A Rio de Janeiro militia currently under investigation is said to have raised an average of $3 million per year through extortion and other illicit activities, an indication of the militias' ability to raise significant amounts of cash.
Police arrested 11 members of Rio de Janeiro militia the Liga da Justiça (Justice League) on December 6, according to Brazilian news outlet UOL. The city police unit that investigates organized crime said that the militia made an average of $250,000 per month, mostly through the extortion of local community members (including security "taxes"), and providing other services such as the installation of illegal cable television. The militia is active in a western neighborhood, Campo Grande.
One of the men arrested is a local pastor at a Pentecostal Church, accused of helping the militia handle their financial operations. According to the head of the police organized crime unit, the church essentially functioned as the militia's "loans and collection" office. The pastor was also known to endorse milita-backed political candidates from his pulpit.
InSight Crime Analysis
According to a 2012 study by the State University of Rio de Janeiro, the city's militias have changed their modus operandi over the past several years, becoming more clandestine and less affiliated with active duty or retired police personnel. The authors of the study, sociologists Ignacio Cano and Thais Duarte, say this transformation has come about because militias are losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and are frequently unable to convince politicians and citizens to give them support. This has limited their ability to operate openly in Rio de Janeiro and has reduced the economic and political power they once wielded. This influence reached its peak during 2006 and 2007, when a number of militia-backed political candidates were elected to public office, the study states.
The investigation into the Liga da Justiça's dealings, however, paints a different picture. Despite operating in an allegedly more difficult environment, this militia was still able to pull in over $3 million in funds per year, through the same illicit practices traditionally associated with paramilitary organizations. The militia was also still able to garner public support from the local priest, a sign of their ability to continue establishing alliances with community leaders.
Militias have operated in Rio de Janeiro for three decades and are closely linked with the city's police force. The vigilante groups initially formed to push criminal gangs and drug traffickers out of certain neighborhoods, but are now considered to be another criminal enterprise.