Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 6 – Holy War in Rio’s Favelas: Bandidos Evangélicos (Evangelical Bandits)
Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan and José de Arimatéia da Cruz
A battle for spiritual dominance and power is taking place in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Evangelical bandits (bandidos evangélicos), gangsters linked to evangelical Christian sects, are purging the favelas and attacking the terreiros (temples of the traditional, syncretic spiritual traditions Macumba, Umbanda and Candomblé) linked to Afro-Brazilian religions. This ‘spiritual cleansing’ of Rio’s slums has been ongoing since about 2002 and has spiked in the last year yet has received little coverage in English language news reports and social media postings.
Pastor prega para traficantes armados, enquanto cantores gospel fazem farra com dinheiro dos crentes. 30 November 2014 (“A pastor preaches to armed bandits while gospel singers have fun believers’ money”)
Key Information: Ludovica Iaccino, “Were Pentecostal gangsters behind British woman’s shooting in Rio favela?” International Business Times. 7 August 2017, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/were-pentecostal-gangsters-behind-british-womans-shooting-rio-favela-1633876:
The Pure Third Command dominate Rio’s slums—they also happen to be devoted Pentecostals…
A local gang in Brazil is making headlines worldwide after it was alleged that its members could be behind the shooting of a British woman while she was on holiday with her family…
Terceiro Comando Puro (TPC) is a criminal organisation operating in Rio de Janeiro, based mainly in the north and west areas of the city…
It is believed the gang is not hierarchical and is more of a horizontal organisation with local bosses, some of whom are among Brazil’s most wanted criminals.
Key Information: Andres Schipani and Joe Leahy, “‘Drug traffickers of Jesus’ drive Brazil slum violence.” Financial Times. 27 October 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/b5096a18-b548-11e7-aa26-bb002965bce8:
On the periphery of Rio de Janeiro, in a community hall filled with religious idols, seashells and traditional earthen pots, a crisis meeting of an unusual kind is taking place.
At the gathering are Umbanda and Candomblé priests and priestesses, whose faith is a blend of African traditions, Catholicism and spiritism.
They want to discuss the rise in violent attacks by narcotics gangs claiming to be Christians—the so-called “drug traffickers of Jesus”.
These bandidos evangélicos [evangelical bandits], as the born-again Christian gangsters are known, want to drive out “demonic” traditional religions from the favelas or slums in Rio’s sprawling hinterlands.
“They enter and destroy and set fire to the place,” says Vania Santana, a Candomblé priestess at the meeting in Baixada Fluminense. “In Rio de Janeiro, there is a very clear association: armed gangs who denominate themselves as evangelicals. This is a new issue that is endangering the very structure of Brazil’s democracy.”
Such attacks are increasing at an alarming rate. Disque 100, a government emergency hotline, reported that calls related to religious intolerance and aggression, virtually all of them against Afro-American religions, were up 40 per cent this year compared with the same period last year, and up 119 per cent in 2016 versus 2015.
The spike in violence directed against followers of these religions coincides with a significant increase in reported racially motivated attacks as well, explains Robert Muggah, research director of the Igarapé Institute in Rio, a think-tank on security issues, who said that between January 2016 and May 2017 there were 1,928 cases, compared with 1,511 in 2016 and 1,054 in 2015…
Key Information: Robert Muggah, “In Brazil, religious gang leaders say they’re waging a holy war.” The Conversation. 2 November 2017, https://theconversation.com/in-brazil-religious-gang-leaders-say-theyre-waging-a-holy-war-86097:
The expression “evangelical drug trafficker” may sound incongruous, but in Rio de Janeiro, it’s an increasingly familiar phenomenon…I’ve observed a sharp increase in reports of religiously motivated crimes in Rio de Janeiro over the past year, in particular attacks on “terreiros” —the temples belonging to the Candomblé and Umbanda faiths…
For some analysts, this theological interpretation is just thinly veiled religious discrimination.
Still, parishioners—including a handful of drug kingpins who control favelas across Rio—are heeding the call to arms. For these evangelical criminals, Candomblé and Umbanda are Satan’s work, and they must be stamped out, one terreiro at a time.
Fernandinho Guarabu, a 38-year-old don in Rio’s Terceiro Comando Puro gang, is an example. Sporting a tattoo of Jesus Christ, Guarabu is known for violently “cleansing” his community—the Morro do Dendê favela – of practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions…
Life in Baixada Fluminense
For drug kingpins, developing positive relationships with local Rio pastors while in jail can tighten their grip on power once released.
Converted traffickers control many of the city’s favelas, but the violent heartland of evangelical trafficking is Baixada Fluminense, a sprawl of townships in Rio’s poor northern outskirts….
Described by locals as a “Wild West,” the area is home to famously corrupt public officials who have long worked with militia and mafia groups to intimidate their rivals. This practice—called “coronelismo,” or patronage—allows drug traffickers, evangelical or otherwise, to operate with impunity…
Key Information: Rafael Soares, “Crime e preconceito: mães e filhos de santo são expulsos de favelas por traficantes evangélicos.” Extra (O Globo). 7 September 2013, https://extra.globo.com/casos-de-policia/crime-preconceito-maes-filhos-de-santo-sao-expulsos-de-favelas-por-traficantes-evangelicos-9868829.html:
A roupa branca no varal era o único indício da religião da filha de santo, que, até 2010, morava no Morro do Amor, no Complexo do Lins. Iniciada no candomblé em 2005, ela logo soube que deveria esconder sua fé: os traficantes da favela, frequentadores de igrejas evangélicas, não toleravam a “macumba”. Terreiros, roupas brancas e adereços que denunciassem a crença já haviam sido proibidos, há pelo menos cinco anos, em todo o morro. Por isso, ela saía da favela rumo a seu terreiro, na Zona Oeste, sempre com roupas comuns. O vestido branco ia na bolsa. Um dia, por descuido, deixou a “roupa de santo” no varal. Na semana seguinte, saía da favela, expulsa pelos bandidos, para não mais voltar…
A situação da mulher não é um ponto fora da curva: já há registros na Associação de Proteção dos Amigos e Adeptos do Culto Afro Brasileiro e Espírita de pelo menos 40 pais e mães de santo expulsos de favelas da Zona Norte pelo tráfico. Em alguns locais, como no Lins e na Serrinha, em Madureira, além do fechamento dos terreiros também foi determinada a proibição do uso de colares afro e roupas brancas. De acordo com quatro pais de santo ouvidos pelo EXTRA, que passaram pela situação, o motivo das expulsões é o mesmo: a conversão dos chefes do tráfico a denominações evangélicas…
Um dia, o presidente da associação de moradores foi até o local e disse que o tráfico havia ordenado que eu parasse com a “macumba”. Ali, quem mandava na época era a facção de Acari. Já era mais de santo há 30 anos e não acreditei naquilo. Fui até a boca de fumo tentar argumentar. Dei de cara com vários bandidos com fuzis, que disseram que ali quem mandava era o “Exército de Jesus”. Disse que tinha acabado de comprar o terreno e que não iria incomodar ninguém. Dias depois, cheguei ao terreiro e vi uma placa escrito “Vende-se” na porta—eles tomaram o terreno e o puseram a venda. Não podia fazer nada. Vendi o terreno o mais rapidamente possível por R$ 2 mil e fui arrumar outro lugar.
Key Information: “Traficantes evangélicos expulsam mães e filhos de santo de favelas no Rio de Janeiro.” Ibahia. 4 February 2015, http://www.ibahia.com/detalhe/noticia/traficantes-evangelicos-expulsam-maes-e-filhos-de-santo-de-favelas-no-rio-de-janeiro/:
Mães e filhos de santos foram expulsos de favelas no Rio de Janeiro por traficantes que frequentam igrejas evangélicas por não tolerarem a “macumba”. Segundo a reportagem do jornal Extra, divulgada nesta quarta-feira (4), terreiros, roupas brancas e adereços que denunciassem a crença já haviam sido proibidas na região conhecida como Morro do Amor, no Complexo do Lins.
Por conta da proibição, uma mãe de santo que não se identificou, saia da favela rumo a seu terreiro, na Zona Oeste, sempre com roupas comuns e com o vestido branco na bolsa. Certo dia, por um descuido, ela deixou a “roupa de santo” no varal. Uma semana depois ela foi expulsa da favela pelos bandidos, para não mais voltar. “Não dava mais para suportar as ameaças. Lá, ser do candomblé é proibido. Não existem mais terreiros e quem pratica a religião, o faz de modo clandestine—conta a filha de santo, que se mudou para a Zona Oeste”, explicou durante reportagem.
Segundo a Associação de Proteção dos Amigos e Adeptos do Culto Afro Brasileiro e Espírita, pelo menos 40 pais e mães de santo já foram expulsos de favelas da Zona Norte pelo tráfico. Já em outras favelas da cidade, além do fechamento dos terreiros também foi determinada a proibição do uso de colares afro e roupas brancas. De acordo com a reportagem, todos os quatro pais de santo ouvidos pelo jornal, alegaram que o motivo era sempre o mesmo: conversão dos chefes do tráfico a denominações evangélicas.
Third Generation Gang Analysis
Some gang members in Rio’s favelas are converting to Evangelical (and Pentecostal) sects. Many do so to escape gang life. Others seek spiritual solace but continue their gang traditions and incorporate their religious template into their sense of group identity. As part of this struggle for identity and control of turf, some Evangelical gangsters have been targeting members of Afro-Brazilian religions (Candomblé, Macumba, and Umbanda). These syncretic religions blend animist beliefs from Africa that came to Brazil with the slave trade and Roman Catholic beliefs that accompanied Brazil’s Portuguese colonial past.
For many Evangelical believers, these folk religions are ‘Satanic Cults.’ Consequently, the gangs affiliated with Evangelical leaders have targeted these churches and their members. “Candomblé priests and centers have been expelled from many Rio favelas by drug gangs influenced by radical Evangelical Christians, whose churches have proliferated in these areas,” a Candomblé father-in-Saint (priest) told the Washington Post in 2015.
This struggle for physical and spiritual control of the favelas has been developing for years. The Terceiro Commando Puro (Pure Third Command) gang or narco-mafia is a case in point where gangsters control life in the prisons and on the streets of their favelas. The gangsters protect their turf. And the residents of the favelas live under the de facto authority of the gang, its leader, and his private army. One of the Terceiro Commando Puro’s leaders Fernando Gomes de Freitas is exemplary. When he was profiled in The New Yorker, he controlled 17 of 19 favelas. Fernando is essentially an urban warlord who has found religion: the Evangelical faith. He relies on street taxes (commissions or protection rackets)—taking money from bus companies, cable television providers, cooking gas providers, managing the local drug trade, and imposing his will through his armed posse. The gangs rule the fiefdom “The state is almost completely absent in the favelas. The drug gangs impose their own systems of justice, law and order, and taxation—all by force of arms” according to John Lee Anderson. In Fernando’s fief, Afro-Brazilian religions (Macumba, Umanda, and Candomblé) are forbidden, those who ignore the ban are at risk.
A discussion of the links between Gomes de Freitas and his Evangelical faith are provided by Dr. Andrew Chesnut, author of Born Again in Brazil (Rutgers, 1997), in an interview for this note. He stated that:
One of the Terceiro Comando Puro’s top commanders, Fernando Gomes de Freitas, aka Fernandinho Guarabu, converted to Pentecostalism a decade ago and, for a while, the gang apparently became less violent. Pentecostalism has a huge presence in Brazilian prisons and many gang members convert there but there’s no real evidence that they cease their violent activities because of their new faith. In fact, alliances with pastors in the favelas are part of their strategy of controlling favelas under their command.
Exorcism of demons, particulary of the spirits of Umbanda and Candomble, is very appealing to converts who believe their lives are being turned upside down by demonic possession. Comando has repressed the practice of Umbanda and Candomble in favelas under their control, since as Pentecotals they believe those African-derived religions to be satanic.
In fact, much of the underlying ideology promoting this intolerance of such spiritual traditions—in essence, viewing them as satanic in nature—can be traced to the writings of Bishop Edir Macedo in his work Orixas, Caboclos and Guides: Gods or Demons? published in the late 1980s. This work was banned in Brazil in 2005 after having sold over three million copies. However, it is still widely available today in Brazil at any bookstore or online.
Orixas, Caboclos e Guias; “Jacket: An apprentice-sorceress (‘daughter of the saint’) sucks the blood from a pig’s head—the representative of ‘OBALUAE’ in a BORI ceremony.” 
As a component of the ‘spiritual warfare’ taking place, many bandidos evangélicos wear charms and protection amulets with the image of Saint George (the saint on a horse slaying the dragon) that has been blessed. This provides them with spiritual armor when confronting an Afro-Brazilian mother- or father-of-saints that interfere with their affairs or simply become targets of their religious purges. YouTube video postings of such confrontations from September 2017 can be viewed online and focus on the destruction of two casa de santos (temple of the saints). In addition to physical destruction and social media postings arson, warning shots, beatings, physical expulsion from neighborhoods, and murder have taken place in the past related to this ongoing low intensity conflict in the favelas.
Destruction of a Casa de Santos (Temple of the Saints)
Traficantes ‘evangélicos’ obrigam pai de santo a destruir próprio terreiro no Rio
The interconnection between gangs and religious sects is dynamic and complex. In many cases, religious movements are an avenue out of gang life and crime. In others, the two become intertwined. Sometimes the outcome is “evangelical gangsters.” Sometimes this occurs when a religious movement seeks to purge gangs and drugs from their community. Over time, these efforts become corrupted and the members become ‘vigilantes,’ using violence to purge the neighborhood. Sometimes the violence becomes a vehicle to transition the group into a new gang or organized crime group. This was seen in South Africa with Pagad (an Islamic movement that embraced terrorism in its battle with the Cape Flats Gangs), in Mexico in the case of La Familia Michoacana with its vigilante roots and its successor the Knights Templar (Cabelleros Templarios) that use religion as a tool for sustaining internal cartel cohesion, and in El Salvador where Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) leaders have been implicated in using pastoral work as a cover for their activities. In short, vigilante groups can often transition into criminal gangs themselves—when they do, they embrace the characteristics of a third generation gang (3GENGang).
The conflict between ‘Evangelical gangsters’ and the Afro-Brazilian religious groups in Rio’s favelas, like similar conflicts elsewhere, is essentially a form of what David Kilcullen calls a competition for ‘competitive control.’ This competition is a key feature of the 3GENGang actions in criminal and spiritual insurgencies.
John Lee Anderson, “gangland: Who controls the streets of Rio de Janeiro?” The New Yorker. 5 October 2009, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/10/05/gangland.
Patricia Birman, “Witchcraft, territories and marginal resistances in Rio de Janeiro (Feitiçarias, territórios e resistências marginais),” (David Rogers, Trans.). Mana. Vol. 5, No. se, Rio De Janiero 2010, http://socialsciences.scielo.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0104-93132010000100005’.
Ludovica Iaccino, “Were Pentecostal gangsters behind British woman’s shooting in Rio favela?” International Business Times. 7 August 2017, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/were-pentecostal-gangsters-behind-british-womans-shooting-rio-favela-1633876.
“Traficantes evangélicos expulsam mães e filhos de santo de favelas no Rio de Janeiro.” Ibahia. 4 February 2015, http://www.ibahia.com/detalhe/noticia/traficantes-evangelicos-expulsam-maes-e-filhos-de-santo-de-favelas-no-rio-de-janeiro/.
Robert Muggah, “In Brazil, religious gang leaders say they’re waging a holy war.” The Conversation. 2 November 2017, https://theconversation.com/in-brazil-religious-gang-leaders-say-theyre-waging-a-holy-war-86097.
Andres Schipani and Joe Leahy, “‘Drug traffickers of Jesus’ drive Brazil slum violence.” Financial Times. 27 October 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/b5096a18-b548-11e7-aa26-bb002965bce8.
Rafael Soares, “Crime e preconceito: mães e filhos de santo são expulsos de favelas por traficantes evangélicos.” Extra (O Globo). 7 September 2013, https://extra.globo.com/casos-de-policia/crime-preconceito-maes-filhos-de-santo-sao-expulsos-de-favelas-por-traficantes-evangelicos-9868829.html.
 For background information on these traditions, see “African-Derived Religions in Brazil.” Harvard Divinity School: Religious Literacy Project. 2017, https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/faq/african-derived-religions-brazil.
 Dom Phillips, “Afro-Brazilian religions struggle against Evangelical hostility.” Washington Post. 6 February 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/afro-brazilian-religions-struggle-against-evangelical-hostility/2015/02/05/b6a30c6e-aaf9-11e4-8876-460b1144cbc1_story.html?utm_term=.67b111559f72.
 John Lee Anderson, “Gangland: Who controls the streets of Rio de Janeiro?” The New Yorker. 5 October 2009, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/10/05/gangland.
 Email interview with Dr. Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, on 7 August 2017.
 Robert Muggah, “In Brazil, religious gang leaders say they’re waging a holy war.” The Conversation. 2 November 2017, https://theconversation.com/in-brazil-religious-gang-leaders-say-theyre-waging-a-holy-war-86097.
 The book image is from https://produto.mercadolivre.com.br/MLB-834202836-livro-orixas-caboclos-e-guias-pastor-maceo-_JM; The jacket description is from https://www.amazon.com/Orixas-Caboclos-Guides-Gods-Demons/dp/B001089BZQ/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510602522&sr=1-12&refinements=p_27%3ABishop+Macedo.
 RioWest FM, “Traficantes do Rio obrigam Mãe de santo a quebrar seu terreiro.” YouTube. 12 September 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVzn6YxM-Lw and TV GNI, “Traficantes ‘evangélicos’ obrigam pai de santo a destruir próprio terreiro no Rio.” YouTube. 13 September 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq5ien52qFA.
 For additional background, see Dom Phillips, “Afro-Brazilian religions struggle against Evangelical hostility.” Washington Post. 6 February 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/afro-brazilian-religions-struggle-against-evangelical-hostility/2015/02/05/b6a30c6e-aaf9-11e4-8876-460b1144cbc1_story.html?utm_term=.9863ac56444e.
 Milli Legran, “God vs. gang? For some ex-gangsters in El Salvador, rehab happens at church.” Christian Science Monitor. 11 September 2017, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2017/0911/God-vs.-gang-For-some-ex-gangsters-in-El-Salvador-rehab-happens-at-church.
 See John P. Sullivan, “Chapter Four: Gangs, Hooligans, and Anarchists—The Vanguard of Netwar in the Streets in John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (Eds.). Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy. Santa Monica: RAND, 2001, pp. 99-126; http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/mr1382osd.9.
 Pagad is still a factor in Cape Town gang conflicts and vigilantism. See Caryn Dolley and James de Villiers, “Gang crossfire ‘war zone’ as anti-gang Cape grouping resurfaces.” news24. 25 September 2017, https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/gang-crossfire-war-zone-as-anti-gang-cape-grouping-resurfaces-20170925 and Christopher Clark, “Drugs is a fight that we will never win,” GroundUp. 29 August 2017, https://www.groundup.org.za/article/drugs-fight-we-will-never-win/.
 See Samuel Logan and John P. Sullivan, “Mexico’s ‘Divine Justice’.” International Security Network. ETH Zürich. 17 August 2009, http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/104677/pdf and John P. Sullivan, “Los Caballeros Templarios: ‘Social Bandits’.” The Counter Terrorist. December 2012/January 2013, https://issuu.com/sbradman/docs/ct_decjan_final/48.
 In the El Salvador example, a gang leader used his pastoral role to give him access to gang leaders in prison. See Marco Aleeman, “El Salvador strikes blow against powerful street gang.” San Diego Union-Tribune. 28 July 2016, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-el-salvador-strikes-blow-against-gang-in-operation-2016jul28-story.html.
 See, for example, Dennis Rodgers, “When vigilantes turn bad: gangs, violence, and social change in urban Nicaragua,” Originally published in Pratten, D. and Sen, A. (Eds.), Global vigilantes. London and New York: C. Hurst & Co. and Columbia University Press, 2007, pp. 349-370; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44789458_When_vigilantes_turn_bad_gangs_violence_and_social_change_in_urban_Nicaragua.
 See David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 126.
For Additional Reading
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Rethinking insurgency: criminality, spirituality, and societal warfare in the Americas.” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol., 22, Iss., 5, 2011: Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War, pp. 742-763.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Studies in Gangs and Cartels. London: Routledge, 2013.