Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, is often compared to Donald Trump. The similarities are pretty obvious—both came to national power in elections that featured right-wing fake news spread via social media, and both have a long history of odious remarks about women and members of minority groups that may have heralded surges in hate crimes in their respective countries. And now Bolsonaro is in the American news for another thoroughly Trump-ian reason: He picked a fight with a celebrity.
On Friday, Bolsonaro made the baseless claim that movie star and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio had funded the burning of the Amazon rainforest. “Leonardo DiCaprio, you are contributing to the fire in the Amazon. That won’t do,” said Bolsonaro. “Cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon.”
According to The New York Times, Bolsonaro appeared to be responding to claims circulated via social media that the World Wildlife Fund had paid firefighters for images of the conflagrations, which the group used to solicit donations that included a half-million dollar gift from DiCaprio.
The actor responded in an Instagram post Saturday. “The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them,” wrote DiCaprio. “While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted.”
Earlier this week, four Brazilian volunteer firefighters were arrested on charges that they set fires in order to stage photos that would draw donations. The arrests have been denounced by Bolsonaro’s opponents as another effort by his government to falsely blame NGO workers trying to stop the fires for setting them, instead of the illegal land grabbers who engage in deforestation to clear land for farmers, ranchers, and miners.
The WWF also responded, denying that they had purchased images from the arrested firefighters, or that they had received $500,000 donation from DiCaprio.
The actor is one of the most prominent celebrity activists in the fight against climate change. He’s a United Nations climate ambassador, and has participated activist movements including the 2017 People’s Climate March. DiCaprio established his own environmental non-profit in 1998, and the organization has raised more than $100 million for charity in the years since.