Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil’s seat of power

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro storm the Planalto presidential palace while clashing with security forces in Brasília on January 8, in a dramatic protest against current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s inauguration last week. | Sergio Lima/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of Brazilians breached federal buildings just a week after Lula’s inauguration.

Supporters of populist former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace Sunday, a week after Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was sworn in as Brazil’s new president.

Thousands of people loyal to the right-wing Bolsonaro broke through police barricades and entered the Congress and Supreme Court buildings. Bolsonaro’s supporters — called Bolsonaristas — also surrounded the presidential palace, calling for Lula’s resignation, though the president was on an official state trip to Araquara and not in the capital, Brasília. Congress was also on recess, leaving the building mostly empty.

Lula made an official statement at 4 pm ET, saying he would sign an emergency decree, in effect till January 31, allowing the federal government to implement “any measures necessary” to calm the unrest in the capital.

“They took advantage of the silence on Sunday, when we are still setting up the government, to do what they did,” Lula’s account tweeted Sunday. “And you know that there are several speeches by the former president encouraging this. And this is also his responsibility and the parties that supported him.”

Videos of Bolsonaristas draped in yellow flags and sitting at the desks of lawmakers appeared on Twitter Sunday afternoon in a scene reminiscent of the January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol building by right-wing supporters of former US President Donald Trump. Throughout the afternoon, protesters destroyed windows in the Supreme Court building, flew the Brazilian imperial flag above the Congress building, set fire to a carpet in the lower house of Congress, looted gifts from foreign dignitaries, and reportedly attacked a photojournalist from the news outlet Metropoles.

Police forces at the capitol initially used tear gas against the protesters; however, that failed to deter protesters and drove the guards to seek cover behind the building. The Brazilian Armed Forces and anti-riot police, as well as the entire police force of the state of Brasília, have been called up in an attempt to quell the protests, but as of this writing, the Bolsonaristas remain in the federal buildings.

By 3:30 pm Eastern time, dozens of army officers had arrived on the scene, some storming the presidential offices; two helicopters also hovered above the presidential offices, with officers aboard deploying what New York Times reporter André Spigariol described as tear gas canisters and anti-riot ammunition.

Similar to rioters who stormed the US Capitol building almost exactly two years ago, the Bolsonaristas are animated by the belief that Brazil’s 2022 elections were rigged, and that Bolsonaro is the true winner of the election. Bolsonaro has been in the United States since Lula’s January 1, 2023, inauguration and has not yet publicly commented on the situation.

Lula won a runoff election against Bolsonaro last October, marking a return to power after a stint in prison on corruption charges. Lula, a left-wing former president who helped raise the standard of living for millions of Brazilians by strengthening the country’s social programs, first served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010. He was in prison from 2018 to 2021.

Bolsonaro repeatedly intimated that the election was rigged or unfair, and instructed his followers to “go to war” if Lula “stole” the election. Even before Lula’s victory in the second round of elections, Bolsonaro’s supporters were protesting, camping out near military bases and pleading with the armed forces to step in and keep Bolsonaro in power by preventing Lula’s inauguration. Other protests involved blockades of roads and highways, including blockades by semi truck drivers, after Bolsonaro posted a video of himself driving a tractor, a semi, and a bus, which was interpreted by some of his supporters as encouragement.

“Whoever did this will be found and punished,” Lula tweeted. “Democracy guarantees the right to free expression, but it also requires people to respect institutions. There is no precedent in the history of the country what they did today. For that they must be punished.”

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