Antônio’s pastor also sought to “free” young men from Afro-Brazilian faiths such as Candomblé and Umbanda. Their spirits, he said, were manifestations of the Enemy. The pastor was far from alone in his denunciation. The decline of Afro-Brazilian faiths is not just the result of changing preferences. Some gang members yearn to express their devotion to God but are so accustomed to the language of force that they hear this talk of an Enemy as a declaration of holy war. In recent years, the so-called narcopentecostais have mounted escalating attacks on Afro-Brazilian temples, sometimes posting videos as warnings to others. One shows a man in a T-shirt printed with Jesus’ face, ripping apart sacred necklaces, while another tells the temple’s priest, “Don’t you know that the boss doesn’t want your superstition here? I belong to the honor and glory of Jesus.” He waves a baseball bat that reads dialogo in front of the camera. “It’s just a dialogue I’m having with you,” he says. “If I catch you again or you try to rebuild this shit, I’ll kill you.”
The victims of such attacks were afraid to speak to me, even though I promised not to print their names. While I was in Rio, an Afro-Brazilian priest named Leandro Souza de Jesus was murdered inside his temple. But one Candomblé priestess, a mãe de santo I’ll call Xica, agreed to receive me in a sitting room decorated with statues of Jesus, the Wise Men, and Oyá, a spirit from the Niger River. She told me some of her disciples lived in Cidade Alta, a favela recently taken over by the TCP. Men in suits went door-to-door to deliver letters announcing that it was now forbidden to practice macumba—a derogatory term for Afro-Brazilian faiths—or even to wear all white, as required for their rituals. “Jesus has ordained that the community of Cidade Alta be freed from this evil,” the letter said.
One of Xica’s disciples, herself a mãe de santo, shut down her temple and moved away, but another decided to continue practicing in secret. Someone alerted the gang, and she was ordered to stop, but she didn’t. Early one morning, in the middle of a ceremony, a convoy of motorcycles showed up. Four men broke in, shooting into the air to scare off worshippers. They threw the elderly woman to the ground, beat her, and smashed her altars to pieces.