Olavo de Carvalho, a far-right Brazilian pundit and self-proclaimed philosopher who became the political guru of President Jair Bolsonaro by warning of a globalist plot to spread communism across the world, died on Monday outside Richmond, Va. He was 74.
His family said he died at a hospital but did not disclose the cause. He had reportedly been dealing with various ailments for months.
Nine days before his death, a social media account connected to Mr. de Carvalho announced that he had been diagnosed with Covid. Throughout the pandemic, he had publicly questioned the legitimacy of the virus, at times suggesting that it was an invention meant to control the population.
“One of the greatest thinkers in the history of our country left us today,” Mr. Bolsonaro said in a statement. “Olavo was a giant in the fight for freedom and a beacon for millions of Brazilians.” Mr. Bolsonaro declared a national day of mourning, ordering government buildings to fly the Brazilian flag at half-staff.
Over the past decade, Mr. de Carvalho, known simply as Olavo, became one of the most prominent voices behind the growing far-right movement in Brazil. He amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on social media by spreading bizarre conspiracy theories and railing against leftists, the news media and the politically correct, often while cursing and smoking a pipe.
In the process, he became one of Brazil’s most polarizing figures. He was criticized by many on the left as a dangerous conspiracy theorist who spread lies and invective — and hailed on the right as a truth teller who warned of the grave dangers of socialism and globalism.
His reputation as a political mastermind was minted in 2018 with the election of Mr. Bolsonaro, a pugnacious former Army captain who had publicly praised Mr. de Carvalho’s teachings. In his first address to the nation, Mr. Bolsonaro placed several books on the table in front of him, including the Bible, Brazil’s constitution and Mr. de Carvalho’s 2013 best seller, “The Minimum You Need to Know to Not Be an Idiot.”
“People started to see him as a kind of Rasputin,” said Camila Rocha, a political science professor at the University of São Paulo who has studied the rise of Brazil’s far right. Mr. de Carvalho became an almost mystical hero in some corners of Brazilian politics, she said. “He was not a traditional political figure. Quite the opposite.”
Mr. de Carvalho was often compared in Brazil to Steve Bannon, the right-wing ideologue who helped lead Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and once called Mr. de Carvalho “one of the greatest conservative intellectuals in the world.” During Mr. Bolsonaro’s first visit to the United States as president, he hosted a dinner at the Brazilian ambassador’s residence. Seated to his left was Mr. Bannon. Seated to his right was Mr. de Carvalho.
Mr. de Carvalho expanded his influence via an online philosophy course that he designed to combat the rise of what he called “cultural Marxism,” a right-wing theory that universities and scientists spread socialist values through society. He said he enrolled tens of thousands of Brazilians, including some who later helped lead the country’s government.
Ernesto Araújo, Brazil’s former foreign minister under Mr. Bolsonaro and a disciple of Mr. de Carvalho’s, said that Mr. de Carvalho had helped create “a conservative right based on ideas and not on immediate political convenience.”
Mr. Bolsonaro “won from one idea: defeat the system,” Mr. Araujo added. “This idea, in my view, wouldn’t have existed if it had not been prepared by Olavo de Carvalho.”
Mr. de Carvalho was born in Campinas, an hour’s drive north of São Paulo, on April 29, 1947. Until he was 7, his mother kept him isolated at home because he suffered from asthma, his daughter Heloísa de Carvalho said. He stopped attending school when he was about 14, she said, and taught himself a wide range of subjects through books.
He worked as a journalist and then an astrologer before diving into politics and selling his conservative worldview through books, newspaper columns and radio programs.
He moved to the United States in 2005, eventually settling in a single-story house outside Petersburg, Va., about 20 miles south of Richmond, that was full of books, rifles, paintings of Confederate generals and an English mastiff named Big Mac, according to a Washington Post account of a visit there in 2019. In Virginia, Mr. de Carvalho lived in obscurity, while in Brazil, protesters marched on the nation’s capital with shirts that read, “Olavo is right.”
His family said he is survived by his wife, Roxane; eight children; and 18 grandchildren.
Mr. de Carvalho remained a prominent voice in Brazil, first through blogs and then on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. He attracted attention partly because his punditry was mixed with fringe and sometimes crude conspiracy theories, such as a claim that Pepsi-Cola is flavored with aborted fetuses.
A Brazilian court ordered him to pay a fine for falsely claiming that a popular Brazilian musician was a pedophile. Since the start of the pandemic, he had repeatedly cast the virus as a political tool.
In May 2020, he wrote on Twitter, “The fear of a supposedly deadly virus is nothing more than a little horror story designed to scare the population and make them accept slavery as they would a present from Santa Claus.”
His daughter Heloísa had a falling-out with him over such rhetoric and hadn’t spoken to him since 2017.
“I’m not happy,” she said in an interview on Tuesday. “But I’m not in deep sadness, either. I’m not going to lie. He committed a lot of evil, and what he caused in this pandemic, especially here in Brazil, was very serious.”
Leonardo Coelho contributed reporting.