Bolsonaro Supporters Storm Brazil’s Presidential Palace, Congress, and Supreme Court

Latin America's answer to Donald Trump has his own insurrection attempt.

AP (“Pro-Bolsonaro rioters storm Brazil’s top government offices“):

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who refuse to accept his election defeat stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace Sunday, a week after the inauguration of his leftist rival, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Thousands of demonstrators bypassed security barricades, climbed on roofs, smashed windows and invaded all three buildings, which were believed to be largely vacant on the weekend. Some of the demonstrators called for a military intervention to either restore the far-right Bolsonaro to power or oust Lula from the presidency.

Hours went by before control of the buildings on Brasilia’s vast Three Powers Square was reestablished, with hundreds of the participants arrested.

In a news conference from Sao Paulo state, Lula accused Bolsonaro of encouraging the uprising by those he termed “fascist fanatics,” and he read a freshly signed decree for the federal government to take control of security in the federal district.

“There is no precedent for what they did and these people need to be punished,” Lula said.

TV channel Globo News showed protesters wearing the green and yellow colors of the national flag that also have come to symbolize the nation’s conservative movement and were adopted by Bolsonaro’s supporters.

The former president has repeatedly sparred with Supreme Court justices, and the room where they convene was trashed by the rioters. They sprayed fire hoses inside the Congress building and ransacked offices at the presidential palace. Windows were broken in all of the buildings.

Bolsonaro, who flew to Florida ahead of Lula’s inauguration, repudiated the president’s accusation late Sunday. He wrote on Twitter that peaceful protest is part of democracy but vandalism and invasion of public buildings are “exceptions to the rule.”

Police fired tear gas in their efforts to recover the buildings, and were shown on television in the late afternoon marching protesters down a ramp from the presidential palace with their hands secured behind their backs. By early evening, with authorities’ control of the buildings restored, Justice Minister Flavio Dino said in a news conference that roughly 200 people had been arrested and officers were firing more tear gas to drive away lingering protesters.

But with the damage already done, many in Brazil were questioning how the police had ignored abundant warnings, were unprepared or were somehow complicit.

Reuters (“Bolsonaro backers ransack Brazil presidential palace, Congress, Supreme Court“):

Supporters of Brazil’s far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro invaded and defaced the country’s Congress, presidential palace and Supreme Court on Sunday, in a grim echo of the U.S. Capitol invasion two years ago by fans of former President Donald Trump.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries from their rampage, but the invaders left a trail of destruction, throwing furniture through the smashed windows of the presidential palace, flooding parts of Congress with a sprinkler system and ransacking ceremonial rooms in the Supreme Court.

The sight of thousands of yellow-and-green clad protesters running riot in the capital capped months of tension following the Oct. 30 presidential vote.

The uprising, which lasted a little over three hours, underlined the severe polarization that still grips the country days after the inauguration of leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro in the October election.

“These vandals, who we could call … fanatical fascists, did what has never been done in the history of this country,” said Lula in a press conference during an official trip to Sao Paulo state. “All these people who did this will be found and they will be punished.”

NYT (“Bolsonaro Supporters Lay Siege to Brazil’s Capital“) draws the obvious parallel:

Thousands of supporters of Brazil’s ousted former president, Jair Bolsonaro, stormed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices on Sunday to protest what they falsely claim was a stolen election, the violent culmination of years of conspiracy theories advanced by Mr. Bolsonaro and his right-wing allies.

In scenes reminiscent of the Jan. 6 storming of the United States Capitol, protesters in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, draped in the yellow and green of Brazil’s flag surged into the seat of power, setting fires, repurposing barricades as weapons, knocking police officers from horseback and filming their crimes as they committed them.

“We always said we would not give up,” one protester declared as he filmed himself among hundreds of protesters pushing into the Capitol building. “Congress is ours. We are in power.”

For months, protesters had been demanding that the military prevent the newly elected president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from taking office on Jan. 1. Many on the right in Brazil have become convinced, despite the lack of evidence, that October’s election was rigged.

For years, Mr. Bolsonaro had asserted, without any proof, that Brazil’s election systems were rife with fraud and that the nation’s elites were conspiring to remove him from power.

Mr. Lula said Sunday that those false claims had fueled the attack on the plaza, known as Three Powers Square because of the presence of the three branches of government. Mr. Bolsonaro “triggered this,” he said in an address to the nation. “He spurred attacks on the three powers whenever he could. This is also his responsibility.”

WaPo (“Assault on presidential palace, congress challenges Brazil’s democracy“) goes further:

Thousands of radical backers of far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro breached and vandalized Brazil’s presidential office building, Congress and the Supreme Court on Sunday in scenes that hauntingly evoked the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

The attack — the most significant threat to democracy in Latin America’s largest nation since a 1964 military coup — came a week after the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to succeed Bolsonaro. It suggested a spreading plague of far-right disrupters in Western democracies, as hard-liners radicalized by incendiary political rhetoric refuse to accept election losses, cling to unfounded claims of fraud and undermine the rule of law.

Bolsonaristas occupied the National Congress building, many of them sitting or lying on the ground. A flag placed in front of the building read “intervention” — a reference to calls for the military to depose Lula, who defeated Bolsonaro in October.

Most wrapped themselves in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag. Some shouted at police officers, “This is just the beginning” and “May God bless you and prevent you from acting against us patriots.”

Images broadcast by Globo TV showed smashed glass and protesters roaming the halls of the Planalto Palace, the office of the president. In an echo of the behavior of the U.S. insurrectionists, videos shared on social media showed Bolsonaro supporters taking trophies.

Protesters set off fireworks from the roof of Congress. Others waved the yellow and green jersey of the national soccer team — now a symbol of the far right — in the main chamber of the Supreme Federal Court. Bolsonaristas see the powerful court as an adversary.

Thousands more milled about a massive square similar to Washington’s National Mall, waving Brazilian flags and chanting, “God, fatherland, family and liberty.”

As much as I would prefer news organizations separate news reporting, analysis, and opinion, the parallels are really too obvious to ignore. I don’t follow Brazilian politics anything like closely enough to point to the important ways in which Trump and Bolsonaro are different but the populist rhetoric, quasi-facist nationalistic appeals, demonization of the opposition, and stoking of violence after absurdly false claims of stolen elections are eerily familiar.

WaPo foreign correspondent Terrence McCoy explains “How Bolsonaro’s rhetoric — then his silence — stoked Brazil assault.”

For more than four years, the most fundamental of questions has loomed over Brazil: Would its young democracy survive the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro?

Latin America’s largest country embarked on what amounted to a test of its democratic strength in 2018 when it elected the former army captain who openly lamented the collapse of the country’s military dictatorship, once threatened to reinstall its rule on the first day of his presidency and sought at every turn to sow doubt in elections.

During his time in office, he did little to soften his bellicosity. He warned of a government “rupture” like the military coup of 1964. If he were to lose his reelection bid, he said, it could only be through fraud, and Brazil would “have worse problems” than the United States did on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters assaulted the U.S. Capitol.

His son Eduardo, a federal congressman, once warned that “there will arrive a moment when the situation will be the same as it was in the 1960s.”

For many Brazilians, Sunday afternoon was the arrival of such a moment, when Bolsonaro supporters laid siege to the three pillars of the federal government — the presidential palace, the supreme court and the congress — bringing democracy here to a sudden standstill. The scenes of smoke and violence were at once both shocking and predictable, the tragic realization of a prophecy Bolsonaro has repeatedly uttered to mobilize his base and terrify his adversaries.

If I’m removed from power, he often hinted, violence will follow.

“Bolsonaro and the Bolsonaro family have for years talked about attacking the supreme court,” said Esther Solano, a sociologist at the Federal University of São Paulo who studies the president’s supporters. “Then, over the last year, they have said they wouldn’t respect the electoral results. And in recent months, the insurrectionist rhetoric of Bolsonaro and his family gathered even more force.”

Bolsonaro has said little publicly since his loss to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October. He declined to concede, or to discourage the supporters who have camped outside military installations calling for a coup to keep him in power.

He did ask protesters to stop disrupting commerce by blocking roads, and he condemned violence aimed at overturning the election result. But in an echo of Trump, he skipped Lula’s inauguration on Jan. 1, absconding instead to Florida to stay at the Orlando mansion of an MMA fighter.

In a teary farewell before his departure, he called the election result unfair. Now in his sudden absence, his most radical supporters have carried out his rhetoric to its logical, if violent, conclusion.

“This was expected,” said Alexandre Bandeira, a political analyst in Brasília. “This was a ticking time bomb. Bolsonaro’s supporters have decided to repeat the lamentable image for the entire world of the Capitol invasion.”

Bolsonaro condemned the violence in Brasília on Sunday — and found a way to criticize his adversaries.

“Peaceful demonstrations, by law, are part of democracy,” he tweeted, hours after the assault began. “However, depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, were outside of the law.”

From the earliest days of his presidency, he flirted with the most extreme members of his base — a segment of the population that sees such decrepitude in Brazilian society and political structures that it can only be cleansed with the blunt instrument of military force. They view the years of the military dictatorship, which tortured and killed opponents, as a golden era in Brazil — when society was free of corruption and crime.

They found a champion in Bolsonaro, who had hung photos of the regime’s leaders in his congressional office and bemoaned the fact that it hadn’t killed more people when it had the chance. After his rise to power, they repeatedly called on him to clear away all constraints on his authority and bring back military rule. He encouraged and inflamed their protests by attending them.

As his administration accumulated problems — corruption, a crippling coronavirus outbreak that killed nearly 700,000 Brazilians, supreme court investigations into his closest allies — he repeatedly returned to the embrace of his fringe supporters. He threatened the other branches of government and conjured the specter of military intervention if others threatened his grip on power.

“We have the people on our side, and the armed forces are on the side of the people,” he said in March 2020.

And then, he set the stakes.

“The patience of the people has run out,” he declared in September 2021. “I want to tell those who want to make me unelectable in Brazil: Only God removes me from power. There are three options for me: jail, death or victory. And I’m telling the scoundrels, I will never be imprisoned!”

As the election neared, and with polls showing him badly trailing Lula, Bolsonaro again turned to violent rhetoric. He described the election as an epochal struggle between good and evil. He warned that malevolent forces were ready to steal the election from the Brazilian people. He said Lula would bring about the ruin of the country.

“There’s a new type of thief, the ones who want to steal our liberty,” Bolsonaro said in June. “If necessary, we will go to war.”

Then, when the election was over and Lula declared the winner, the endlessly loquacious Bolsonaro did something surprising: He kept his mouth shut. He did little to contest the results of the elections. He made a brief appearance two days after the vote, acknowledging disappointment but declining to concede. His chief of staff then stepped forward to say the president had authorized him to oversee a transition.

Bolsonaro then holed up inside the presidential palace for weeks, reportedly despondent over his loss, before leaving the country as Lula was set to take power.

In that silence, analysts say, the most radical members of Bolsonaro’s base have gained a foothold. They closed down highways. They camped in front of military bases, calling on commanders to stage a coup to keep him in power.

I must admit, following Brazil’s politics only when they make headlines here, that I was fooled by Bolsonaro’s initial calm into thinking he was better than Trump in ultimately putting his country ahead of himself. Alas, not so much.

The Hill (“Texas Democrat calls for US authorities to extradite Bolsonaro back to Brazil“):

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called on the Biden administration and local authorities in Florida on Sunday to send back to Brazil its former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose supporters stormed the country’s Congress and Supreme Court.

“[Bolsonaro] should be extradited to Brazil,” Castro said to CNN’s Jim Acosta. “In fact, it was reported that he was under investigation for corruption and fled Brazil to the United States. He’s a dangerous man, they should send him back to his home country, Brazil.”

[…]

“Bolsonaro should not be in Florida,” he added. “The United States should not be a refuge for this authoritarian, who has inspired domestic terrorism in Brazil. He should be sent back to Brazil.”

President Biden also condemned the violence in Brazil Sunday, saying that he will continue to work with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and that Brazil’s democratic institutions have the United States’ “full support.”

“I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil,” Biden said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined.”

Bolsonaro certainly doesn’t qualify for asylum. If Lula’s government wants him back for a trial—and the attendant risk of more violence—we should accommodate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    Whoever organized this is a goddam moron. Attempt a coup after the opponent has already been seated and placed in charge of the military, and the former president you want to reinstate isn’t even on the same continent?

    12
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Kylopod:

    No one has ever accused the run of the mill rightest as being critical thinkers. Moron is a more than apt description.

    3
  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    I suspect we’re going to learn that the links between this and 1/6 aren’t merely metaphorical

    5
  4. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    Egged on by Trump, Bannon, Musk, et al.

    2
  5. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’d say their incompetence is their best feature, but Putin’s incompetence has caused untold misery, death, and suffering already.

    1
  6. BugManDan says:

    Bolsonaro certainly doesn’t qualify for asylum

    Maybe we can save fuel and put him and George Santos on the same flight!!

    6
  7. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: Putin may have done an incompetent job in his attack on Ukraine, but he did successfully take over and become the dictator of a previously democratic country. He knows something about the way power works. And even regarding the Ukraine invasion, while there was plenty of incompetence and hubris involved, I wouldn’t call it stupidity. Even most foreign-policy experts have been surprised at the effectiveness of Ukraine in fending off the Russian attack.

    4
  8. gVOR08 says:

    I wish our 1/6 Bozos had stormed the Supreme Court building. Maybe the Federalists would have learned something about the perils of pandering to their faux populist base.

    1
  9. Gustopher says:

    As much as I would prefer news organizations separate news reporting, analysis, and opinion, the parallels are really too obvious to ignore. I don’t follow Brazilian politics anything like closely enough to point to the important ways in which Trump and Bolsonaro are different but the populist rhetoric, quasi-facist nationalistic appeals, demonization of the opposition, and stoking of violence after absurdly false claims of stolen elections are eerily familiar.

    Also eerily familiar: many of the people advising Bolsonaro.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/11/23/brazil-bolsonaro-bannon/

    Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, has visited Florida since the Oct. 30 vote, meeting Trump at Mar-a-Lago and strategizing with other political allies by phone. He spoke with former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who was in Arizona assisting the campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, about the power of the pro-Bolsonaro protests and potential challenges to the Brazilian election results, Bannon said. He lunched in South Florida with former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller, now CEO of the social media company Gettr, and discussed online censorship and free speech, Miller said.

    It’s like a badly written conspiracy theory. Our failure to take care of our trash has had pretty significant consequences.

  10. Kathy says:

    One potentially positive aspect here, is that Brazilians don’t shy away from prosecuting former presidents, or Jair in this case. Hell, Lula was jailed for years on phony charges. Leaving this imitation of a Pathetic Putsch aside, Jair faes other legal perils.

    You’ll notice, too, hundreds of rioters were arrested on the spot, rather than allowed to go home.

  11. CSK says:

    Latest report: Bolsonaro is hospitalized in Florida with severe stomach pains.

  12. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/zackbeauchamp/status/1612243900348960768

    Usually it’s wrong to interpret foreign events through American analogies, but what’s happening in Brazil is an exception. The far-right there has very explicit and direct links to their American peers; there’s a reason Jair Bolsonaro is currently camped out in Florida

    When I say direct links, I mean really, really direct

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/11/23/brazil-bolsonaro-bannon/

    Trump aides Bannon, Miller advising the Bolsonaros on next steps

    Some allies and advisers want the Brazilian president to contest his election loss to Lula. Others want a global fight over free speech.

    =========================

    RIO DE JANEIRO — While tens of thousands of supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro camp outside military facilities across Brazil to protest his election loss, members of Bolsonaro’s inner circle are meeting with advisers to former president Donald Trump to discuss next steps.

    Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, has visited Florida since the Oct. 30 vote, meeting Trump at Mar-a-Lago and strategizing with other political allies by phone. He spoke with former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who was in Arizona assisting the campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, about the power of the pro-Bolsonaro protests and potential challenges to the Brazilian election results, Bannon said. He lunched in South Florida with former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller, now CEO of the social media company Gettr, and discussed online censorship and free speech, Miller said.

    So an international conspiracy involving diverse nations.

  13. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Leon Skum is there for them too.

    https://twitter.com/jsrailton/status/1612186668836048897

    12/ Musk’s takeover was a boon for right-wing Twitter in #Brazil.

    #Bolsonaro called the acquisition a “breath of hope.”

    This afternoon the platform is saturated with pro-insurrection content.

    13/ “It’s the start of a relationship which I’m sure will soon end in marriage” – #Bolsonaro on Musk.

    It will be very interesting to see what comes next from the platform’s CEO

  14. charon says:

    You could view this and Jan 6 as proof of concept – a bit like the “Beer Hall Putsch.”

    2
  15. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Maybe his xenomorph parasite has had enough.

  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    @CSK:

    Latest report: Bolsonaro is hospitalized in Florida with severe stomach pains.

    I’M COMING, ELIZABETH, IT’S THE BIG ONE!!!

    2
  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon: You know, unless someone here discusses their age I don’t really think about it, but either “Sanford and Son” is enjoying a moment, or you are closer to my age than I would have guessed….

  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I’m in my mid 40s

  19. Mike Burke says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Put me in mind of the recent PBS Frontline documentary about Bolsonaro, which includes interviews with Steve Bannon about the symbiosis between the Trump and Bolsonaro campaigns. You can’t tell me Bolsonaro’s time in Florida wasn’t spent in part coordinating with the former president’s folks.
    https://www.pbs.org/show/rise-bolsonaros/