On Sunday, thousands of supporters of Brazil’s right-wing former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed government buildings in the capital of Brasília in opposition to the results of its October runoff election, which they falsely believe was stolen. In a scene terrifyingly echoing the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, videos depicted protesters overwhelming police barricades and breaking glass to enter Congress.
To someone who cares about the rule of law, this looks like an attempted coup. But the U.S. far-right has since 2020 made it clear that the only elections they’ll accept are the ones where their preferred candidate wins. On Sunday, they made clear that that philosophy extends to Brazil.
It didn’t take long before the right-wing spin machine went on attack. Shortly after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva rightly — though by an uncomfortably thin margin — won the election on Oct. 30, Tucker Carlson took to his Fox program to question the results. “There are a lot of questions about this election — whether all the ballots were counted for example, and Bolsonaro has not conceded. But question[ing] the election results in Brazil is no longer allowed there, or even here,” he said, criticizing YouTube and other social media sites who prohibit content that advances false claims. He accused YouTube of “taking sides,” and in a pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment, ridiculously called the company’s decision to not spread disinformation “propaganda.”
Known as the “Trump of the Tropics,” Bolsonaro endorsed his fellow autocrat Trump in 2020 and Trump endorsed him in kind during his failed election run last year. So it’s unsurprising that Trump supporters have happily aided to eradicate trust in Brazil’s election.
“Take to the streets, brothers of Brazil!” Ali Alexander, a far-right activist who organized “Stop the Steal” events after Trump lost, wrote on Trump’s social media app, Truth Social, following the election results. “Military standby. Peacefully and patriotically!”
On Sunday, following the rioters storming Brazil’s government buildings, he called the National Supreme Court of Brazil “illegitimate” and told supporters to “do whatever is necessary.” In a follow-up post, he wrote: “I do NOT denounce unannounced impromptu Capitol tours by the people” along with sharing a Brazilian flag emoji.
But the stage was set long before the runoff election took place. Mere hours after the first round of elections results in early October (neither candidate achieved the 50 percent of votes necessary to win on Oct. 2), Trump took to his Truth Social platform to encourage Bolsonaro voters and give himself props for endorsing him, writing: “Give Truth Social a lot of credit for the incredible win for President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil in making it into the run off for a new term.”
Trump and Bolsonaro bolstered each other’s false claims of stolen elections in the U.S. and Brazil respectively, sowing doubt among some in the electorate, particularly via more fringe social media sites like Truth Social, Gettr, and Gab. Claims of faulty electronic voting machines have also been perpetuated by conspiracy theorists such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
Bolsonaro has been questioning the validity of electronic voting machines for years. He had made claims of voter fraud in Brazilian elections, which instilled fear in citizens who had lost faith in the system and gave rise to the concern after he lost the race that he might challenge the results as ended up the case, and cause a potential coup. And in the weeks following his loss to Lula, Bolsonaro’s supporters have indeed called for a coup.
On Sunday, at least 200 people were arrested in connection with the riot at press time, according to The New York Times.
President Biden showed his support for Brazil and Lula in a statement. “I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil,” he tweeted on Sunday evening. “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 @LulaOficial.”