In what seems like a Brazilian reprise of the January 6th, 2021 assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol buildings, thousands of supporters of defeated president Jain Bolsonaro stormed the government institutions of Brazil yesterday, ransacking the buildings and committing many acts of vandalism.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has ordered the federal government to take control of policing in Brazil’s capital, Brasília, after hundreds of hardcore supporters of the former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s congress, presidential palace and supreme court.
The massed attack was a stunning security breach that was immediately compared to the 6 January invasion of the US Capitol by followers of Donald Trump in 2021.
“What we are witnessing is a terrorist attack,” the news anchor Erick Bang announced on the GloboNews television network as word of the upheaval spread. “The three buildings have been invaded by coup-mongering terrorists.”
Shocking video footage showed the pro-Bolsonaro militants sprinting up the ramp into the Palácio do Planalto, the presidential offices, roaming the building’s corridors and vandalising the nearby supreme court, whose windows had been smashed.
Videos posted on social media showed fires burning inside the congress building. Furniture was broken and tossed around, objects were reportedly stolen in the presidential palace and the supreme court, and in some places sprinklers appeared to be dousing chambers.
There are many similarities to what happened in the US. The ousted Bolosonaro, like Trump, has so far refused to concede that he lost the election. Like Trump, he skipped the inauguration ceremony for his successor, choosing instead to flee to Florida. What is not clear is what triggered this riot or what the rioters hoped to achieve. The three institutions were not in operation and there was nothing of significance taking place. Were they hoping to trigger a military coup?
But observers have said that Bolsonaro and his allies had studied the US situation closely, trying to find reasons why Trump’s attempts to overturn the election had failed.
Observers have spent months warning that Bolsonaro hardliners might stage a South American version of the US’s Capitol invasion in the hope of overturning Lula’s win. During his tumultuous four-year administration, Bolsonaro repeatedly hinted that a military takeover might be in the works and battled to undermine Brazil’s internationally respected electronic voting system.
“Bolsonaro and his team have looked very closely at what happened on January 6 trying to understand why it was that a sitting president failed in his effort to overturn election results,” the former US ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon, told the Guardian before last year’s election.
Bolsonaro has distanced himself from the rioters, though not unequivocally condemning them.
“Peaceful demonstrations, within the law, form part of democracy,” he wrote on Twitter. “However, depredations and invasions of public buildings like those that happened today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, are exceptions to the rule.”
He stopped short of condemning the mob outright and instead hit out at Lula’s claims he was responsible.
The riot started at about 3:30 pm on Sunday local time. The local military police seemed to be feeble in their initial response.
Military police in Brasília were conspicuous by their absence on Sunday and the mobs faced little opposition as they marched towards the three branches of government.
Lula said capital law enforcement bodies showed “incompetence, bad faith or malice” and promised swift action. He vowed to return to the capital on Sunday and visit the three buildings under attack.
da Silva ordered in the military who quickly took control and within three hours security forces had retaken the buildings and arrested hundreds of people. Authorities have vowed to punish all those responsible.
Rocha, the Brasilia governor, said he had fired his top security official, Anderson Torres, previously Bolsonaro’s justice minister. The solicitor general’s office said it had filed a request for the arrest of Torres.
Torres told website UOL he was with his family on holiday in the United States and had not met with Bolsonaro. UOL reported he was in Orlando, where Bolsonaro is now staying.
The riot has triggered widespread international condemnation and calls within the US to extradite Bolsonaro to Brazil, though Brazil has not as yet called for it.