Alexandre de Moraes: Brazil judge in feud with Elon Musk

Alexandre de Moraes: Brazil judge in feud with Elon Musk

Alexandre de Moraes: judge in feud with Elon Musk

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Brazilian Supreme judge Alexandre de Moraes, pictured during the opening of the 2024 judicial session.
Photo: Sergio Lima / AFP
Source: AFP

With his stern gaze and shiny-bald head, Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes has emerged as one of the most powerful and polarizing people in Brazil by probing far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro's alleged attacks on democracy.

Now he has a new target in his disinformation crackdown: Elon Musk.

The billionaire X owner, who calls himself a “free-speech absolutist,” recently went on the attack against Moraes, labeling him a dictator and threatening to defy the judge's rulings blocking users found to be spreading disinformation — largely Bolsonaro supporters.

Moraes responded by ordering fines of $20,000 a day for any account that X reactivates, put Musk under investigation for charges including obstruction of justice and accused him of a “criminal instrumentalization” of the social network formerly called Twitter.

Known by his nickname, “Xandao,” Moraes, 55, looms large over the fissures of a deeply divided Brazil.

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The immensely powerful judge, who also heads the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), is hated by the far right, which accuses him of censorship and abuse of office.

To others, he is a hero using the bench to save Brazil's young democracy.

‘Political animal'

There was little in Moraes's background to hint he would become a conservative nemesis.

The constitutional law expert worked as a Sao Paulo state prosecutor, then went on to become state security secretary. Known as a hardliner, he drew criticism from left-wing activists, who accused him of repressing social movements.

He served as justice minister under center-right ex-president Michel Temer, who named him to the Supreme Court in 2017.

“Legal expertise has played a part in his meteoric rise, but what put him on the Supreme Court, and 99 percent of his career, is politics. He's a political animal,” constitutional law expert Antonio Carlos de Freitas told AFP.

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Despite his severe demeanor, Moraes is known for a sense of humor behind the scenes.

Supreme Court insiders call him a pragmatist with a gift for engaging in dialogue with various players, including the military.

But he soon found himself on a collision course with Bolsonaro.

During Bolsonaro's administration (2019-2022), Moraes ordered investigations of several of the president's allies. Bolsonaro called him “scum” and vowed to stop following his rulings.

Moraes has presided over a slew of cases targeting the politician dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” who has been barred from running for office until 2030 over his attempts to discredit the electoral system — a decision delivered by the TSE, the electoral court Moraes heads.

Moraes's current docket includes what may be the most damaging case against Bolsonaro: the investigation into charges the ex-president and his inner circle plotted a coup to stay in power despite losing the 2022 elections to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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“Bolsonaro's has found a favorite enemy in Moraes, who has dealt them their biggest defeats at the Supreme Court and blocked the spread of fake news,” Freitas said.

investigating Bolsonaro's alleged coup plot say it included a presidential decree that would have declared a state of emergency, called new elections and ordered Moraes's .

Disinformation war

Moraes was an omnipresent figure during the polarizing 2022 campaign, aggressively using his rulings to fight election disinformation on social media.

That included blocking some prominent right-wing figures' accounts — the decisions Tesla and SpaceX Musk is now threatening to disobey.

Moraes gives few interviews, and rarely posts on his own X account, “@Alexandre,” where he nevertheless has a million followers.

“Freedom of expression doesn't mean freedom of aggression,” he has said.

“It doesn't mean the freedom to defend tyranny.”

Still two decades away from the mandatory retirement age for judges in Brazil — 75 — Moraes has political ambitions, including being president some day, a source close to him told AFP.

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Meanwhile, Musk will want to watch out if he challenges Moraes to a cage fight, as he did with fellow tech titan Mark Zuckerberg — and as some internet wags have been hoping: Moraes has studied “muay thai,” the martial art known as Thai boxing.

Source: AFP

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