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- The attack on Brazil’s capital came after Bolsonaro closely followed Trump’s election playbook.
- Like Trump, the Brazilian leader riled up his supporters with baseless claims of election fraud.
- One Brazilian security expert described the attack as “an insurrection foretold.”
Just over two years after a deadly assault on the US Capitol, supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — incensed over his election defeat and refusing to accept the results — stormed the Congress, presidential palace, and Supreme Court in Brasília. Though security forces regained control of the buildings, January 8 is being described as one of the worst assaults on Brazil’s democracy in nearly four decades.
The attack in Brazil’s capital came after Bolsonaro followed a near-identical playbook to that of former US President Donald Trump in the lead-up to the fatal January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. in 2021.
Bolsonaro, like Trump, spread baseless claims of voter fraud ahead of Brazil’s presidential election — sowing doubts about the integrity of the electoral process. And, much like Trump, Bolsonaro refused to concede after he was defeated and would go on to skip the inauguration of his successor. Bolsonaro’s supporters have also been protesting since election day, with some calling for military intervention.
In the run-up to Brazil’s election, pundits and experts warned that Bolsonaro’s rhetoric was setting the stage for the South American country to see its own version of the January 6 riot.
“The storming of Brazil’s democratic institutions by a violent mob was an insurrection foretold” and “telegraphed in advance,” Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Igarape Institute, a Rio de Janeiro-based think tank, told Insider.
“The parallels between this week’s violent protests in Brazil and the US insurrection two years ago are anything but coincidence,” he added, characterizing Bolsonaro as a “fawning admirer” of Trump.
“As in the US, a central grievance of Brazil’s far-right protesters was that the elections were somehow ‘stolen’ from them,” Muggah said. “Their claims may have no substance, but they hardly come as a surprise: former president Jair Bolsonaro, his three elected sons, and a clutch of advisers and influencers spoon-fed supporters a steady diet of disinformation and misinformation for years.”
Many of those involved in the mayhem in Brasília on Sunday behaved similarly to the pro-Trump insurrectionists on January 6, he said, describing them as “rank amateurs.”
“They spent much of their time trashing offices and taking selfies, including with several state military police officers who seemed reluctant to intervene,” Muggah said.
There were also key differences between January 6, 2021 in the US and the tumultuous events in Brazil’s capital on January 8, including the fact Bolsonaro was not physically present in Brasília on the day of the attack and was no longer president. The former Brazilian president is currently in Orlando, Florida. Trump was still in office during the January 6 riot and delivered a speech filled with falsehoods about the 2020 election right before his supporters stormed the Capitol building.
The January 6 events also occurred as US lawmakers met to certify the 2020 election results — prior to US President Joe Biden’s inauguration. When Bolsonaro’s supporters rioted on Sunday, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had already been sworn in as Brazil’s new president the week before.
But there are still clear connections between the two days of political violence and the circumstances surrounding them, raising concerns about the increasingly global nature of the far-right movement and its anti-democratic activities.
Valentina Sader, the associate director at the Atlantic Council’s Latin America Center, said that the attack in Brazil’s capital on all three branches of government was “inspired by the United States’ January 6 riots” and that the US and the West “should see what happened in Brazil as yet another failed attempt by the extreme right to undermine democracy.”
Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro clash with security forces as they raid the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, 08 January 2023. Groups shouting slogans demanding intervention from the army broke through the police barrier and entered the Congress building, according to local media. Police intervened with tear gas to disperse pro-Bolsonaro protesters. Some demonstrators were seen climbing onto the roofs of the House of Representatives and Senate buildings. (Photo by Joedson Alves/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Joedson Alves/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
“The links between Bolsonaro and Trump are really direct and obvious,” Brian Klaas, a political scientist and expert on authoritarianism at University College London, said Monday in a social media post. “Steve Bannon and Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jair’s son, are clear conduits for sharing strategies and talking tactics. And they don’t even hide it. It was in plain sight.”
Indeed, there have for years been close ties between Trump and Bolsonaro, who is often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal congressman and the former Brazilian president’s son, traveled to Florida after Brazil’s presidential election and met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. He was also advised by former Trump aides Steve Bannon and Jason Miller during the visit to Florida, according to reporting from the Washington Post. Bannon, among the most incendiary and controversial voices on the US far right, has cast doubt on the results of Brazil’s election and referred to the Bolsonaro supporters involved in Sunday’s violence as “freedom fighters.”
“One of the many lessons emerging from the Brazilian protests is that democracy can and should not be taken for granted,” Muggah said. “The very buildings that were ransacked by protestors on Sunday were the settings for a jubilant inauguration less than a week earlier.”
“Too often, democracies start unraveling when large segments of the population lose faith in institutions and mistrust elected authorities,” he added, underscoring threats to democracy and how the degradation of democratic institutions can be accelerated not just by political leaders but also by disinformation — as was also the case on January 6.