believe in free speech. Especially after reading “Securing Democracy,” much of Greenwald’s punditry leaves me scratching my head and wondering how such a thoughtful reporter could have soundbites indistinguishable from those of a Breitbart host. However, in spite of Greenwald’s incendiary tendencies, his latest book is still worth reading. 

“Securing Democracy” reads like a thriller. Greenwald sets the scene early, describing the evening he was contacted by an anonymous hacker. According to Greenwald, the hacker claimed to have incriminating information on Lava Jato—also known as Operation Car Wash—a nationally revered judicial task force developed to root out political corruption across Brazil. Through this source, Greenwald discovered undeniable proof of illegal collusion between Lava Jato, the federal police, and the Right. Countless text messages from all parties indicated their shared goal of eradicating the Workers’ Party, the nation’s leading left-wing party.

In the mid-2010s, Lava Jato arrested several Brazilian politicians, often in illegal ways. Its members spied on them, wiretapped their phones without permission, and preemptively imprisoned them without trial. Sergio Moro—the head of the task force and a judge who publicly and repeatedly professed his political neutrality—would often meet with prosecutors ahead of time, offering them advice and revealing the defense’s plans before issuing verdicts. According to Greenwald, this created a McCarthyist atmosphere, with those who spoke out against the task force, or associated with the Left, frequently threatened or outright arrested under fabricated charges. 

Former president Lula—the Brazilian Right’s most feared opponent in the 2018 presidential elections—was Moro’s prize catch. Suddenly, someone whom former United States President Obama once dubbed “the most popular politician on Earth,” and whose center-left administration helped lift 40 million Brazilians out of poverty, was imprisoned under spurious accusations of corruption. If Lula could be arrested, then no one was safe from the wrath of Lava Jato. 

Greenwald admits that Lava Jato did indeed expose far-reaching institutional corruption, though he was unable to verify the legitimacy of the allegations against the former president. What remained clear to Greenwald was that Lava Jato abandoned any pretense of due process, and that the Right, in spite of its own cronyism, cynically wielded the scepter of anti-corruption through Lava Jato to destroy the Left. Because of his imprisonment, Lula could not legally run for office in 2018. The consequence was Jair Bolsonaro’s stunning victory over Fernando Haddad, who ran in place of Lula and was, by all accounts, the establishment pick of the Left.

Greenwald keenly notes similarities between the rise of Bolsonaro and the unlikely ascendance of his American counterpart Donald Trump: a center-left ruling party subservient to corporate interests; growing cultural resentment against the ruling class; and a far-right “outsider” defeating a member of the liberal establishment in a race for president. However, one factor differentiated these strangely similar political battlegrounds. Unlike the United States, Brazil had no established legal precedent for the protection of journalists working with whistleblowers. 

Therefore, it was possible that Bolsonaro’s government could sue Greenwald—or worse, imprison him for treason—if he pursued this story. As a result, Greenwald proceeded with caution, balancing his moral obligation to report a story of public interest with operating professionally toward his hacker source. 

While Greenwald offers fascinating insights into the Brazilian political climate, the most compelling portions of his book are personal, not political. In Chapter 4, Greenwald describes his grief over the murder of Marielle Franco, one of his closest friends and an openly bisexual politician in Rio de Janeiro. Her death came in the context of a rising anti-LGBTQ animus stoked by Bolsonaro across Brazil.

Greenwald—an openly gay man married to a left-wing Brazilian congressman—made the perfect bogeyman for Bolsonaro and Brazilian conservatives to lash out against. In late 2019, a right-wing journalist slapped Greenwald in the face during a live television broadcast. Earlier this year, Greenwald said he was robbed at gunpoint inside a farm he rented for his family. Per Greenwald, to this day, he and his husband cannot travel within Brazil without security, in part due to the death threats they receive. 

Nevertheless, the exposé had significant ramifications. Sergio Moro, who Time Magazine once referred to as “SuperMoro” for leading Lava Jato, eventually resigned in 2020 amid declining approval ratings and Bolsonaro snubbing him for a Supreme Court position. By all accounts, Lula is a heavy favorite to defeat Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections. The Brazilian Right is weaker than ever, and much of it is thanks to Greenwald and his team at The Intercept. 

Aside from mentioning a few personal friends, Greenwald doesn’t delve into too much detail on the Brazilian Left or international Left’s efforts to combat Bolsonaro. Instead, he prioritizes his experiences as a journalist. Perhaps he did this to communicate the importance of his story to a broader and more unfamiliar audience. Still, I would have liked to see more quotes or input from someone like Brian Mier, a correspondent from teleSUR and one of the most notable Left media voices across Latin America.

Regardless of Greenwald’s shortcomings as a media pundit, “Securing Democracy” tells the story of how he ruthlessly took on the Right, came out on top, and played a role in reviving the Left in one of the world’s largest countries. Greenwald is not a perfect leftist, but we have a lot to learn from his fight for justice and progressive ideals.