Supporters of Brazil’s far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday invaded the country’s Congress, presidential palace and Supreme Court, in a grim echo of the U.S. Capitol invasion two years ago by fans of former President Donald Trump. Leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro in the most fraught election in a generation last year, announced a federal security intervention in Brasilia lasting until Jan. 31 after capital security forces initially were overwhelmed by the invaders.
In a press conference, he blamed Bolsonaro, and complained about a lack of security in the capital, saying authorities had allowed “fascists” and “fanatics” to wreak havoc. “These vandals, who we could call fanatical Nazis, fanatical Stalinists … fanatical fascists, did what has never been done in the history of this country,” said Lula, who was on an official trip to Sao Paulo state. “All these people who did this will be found and they will be punished.”
The sight of thousands of yellow-and-green clad protesters running riot in the capital capped months of tension following the Oct. 30 vote. Bolsonaro, an acolyte of Trump’s who has yet to concede defeat, peddled the false claim that Brazil’s electronic voting system was prone to fraud, spawning a violent movement of election deniers. Around 6.30 p.m. local time, some three hours after the initial reports of the invasion, security forces managed to retake the three buildings, GloboNews reported. TV images showed dozens of rioters being led away in handcuffs.
The invasion poses an immediate problem for Lula, who was only inaugurated on Jan. 1 and has pledged to unite a nation torn apart by Bolsonaro’s nationalist populism. Television images showed protesters breaking into the Supreme Court and Congress, chanting slogans and smashing furniture. Local media estimated about 3,000 people were involved. There was no immediate word from Bolsonaro, who has barely spoken in public since losing the election. He left Brazil for Florida 48 hours before the end of his mandate and was absent from Lula’s inauguration.
“This genocidist … is encouraging this via social media from Miami,” Lula said, referring to Bolsonaro. “Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this.” The violent scenes in Brasilia could amplify the legal risks to Bolsonaro, who has so far not commented on the invasions. The Bolsonaro family lawyer, Frederick Wassef, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Supreme Court, whose crusading Justice Alexandre de Moraes has been a thorn in the side of Bolsonaro and his supporters, was ransacked by the occupiers, according to social media images that showed protesters shattering the windows of the modernist building. Video widely shared on social media showed a policeman knocked off his horse by shouting demonstrators armed with sticks.
Brasilia Governor Ibaneis Rocha wrote on Twitter that 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. The U.S. government, which for months has sought to urge Bolsonaro to stop sowing unfounded election doubts, came out firmly in defense of Brazil’s democratic institutions as did a bevvy of other foreign leaders.
“We condemn the attacks on Brazil’s Presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter. “Using violence to attack democratic institutions is always unacceptable. We join Lula in urging an immediate end to these actions.” On Saturday, with rumors of a confrontation brewing, Justice Minister Flávio Dino authorized the deployment of the National Public Security Force. On Sunday, he wrote on Twitter, “this absurd attempt to impose the will by force will not prevail.”
In Washington in 2021, Trump supporters attacked police, broke through barricades and stormed the Capitol in a failed effort to prevent congressional certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Trump, who has announced a third bid for the presidency, in 2024, had pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, not to certify the vote, and he continues to claim falsely that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread fraud.
In Brasilia there have been at least three accounts of protesters assaulting journalists, according to the Brasilia journalists’ union, which cited unconfirmed reports.
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