What the actual hell is going on with 88 Tactical in Omaha?
Last year I wrote about the business’s persistent interest in Nazi imagery and white supremacy. Now here is something else alarming: 88 Tactical’s links to a foreign authoritarian leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who many Brazilians fear is planning a dictatorial takeover of Brazil, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, September 7.
In early 2016, around the time that an infusion of investment funds allowed 88 Tactical to construct the massive fortress that greets all interstate travelers into Omaha from the west with a gigantic Nazi eagle and Nazi code, 88 Tactical also sponsored Eduardo Bolsonaro’s visit to the Shot Show, a massive firearms expo in Las Vegas.
Eduardo Bolsonaro is the third son of Jair Bolsonaro, the current president of Brazil, who is notorious for his fascistic rule. It is difficult to summarize the damage Bolsonaro has wrought on Brazil, but it includes a wholesale assault on indigenous people and the environment, deep corruption, and total mismanagement of the pandemic.
At the time of this writing, Bolsonaro, who has legions of militia members loyal to him and more armed than ever after he loosened the nation’s gun laws, is indicating that he will not peacefully cede power if he loses election next year, which polls show is likely. Eduardo, who is currently a legislator, has fascist political leanings, too. Here he is, for example, hanging out with Beatrix von Storch, who is both the granddaughter of Hitler’s finance minister and the deputy leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
Eduardo Bolsonaro was in Washington D.C. with the Trump family when Trump’s followers attempted the Capitol insurrection. He specifically appears to have attended the January 5 “War Council” meeting of Trump deplorables–including Nebraska gubernatorial hopeful and bull semen billionaire Charles Herbster–that planned the former president’s attempt to override the U.S. presidential election.
Why did an aw-shucks-golly-gee-butter-wouldn’t-melt Nebraska “gun range” sponsor this guy’s trip to the bathroom, much less a major industry networking event?
Eduardo is not the only Bolsonaro with ties to 88 Tactical. His brother, Carlos, also has a relationship with the Omaha company, and here is where things start getting even more interesting.
Carlos Bolsonaro—who, by the way, is currently under investigation in Brazil for involvement in a “criminal fake news racket”—told the Brazilian magazine Epoca that he “dreams of living in the US” “because he likes going to 88 Tactical, a shooting range in Omaha, Nebraska, where the Premier Combat Center is located, a martial arts academy where his friend Tony Eduardo teaches jiu-jitsu.”
Indeed, Carlos Bolsonaro’s friend, Tony Eduardo, is a “small arms and combatives” instructor at 88 Tactical. In 2018, 88 Tactical had begun advertising Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes taught by several instructors, all of whom had trained under members of the Gracie family, a large family that has popularized and massively commercialized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu internationally.
Some Brief Background about the Gracie Family
It is important to know a little about the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu industry to understand how it provides social networking for the far right. (And yes, I know there are people into jiu-jitsu who have no interest in far right ideology.)
In the early 20th century, the Brazilian Gracie brothers became aficionados in jiu-jitsu and developed methods that became Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ–that is actually what they call it, haha). Hélio Gracie, the most famous of the brothers, was notably a uniform-wearing member of the Brazilian fascist Integralista Party in the 1930s. Though he quietly dropped his association with the party later, his far right views—the kind of pro-violence, anti everything “effeminate” bullshit that permeated Italian fascism—persisted throughout his long life.
In 2001, at age 88, he gave an interview with Brazil Playboy Magazine in which he described asking a man “if he was a f-g” before beating him up, along with numerous occasions in which he used a chokehold on people in street fights until they passed out—by his own accounts, people who seemed to do little to nothing to prompt that kind of force. He explains that he, like his many male progeny who “never were f-gs,” only have sex with women if they are trying to reproduce because non-reproductive sex is a waste of energy. (Echoes of Proud Boys!) Speaking of women, Helio also said that it infuriated him when his sister became a nun because she was not completing her mission on earth as a woman, which was to give birth. Women are supposed to take care of children and depend on men, he said, not be independent.
Misogyny continues to ripple down the generations of BJJ—Tony Eduardo, the 88 Tactical employee and friend of the Bolsonaros, for example, posted content to social media from the pro-rape web site Return of Kings that argued, among other incel delights, that modern women are “unstable and miserable” because they are going against nature by seeking educations instead of having children.
In the 90s BJJ spawned mixed martial arts (MMA), and later Gracie University, a commercial enterprise with copyrighted curriculum that licenses instructors in 196 countries. Some of the current crop of Gracies now make money training American police in BJJ, including in the use of the notorious chokeholds and strangleholds that cause the target to lose consciousness.
The current Gracie BJJ generation includes Robson Gracie, who gave Jair Bolsonaro an honorary black belt; Igor, who said that Black people use racism as an excuse for laziness; Crosley and Daniel, who believe the 2020 US election was a fraud; and Renzo, who recently tweeted a quote by Hitler’s Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler and is Jair Bolsonaro’s Ambassador for Tourism.
The current Gracie crop also includes Royce Gracie, who was found to be using “off the charts” levels of steroids and recently worked out a deal with the IRS, who accused him of illegally hiding wealth in foreign bank accounts and fraudulently claiming tax credits for the poor.
Royce Gracie is a business partner of Tony Eduardo, the 88 Tactical employee who is friends with Carlos Bolsonaro.
Tony Eduardo, a Bolsonaro Friend who Works at 88 Tactical and Trains with SWAT
Tony Eduardo (whom I will call Tony so we don’t confuse him with Eduardo Bolsonaro) runs a gun club, 38 Club and Shooting School (Clube 38), in southern Brazil. In 2015, Tony seems to have connected with 88 Tactical via a BJJ fighter. He struck up a business relationship with 88 Tactical and taught a class at another Omaha business, Premier Combat Center, run by another Omaha mixed martial artist.
Also in 2015, Royce Gracie introduced Tony to Troy Fullbright, a SWAT trainer with the Moore, Oklahoma Police Department. Tony traveled to Oklahoma and participated in SWAT training there. Over the years Tony—as well as Royce Gracie—developed an ongoing relationship with Fullbright and other Oklahoma law enforcement, and Fullbright traveled to Brazil to serve as an instructor for Clube 38.
Another Bolsonaro Loyalist 88 Tactical Employee and His Texas Training Ground
It’s time to introduce another character, Yves de Sousa, who is employed by 88 Tactical as their “Vice President of International Business.” Yves also happens to have purchased a gigantic rural property near Whitesboro, Texas (yes, Whitesboro… what else would they fill their boro with?) that Zillow estimates to be worth over a million dollars. Located on this property is USBR Defense, a business registered to de Sousa.
De Sousa’s property serves as a training ground for U.S. and international visitors. At least two Bolsonaro sons, Eduardo and Carlos, have trained in paramilitary tactics there.
Oklahoma law enforcement has participated in the training, and 88 Tactical’s sniper instructor, Chris Brammer, has taught sniping to Bolsonaro loyalists there.
Training at the property includes use of silencers and night vision, as well as a “shoot house,” a generic house frame where participants can practice maneuvering through interior rooms to kill people.
What the Actual Fuck is Wrong with these People
I need to take a moment here. Why is it okay for US militarized law enforcement to train foreign nationals who are loyal to an aspiring autocrat in SWAT tactics? Why, exactly, do these Oklahoma cops think a fascist Brazilian Bolsonaro fan boy needs to learn how to raid buildings? Just a reminder that Brazil has about one political assassination per week and about 64,000 killings per year, many of which are tied to extrajudicial militia violence. Let me guess: these Oklahoma SWAT commandos who are essentially training quasi-mercenaries would argue that it’s for “defense” despite the growing list of such incidents tied directly to Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazil is currently on high alert amid fears its fascist leader—who 60% of the population say they will vote for under no circumstances—is planning a “self coup” to despotically seize and retain power. At least a handful of Bolsonaro friends are currently in their home country with years of training from 88 Tactical and US law enforcement.
The relationship cuts the other way, too—the Gracie BJJ industry is capitalizing on the current push for police reform by occupying a clever position in which they are pro police and pro gun culture, but sell themselves as offering a product—martial arts training—that will satisfy calls for reform by making police less lethal. However, police reform activists have long called for an end to the tactics the BJJ industry is selling, specifically neck restraints, which can easily turn lethal. In fact, Oklahoma City, whose law enforcement enjoys this tight relationship with Tony Eduardo and Royce Gracie—has recently been ranked as one of the most deadly cities for police violence in the country, including killings that involved pinnings. The Gracies are really just expanding their empire while adding–not replacing–a dangerous method for police use.
If the fears of many Brazilians are realized and Bolsonaro assumes dictatorial powers, we must ask what role American gun culture and policing plays in it, specifically the how-dare-you-call-us-Nazis fortress in Omaha that has provided cover for a hopeful despot’s entourage to build deadly skills.
Amanda Gailey can be reached at email@example.com.