On Sunday, January 8th, 2023, thousands of angry Brazilian patriots stormed the capital, flooding the National Congress and other epicenters of Brazilian politics. These protesters, infuriated by the corrupt initial presidential election and subsequent run-off election in November that left the reactionary figure, Jair Bolsonaro “defeated” and returned the keys of the Brazilian government to the corrupt establishment candidate and convicted criminal Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The run-off election occurred on October 30th of the past year, and much like the American presidential election of 2020, the conservative candidate, Bolsonaro, experienced a series of abnormalities in the voting count that signal an election rife with fraud.
The runoff election was covered by Daily Veracity as it unfolded. The article describes that the Brazilian electoral system is prime for fraudulent practices, as Brazil holds a mandatory voting policy requiring all citizens to participate in the voting process in order to gain government employment, obtain a passport, enter a public university, or receive a government loan. This voting structure, coupled with the substantial portion of Brazil’s population that is poor and illiterate, the result, historically, has been that ballots—often left blank—are easily manipulated and susceptible to ballot harvesting operations.
As the article discusses at length, recent electoral fraud should not be surprising considering Brazil’s long history of political corruption which has been endemic throughout nearly every presidential regime in the last four decades of Brazilian democracy.
During his tenure in office, President Bolsonaro frequently criticized Brazil’s corrupt elections. At times, Bolsonaro pointed out the suspicious behavior of election officials who count votes in secret—suggesting manipulation of the voting results. Moreover, Bolsonaro has articulated his belief that suspects attempted to steal the election in 2018, though they were unsuccessful in doing so.
According to a New York Times article preceding Brazil’s national run-off election,
“In speeches, interviews, and hundreds of posts on social media, the president has consistently and methodically repeated [these specific election fraud claims] and many others about Brazil’s voting system. The result has been a yearslong campaign that has undermined millions of Brazilians’ faith in elections that underpin one of the world’s largest democracies.”
Furthermore, the Times article adds that according to a poll conducted prior to the run-off election, “three out of four of Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters said they have little or no trust in Brazil’s voting machines.”
Clearly, this Brazilian election mirrors very closely the events of the 2020 American presidential election, and many commentators have pointed out the similarity. Like Donald Trump’s lead-up to the election in 2020, Bolsonaro consistently mentioned the potential for fraud in the upcoming election—clearly aware of his opponents’ plot. However, on the fateful night of the run-off election, October 3oth, Bolsonaro’s consistent warning of inevitable fraud was not enough to overcome the counterattack; and the beloved Brazilian hero, affectionately called “Legend,” was defeated.
Following this defeat, many speculated that Bolsonaro would act alongside the military to stop the illegitimate coup against his presidential power, citing Article 142 of the Brazilian Constitution. This was not wild speculation, as Bolsonaro has a long history of good standing with the Brazilian military, being a former army captain and accruing many allies within the military for his positive comments about the military dictatorship that existed in Brazil before the transition to democratic governance in 1985. Moreover, Bolsonaro outright enlisted the military as a force in the election, (at least rhetorically), preceding the voting process.
According to the New York Times, last summer President Bolsonaro, “invited the armed forces to participate in the electoral process,” calling on the Brazilian military to watch over the election, even suggesting that the military conduct a parallel vote.
Furthermore, Bolsonaro was quoted as saying, “A new class of thieves has emerged who want to steal our freedom. If necessary, we will go to war.”
Following the run-off election, Bolsonaro supporters took to the streets, protesting the result by blocking highways and demanding that the military intervene to preserve Bolsonaro’s reign. Additionally, in a short speech addressed to his supporters, Bolsonaro stated that the army is the last barrier to socialism, and a week later called an urgent meeting with the top officials in the Brazilian Armed Forces.
And it is with this context, that many wondered if Bolsonaro would make a military play to remain in power and stave off the counteroffensive launched against his reactionary movement.
However, on December 12, 2022, Lula’s election win was certified by the Brazilian electoral court, and the opportunity for challenges to the electoral outcome ended. And on January 1st, 2023, Lula was sworn in as the new President at the National Congress, all the while Bolsonaro was hiding out in Central Florida.
And it is with this background that one can begin to understand the scene of January 8th. On this fateful day, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters draped in the national colors of green and yellow, descended upon the National Congress, the Supreme Court building, and the Presidential Palace. These protestors spilled into the halls of the major government buildings, smashing windows, vandalizing artwork, and forming furniture barricades against security forces.
According to the Brazilian Presidential Communications Minister, the protestors were “running down hallways, smashing things, urinating, defecating in the corridors and in the rooms on one destruction spree,” trashing the halls of Brazilian political power.
Naturally, many are drawing the obvious comparison to the notorious events of January 6th, 2021, when thousands of American patriots stormed the Capitol building. In one clear distinction, however, the Brazilian government was not in session during the Brazilian version of the capital storming, and very few government employees were present during the riot.
Moreover, the Bolsonaro supporters present at the protests were evidently infuriated with Brazilian police forces, who presumably in the minds of the protesters are traitorous agents of an illegitimate regime. In one viral clip, dozens of rioters can be seen with clubs beating a mounted police officer off of his horse and dragging him down into the crazed mob.
After several hours, government forces were able to regain control of the buildings and began carrying out arrests. On the day, 400 rioters were reported to have been arrested, and by Monday, once the military swooped in to defend the institutions against the mob, (rather than stage a coup as the Bolsonaro protestors advocated), the Brazilian Justice Minister informed reporters that “about 1,500” arrests had taken place since the Sunday riot.
Unsurprisingly, the Brazilian capital storming earned condemnation by all the strongest figureheads for Democracy™:
Joe Biden had this to say in a Sunday tweet:
I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil. Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined. I look forward to continuing to work with [President Lula].
Justin Trudeau tweeted:
Respecting the democratic will of the people is paramount in any democracy – including Brazil. Canada strongly condemns the violent behavior on display there today, and we reaffirm our support for [President Lula] and Brazil’s democratic institutions.
President Lula swore to punish the protestors, tweeting:
The terrorists who promote the destruction of public spaces in Brasília are being identified and punished. Tomorrow we will resume work at the Presidential Palace. Democracy forever. Goodnight.”
Additionally, it is notable that while the capital takeover was taking place in Brazil, the leader in exile, Jair Bolsonaro, was coincidentally rushed to a Florida hospital due to “abdominal pain”. It will be interesting to monitor the revolutionary leader’s health going forward.