(New throughout, adds police comments, changes first byline, changes dateline, previous SAO PAULO)
By Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Jake Spring
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 26 (Reuters) - A Christmas Eve fire-bomb attack on offices of a comedy troupe that produced a “gay Jesus” Netflix special is being investigated as an attempted homicide, police said on Thursday, a day after a shadowy group claimed responsibility in a video that included a far-right religious statement.
A group identifying itself as “Popular Nationalist Insurgency Command of the Large Brazilian Integralist Family” said in a video circulated on social media late on Christmas Day that it carried out the attack on the headquarters of the Porta dos Fundos comedy group in Rio de Janeiro. The men in the video wore masks, and the group does not list the identities of any leaders or members.
The video showed masked men throwing Molotov cocktails and reading a statement against the 46-minute comedy that Netflix released three weeks ago.
Entitled “The First Temptation of Christ,” the program depicts Jesus as a young man bringing home a boyfriend to meet the Holy Family. Around 2 million people petitioned the streaming service to remove the show, saying it offended Christians.
State police told a news conference in Rio they had verified the contents of the video showing three men in ski masks lighting Molotov cocktails and throwing them at a glass-fronted office that is the Porta dos Fundos’ headquarters.
No one was hurt in the incident and a security guard put out the blaze, according to a statement issued by Porta dos Fundos.
Rio police said the incident was under investigation as attempted homicide and causing an explosion. They said they did not currently consider it a terrorist attack, though such a classification had not been discarded.
Police said a group with a similar name and symbol, the Brazilian Integralist Front, had denied any links to the video, so investigators were not certain the attackers in fact were part of the far-right group they claimed to belong to.
Police have images of four men involved in the attack but do not know their identities. Authorities said they have formed a task force to resolve the matter as quickly as possible before the group can act again.
The video claiming responsibility shows three men in black ski masks and dark green jumpsuits reading a statement in front of a flag bearing the Greek letter Sigma, the symbol of Brazil’s integralist movement from the 1930s, inspired by European fascism. There was also an Imperial Flag of Brazil, the national symbol under Brazil’s former monarchy but not used since the 1800s.
The statement, read in a sound-altered voice, criticizes the comedy as “blasphemy” perpetrated by left-wing Marxists seeking to weaken and divide the country, and criticizes Netflix for airing the special.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment about the video claiming responsibility for the attack.
Brazil’s integralist movement from the 1930s stressed Christianity, traditional family values and authoritarian politics, and sought to suppress differences in society.
Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic population. There is also a rapidly growing Evangelical Christian community that supports the right-wing government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who once said he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.
Asked to respond to the video claiming responsibility, Porta dos Fundos repeated a previous statement that it hoped the perpetrators would be caught and punished and that Brazil “will survive this storm of hatred.”
Juliano Medeiros, leader of opposition PSOL party, urged that those responsible be brought to justice.
“If the authorities don’t give a rapid and fierce response against these types of acts, Brazil could spiral into a state of even more violence,” Medeiros said on Twitter. (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier, Jake Spring and Gabriela Mello, additional reporting and editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and David Gregorio)