Ilha de Maré, Salvador (BA), December 2018. Among the 300 families in the Quilombo community of Bananeiras, a peculiar visitor begins to call attention: sometimes in a cassock, sometimes in a green-yellow shirt.
“We thought he was coming to vacation, at the invitation of a lady who lived here, but unfortunately he ended up staying,” says a fisherman, who prefers not to be identified.
“First, this embarrassment was taken in by an evangelical family. Afterwards, he rented a house that is on a more secluded street in the community. So, it’s not every day that he’s seen around here.”
The man dressed as a priest was Kelmon Luis da Silva Souza, who would soon become known on and off the Island – at least among Jair Bolsonaro’s (non-party) supporters.
On May 1st of this year, he gave an effusive speech from the top of a sound system on Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo (SP), during a pro-government act:
“Where Gideon’s sword passed, no Midianites stood. (…) In the name of Jesus, I want to bless the Brazilian people and Bolsonaro, our Gideon.”
The Midianites were nomadic peoples of Arab origin who disputed land with Israelis in central Palestine. According to the Book of Judges, from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, Gideon is considered a military hero and would have been called by God to kill the enemies.
Kelmon’s videos circulate mostly in far-right groups on WhatsApp, with low engagement on other networks. In the most recent, he promises to be at the act of September 7th in Brasília (DF) and reinforces the call throughout the country.
“You can’t stay at your house, accommodated! (…) We are a Christian nation and will continue to be. May God bless the head of this nation”, he adds.
Kelmon introduces himself as an Orthodox priest and says masses in improvised places. The unusual manners and religion, unknown to most natives, aroused the interest of the Bahian media.
“He never belonged to a ‘real’ canonical church. He has always liked to get involved with these fake churches that he says he belongs to, but he doesn’t,” a representative of the Antioquina Orthodox Church told the portal Farol da Bahia in May.
In response, Kelmon posted on his networks photos of the day when, after ten years of preparation, he would have been ordained “a priest in the chapel dedicated to Theotokos on the farm belonging to the Melkites.”
The portal’s report then asked the alleged priest to send the documents of the ordination – which would have taken place in 2015, in São Paulo –, but there was no return.
Threats to quilombolas
Despite its natural beauty, the community of Bananeiras has a precarious infrastructure and is one of the most affected by the contamination of large projects in the Todos-os-Santos Bay.
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“He arrived as a savior of the motherland”, recalls seafood producer Marizélia Lopes. “Our community suffers from institutional racism, so public policies are not guaranteed. When he arrived, his words were: ‘Ilha de Maré will have everything now’, and that draws attention”.
The distrust began in 2019, when neighbors began to notice that he was posing as a “host” and “tour guide” on his Instagram account, inviting visitors to the Island. In parallel, groups of Venezuelan immigrants began to settle in the community, at the invitation of the supposed priest.
The last straw came in November 2020, when Kelmon posted a photo on his hammocks claiming that he had laid the cornerstone of what would be the “Parish of São Lázaro de Betânia” – inside the Ponta do Capim mangrove, a protected area environmental.
When he returned to the job site, the materials had been removed.
“He surrounded the place where this makeshift parish would be. As the tide was high and it was not possible to pass, people ended up taking the stones out of there”, says resident Bruno Nascimento. “No one was notified of the construction of this parish.”
Kelmon immediately called the press and said he was a victim of religious intolerance.
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“The community then signed a petition saying that he would not build the parish either inside the mangrove or anywhere else. Because it’s a quilombola community, and we have the right to consult”, recalls Marizélia Lopes.
“Only that he [Kelmon] articulated with politicking and brought some police officers into the community. He passed by armed police officers, intimidating, saying ‘they don’t know who they’re messing with’. On that day, he referred to that [ex] Deputy who was arrested, Roberto Jefferson [PTB-RJ].”
Bruno Nascimento says that the residents sought information about the politician on the internet and were scared.
“After Kelmon posted a picture with him, we went to find out who he was and found pictures of this Roberto Jefferson full of guns. Then we thought: ‘Boy, look who we’re messing with!’”
On his Facebook account, Kelmon appears alongside the politician on at least four different occasions. In an interview on the PTB website, party chaired by Jefferson, the alleged priest says that the politician visited Ilha de Maré and even suggested the construction of a dock.
The residents of Bananeiras heard by the report do not remember the ex-deputy’s visit to the island.
Flyers against Dilma
A former seminarian, Kelmon was a missionary in a group of the international Catholic association Legion of Mary and worked in the ecumenical Christian community of Taizé, of French origin, in the 1990s.
He also claims to have participated in the creation of a group called Jovem Unidos Semeando Paz e Esperança (JUSPE), about which the article did not obtain additional information.
Since 2010, Kelmon Souza maintains the Jabuti religious items store in Brasília.
In the same year, during the presidential campaign, the Federal Police seized 2.1 million pamphlets that he had printed against then-candidate Dilma Rousseff (PT) in São Paulo.
The domain of the email reported by Kelmon to the printer, @theodokianos.org, was in the name of Casa de Plínio Salgado – which brings together admirers of the leader of Ação Integralista Brasileira, a far-right Catholic nationalist party inspired by Italian fascism.
The relationship with Roberto Jefferson is more recent. In an interview with the “Os backstages of Brasília” channel in April, he claims to have been close to the politician a few years ago.
“I’ve admired him since that time when he screamed, sending José Dirceu [PT] get out of the government. Then, I was already enchanted with that man”, he said.
“And knowing him up close, intimately, made me see not only the politician Roberto Jefferson, but the man, husband, friend, father, grandfather. All this was enchanting me.”
In the same interview, he states that he talked daily with Jefferson, and from these dialogues the Conservative Christian Labor Youth movement (JTCC), linked to the PTB, would have been born.
The one-two with Roberto Jefferson also gave rise to the idea of promoting quarterly youth retreats on Ilha de Maré to debate “Jesus as a model for political life.”
For the Quilombolas of Bananeiras, the project means more inconvenience.
“He’s bringing a lot of white people here. He built a shed in the community, and is calling events with lots of drinks, lots of food, barbecue, and that is how he wins over and co-opts people,” says Marizélia.
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“What we suspect a lot is that he is in a line of real estate speculation. He has been bringing people and continues on Instagram inviting people to visit Ilha de Maré”, the resident suspects.
“We sent a letter to the church he says he belongs to, and the church itself says he doesn’t.”
The report also failed to confirm the alleged priest’s link with any church.
In a video aired in July, Kelmon asks for donations for the construction of a supposed parish house on Isla de Maré.
“We need to build a wall, surrounding all the land. We need to expand the kitchen, renovate the bathroom, put flooring in both areas and cover the entire house”, he says, then informing the PIX number.
The objective would be to restructure the house to receive young Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants, through a project called the Latin American Conservative Christian Movement (MECCLA).
“These are young people who come because they can no longer bear to live in socialism and communism. (…) They will come to help us in the work of Christian and political awareness”, he adds in the video.
In some of the masses in Bahia, the alleged priest says he prays “for the liberation of Venezuela from accursed communism.”
O Brazil in fact contacted Kelmon Souza by email, through social networks, through the Jabuti company and the Theotokos association, both registered in his name. There was no return.
Edition: Anelize Moreira