While the former president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, was on vacation in Florida, a group of his most loyal fans began what has been deemed the worst assault against Brazilian state institutions since democratization. On January 8, at 3 p.m., in Brasília, three thousand Bolsonaristas stormed the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace. Videos on social media show participants vandalizing all three buildings, ripping doors off their hinges, smashing windows, and destroying artwork. The group called for Lula’s incarceration, likely alluding to the corruption case he faced following his previous election in 2003. The rioters had been camped outside the military base since October, begging the army to stage a coup. No state officials were in the building during the attack and President Lula was in São Paulo visiting a recently flooded city.
The attack occurred a week after President Lula officially entered office. In October of 2022, he defeated former president Bolsonaro in the general elections by a tight two percent. Nevertheless, Bolsonaro has not formally conceded and has refused to pass on the ceremonial sash. Bolsonaro also tried to stop the election, criticizing the “integrity of the automatic voting system,” as explained by Financial Times. Lula accused the former president of “inciting” the riots, which he denied. He also condemned the violent methods of his aficionados, according to The Economist. The former president is currently hospitalized in Florida due to intestinal problems from a previous stab wound. For many, the claims of fraudulent voting and far-right rioters ring familiar to scenes seen on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
The protests at the capital continued as police arrived with stun grenades and pepper spray. The police’s reaction was heavily criticized by countless national officials, and according to Financial Times, was “too little, too late.” In videos posted online, police are seen taking pictures with rioters, laughing, and filming the chaos. When the head of police asked Brasília Governor Ibaneis Rocha– an ally of Bolsonaro– for backup, he responded hours later. Members of the Brazilian Forum on Public Security say that the police were likely aware that the riots would take place. Because of this, politicians and judiciary officials began critiquing both the demonstrators and the police efforts used. The president of the Workers’ Party expressed that the governor of Brasília and his security team “are responsible for what happens.” Shortly after, the governor fired his secretary of security, who now faces charges in the Supreme Court.
As of now, police have arrested 700 rioters and individuals linked to the attack, and 1200 people have been called in for questioning. Brazil’s politicians have issued arrest warrants for two government officials and asked for Bolsonaro’s assets to be frozen. Lula believes that prominent figures behind the riots work for the country’s large agribusiness sector. The financiers, organizers, and methods of the attack are currently under investigation. The chief of justice of the Supreme Court called the protestors “terrorists,” and assured that they, and all those involved, would be “tried and exemplary punished.”
Cover image by: Bloomberg