Deconstructing automatisms: Milicia practices and neopentescostal formations in Rio de Janeiro

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Fernando Brancoli
Pedro Henrique Pedro Ramos Vasquez


The 2012 elections for governor in Rio de Janeiro gather special attention from national and international media analysts. The city politics was under scrutiny with the mega events hosted Brazil, like the Summer Olympic Games and the Soccer World Cup. In this sense, the strategies of the candidates for the organization of the city - mainly for public safety issues - were dissected and analysed for months leading up to the election day.

In this context, as the disputes were being centralized in the candidates best placed in the pools, Luis Carlos Pezão (PMDB) and Marcelo Crivela (PRB), talks about the supposed contenders’ governance mechanisms began to be galvanized. In the mainstream narrative, the first one would gather support, along other segments, from the “milícias”, parastatal organizations that uses extortion of some communities to gather control of entire neighbourhoods. The ‘milícias’ would be one of the greatest contemporary security issues of Rio, accused of violent actions and recurrent cases of murders and violence. In turn, Crivela would be mainly supported by the neo-Pentecostal religious groups (The Guardian, 2012; O Globo, 2012). This binary narrative, reinforced by accusations from both politicians in televised debates, strengthened the discourse of an ‘ militia assault’ against the State, building the image that evangelical sectors could serve as an opposition movement to these groups. Both would operate on a complete and antagonic mechanism of governance and social organization.

The objective of this paper is to critically deconstruct these two premises. First, through a genealogical analysis of milícias groups in Rio de Janeiro, we will establish a reflection that these agents never behaved as "parallel states", as often described. Far from "invading the State,"

such actors establish enmeshment processes with government sectors, redefining practices and legitimacy in a complex system - involving elections and political support. We support this discourse with the concept of "parastatal" (Amar, 2014) to better represent these agents, believing that these considerations sophisticates the analysis, moving away from the narrative that the State, an isolated and sealed actor, would - and could - be attacked by external agents.

The second objective is to demonstrate that the relationship between neo-Pentecostal communities and milicia groups in Rio de Janeiro is also more complex than the speech presented at the elections. Through qualitative analysis of polling data in areas controlled by the armed groups - but with strong evangelical presence – we seek to relativize the discussions that these two actors would intrinsically and automatically possess antagonistic models of social organization. The data collection rearticulates these relationships and propose a different mechanism of explanation – dissimilar from the "zero sum game" between these two elements.

This specific deconstruction of the binary narratives galvanize the complexification of the milicias and the evangelical groups, demonstrating that a less absolute interpretation sheds light to a new framework of practices. We believe that these arguments promotes a potent reflection on the processes of power and legitimacy of violence in Rio de Janeiro, reinforcing how these actors can function on multiple and overlapping movements.

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Brancoli, F., & Vasquez, P. H. (2016). Deconstructing automatisms: Milicia practices and neopentescostal formations in Rio de Janeiro. Brasiliana - Journal for Brazilian Studies, 4(2), 112-133. Retrieved from


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