Jair Bolsonaro Aide Accused of Flashing White Supremacist Sign

An aide to Brazil's far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of flashing a white supremacist hand symbol during a legislative hearing—and could face an investigation.

Filipe Martins, President Bolsonaro's special adviser for international affairs, is accused of making the "OK" hand symbol—which has become associated with far-right and white supremacist groups—during a Senate session on the country's COVID-19 vaccine purchasing program.

Images and video of Martins making the gesture quickly spread on Brazilian social media. Martins can be seen making the sign and moving his hand up and down his suit lapel for around three seconds.

Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco said he would consider whether to pass the matter to Brazil's legislative police for an investigation, CNN Brasil reported.

#Brasil | Nesta quarta-feira (24/03), em sessão no Senado Federal com o chanceler Ernesto Araújo, o assessor especial para assuntos internacionais do presidente Jair Bolsonaro, Filipe Martins, reproduziu um gesto obsceno e também considerado supremacista. pic.twitter.com/5TcVpxZXco

— Atlantide (@Atlantide4world) March 25, 2021

Martins dismissed the concerns on Twitter, describing those who had complained as "clowns" and threatening consequences for anyone accusing him of racism.

"A warning to clowns who wish to support the thesis that I, a Jew, am sympathetic to 'white supremacism'," he wrote.

"In their sick minds they saw an authoritarian gesture in an image that shows me adjusting the lapel of my suit: they will be prosecuted and held responsible; one by one."

Martins also retweeted a post from politician Alexandre Aleluia, who said the reports were evidence of "the moral degradation of our press." Bolsonaro, his allies and supporters regularly attack journalists and the free press in Brazil, accusing them of spreading "fake news" and leading unfair criticism of Bolsonaro's populist administration.

Among those concerned by Martins' gesture was the Holocaust Museum in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. The museum said it was "astonished" by the video and warned that the use of the hand symbol was "very serious." The museum added that neo-Nazi sentiment and activity was increasing in Brazil.

The use of the "OK" hand gesture to indicate white supremacist beliefs was popularized by far-right internet users, who often appropriate everyday words, images and behaviors as extremist symbols as a way of "trolling" mainstream media and political opponents.

The Anti-Defamation League explains on its website that the "use of the okay symbol in most contexts is entirely innocuous and harmless." But it was popularized on the far right through a hoax by users of the 4chan website, who wanted to see if they could stoke anger about the gesture on the left.

"The hoax was so successful the symbol became a popular trolling tactic on the part of right-leaning individuals, who would often post photos to social media of themselves posing while making the 'okay' gesture," ADL said.

"Because of the traditional meaning of the 'okay' hand gesture, as well as other usages unrelated to white supremacy, particular care must be taken not to jump to conclusions about the intent behind someone who has used the gesture."

Martins has previously been condemned for his use of alt-right phrases and talking points and apparent belief in a range of conspiracy theories. He has used the Crusades-inspired "Deus Vult" phrase to anger critics, as well as slogans popularized under General Francisco Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain.

Far-right ok hand symbol at Portland protest
A man makes the "OK" hand gesture, now considered a symbol of white supremacy, at a rally in Portland, Oregon, on September 26, 2020. MARANIE R. STAAB/AFP via Getty Images