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Brazil’s insurrection mimics the storming of the U.S. Capitol building 

By Ana Bodevan, March 13 2023

Take a moment to imagine — hundreds of supporters of a populist former-president storm public buildings, convinced of voting manipulation that kept their candidate from reelection. They are flamed by far-right remarks that questioned the legitimacy and honesty of well established democratic institutions even before the defeat in the pools. 

Two years and two days after the United States Capitol building was stormed in Washington, DC, a similarly worrying demonstration of extremism and anti-democratic values happened in Brasília, Brazil’s capital. Thousands of bolsonaristas — supporters of the ex-president Jair Bolsonaro — marched from the army headquarters in Brasilia to the Praça dos Três Poderes, Three Powers Plaza. There, they overcame police barriers and entered the structures housing the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government while being tear-gassed by law enforcement.   

Around 3 p.m. local time on Jan. 8, 2023, approximately 4,000 individuals, identified as coup plotters, broke through the security barrier established by law enforcement and occupied the ramp and rooftop of the National Congress Palace. Part of the group managed to invade Congress and also the Presidential Palace and the Supreme Court Palace, vandalizing many spaces and structures and leaving a trail of widespread destruction in a similar fashion to attackers in the United States. The invasion is part of the coup-plotting demonstrations in Brazil following the 2022 elections and was considered an act of terrorism by the Supreme Court.

In a couple of hours, much like in the United States Capitol, it was mostly all gone. In the capital district, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva quickly proclaimed a “federal security intervention” — a state of emergency that gives his government exclusive authority to reestablish law and order in Brasília until the end of the month. Three buildings that had been briefly occupied by demonstrators were taken back under security control, and according to Brazil’s National Justice Council, 1418 people were arrested for the terrorist acts in Brasília. 

Background: What led to the revolt?

During the 2022 presidential election, the incumbent candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, disseminated false information about electronic voting machines and the electoral system. There was fear that — fueled by Bolsonaro’s statements and his allies — there would be an action similar to the invasion of the United States Capitol, by supporters of defeated candidate Donald Trump sought to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. In commenting on the Capitol invasion, Bolsonaro stated that, without the approval of printed voting, “worse problems” would occur in Brazil.

After the victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a series of anti-democratic demonstrations occurred in various states of Brazil calling for a military coup to prevent the inauguration of the then-elected president. The protests consisted of roadblocks and encampments near military facilities.

Bolsonaro never officially recognized losing the presidential election, but did vaguely agree to transition off the power —a distinction ignored by Bolsonaro’s more radical supporters.   

Actually, many of the former president’s supporters have been camped out for weeks in Brasilia and other places demanding a military coup to supposedly restore Bolsonaro after they refused to accept his defeat by Lula.

In the meantime, Bolsonaro was seen eating KFC in Florida as Lula took the oath of office for his third term, one week before the attack. Bolsonaro had skipped the inauguration to spend New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago with former US President Donald Trump.

There were also indications that the coup plotters’ acts that occurred at the headquarters of the three branches of government in Brasília on Sunday could occur for months, including news in social media groups and bolsonaristas encampments in front of barracks. Lula’s new Ministry of Justice, Flávio Dino, rightfully called the encampments “incubators of terrorists” a couple of weeks prior. Then, before the current federal government under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had to act, measures could have been taken by police forces and the government of the Federal District, where Brasília is located. 

The point is, omission helped. Not holding these forces accountable led the corporation to take increasingly political actions. Until he left the country, Jair Bolsonaro clearly encouraged the coup plotters, even through omission. 

These protests are being financed and encouraged to keep going. All this confusion has been financed, encouraged, and organized. It’s obvious that there is a portion of the population that believes in it, but they believe because they have been encouraged on a daily basis to believe as much.

It was a shot in the foot for Bolsonaro and bolsonarismo, which take advantage of the figure of Bolsonaro. This is because now they’ve given all the ammunition in the hands of the federal government to intervene in the situation. If,before, there was a type of constraint to take measures in a calmer, more careful and more robust way — now there is not. It has reached such an emergency level that a very strong reaction from the institutions is necessary, like taking public security away from the Federal District.

But that list of who is organizing, which for some reason can be crossed with the fake news investigation, has to come to light. Society will want answers, and the institutions will give answers and dissipate these manifestations.

Drawing similarities between the invasion of the Capitol in the United States and what happened in Brazil is inevitable. However, what happened, and is happening, in Brazil is much worse. 

We are making the parallel with the United States because it’s natural, but we have to remember that, before the invasion of the Capitol, the press and the police were organizing to block it. They knew exactly what was going to happen. When it was invaded, they already knew who was financing it, and who the leaders were.

Here, we have a mapping, but there are some gaps because the previous government itself made sure to create obstacles for the clarification of these crimes and, here, a large part of the federal police is bolsonarista: Anderson Torres, former Minister of Justice of Bolsonaro and Public Security Secretary of the Federal District during the insurrection, was in Florida when it all went down. 

In an interview with CNN Brasil, Ricardo Cappelli, responsible for leading the federal intervention in public security of the Federal District decreed by Lula, summarized the following. 

“It was a structured sabotage operation commanded by former minister of Bolsonaro Anderson Torres, who left the department without direction, without leadership, and fled abroad…Anderson Torres took over the Security Secretariat, dismissed the entire command, and traveled. If that is not sabotage, I do not know what is.”

In conclusion, there are severe worries about extremism and anti-democratic ideals raised by the recent takeover of government buildings in Brasilia by Bolsonaro supporters.

This incident happened barely two years and two days after the US Capitol building was attacked in Washington, DC, and it was brought on by Bolsonaro’s misleading information regarding the electoral process and voting machines during the 2022 presidential election.

The invasion of the National Congress Palace, the Presidential Palace, and the Supreme Court Palace ultimately resulted in extensive destruction and was classified as an act of terrorism by the Supreme Court.

The comparison between the invasions in the United States and Brazil is unavoidable, but the situation in Brazil is much worse. The failure to hold the responsible forces accountable has allowed the situation to escalate, and a strong reaction from the institutions is necessary to resolve it. Society deserves answers and the institutions must provide them. In the end, the events in Brazil serve as a reminder of the importance of maintaining a strong and democratic system, and also how easily democracy can be threatened nowadays. 

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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