On Sunday, thousands of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right former president of Brazil who lost re-election last year, stormed the main government buildings of the capital Brasilia. In a scene eerily reminiscent of the Jan. 6, 2020, insurrection in Washington, D.C., the right-wing rioters broke into the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace. Bolsonaro is a close ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump, and Bolsonaro and his supporters have, like Trump, pushed false narratives that opponents stole recent elections.
1. A close election led to Jan. 8 insurrection in Brazil
In October, Bolsonaro lost a close election to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist former president who recently returned to politics after having been previously jailed on corruption charges. For weeks after the election, Bolsonaro supporters have been going online and spreading conspiracy theories about the election being stolen, even repeating a Portuguese version of Trump’s “stop the steal” slogan. The Brazilian protestors also used social media to call protestors to the capital city, where they have been camping out for weeks and occasionally clashing with police.
On Sunday, two days after the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection in Washington, they ransacked the main government buildings of Brasilia. President Lula was not in Brasilia on Sunday, and the facilities were mainly empty when protestors invaded and inflicted significant damage. Reports include rioters breaking and stealing government property, urinating and defecating in the halls of the presidential palace, and attempting to set a fire within Congress. Brazilian police and military forces eventually cleared the buildings and arrested 1500 rioters for what President Lula has described as “terrorist acts.” Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has denied involvement in the attacks.
2. Close ties between ex-presidents of Brazil and the United States
Bolsonaro and Trump were close allies during their overlapping time in office; both promoted a far-right, white supremacist-friendly and potentially fascist brand of politics. After Trump lost and relentlessly claimed election fraud without evidence, Bolsonaro officials, including his son Eduardo, began meeting with Trump’s inner circle to craft a narrative about the Brazilian election potentially being “stolen.” Further highlighting the closeness of the two leaders, Bolsonaro has been staying in Florida, where Trump retired after leaving the White House, though the two have reportedly not been in contact in the new year.
Still, Bolsonaro and his supporters have been modeling their moves closely after Trump and his Make American Great Again supporters. Even with Sunday’s riot in Brazil, Trump supporters still support Bolsonaro and his supporters. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who has played a significant role in spreading pro-Trump propaganda, threw his support behind the Brazilian rioters, claiming that “Lula stole the Election… Brazilians know this.” Another of Trump’s prominent election conspiracy theorists, Ali Alexander, egged on the Brazilian mob to “Do whatever is necessary!”
Calm has returned to Brazil for the moment, but tensions there, like in the United States, remain high. With far-right politics and violence continuing to simmer in the United States, Brazil and several other countries, the dangers of repeated violence – and the importance of legal accountability for those responsible – remain high.