Images eerily evocative of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol came out of Brazil as thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed government buildings in the capital of Brasília on Sunday. According to The New York Times, protesters breached Brazil’s Congress, presidential offices, and Supreme Court believing Bolsonaro’s baseless claims that the recent presidential election was stolen from him.
Hours later, authorities reported that the military police had regained control of Brasília’s Three Powers Square, where the Presidential Palace, Congress, and the Supreme Court are located. Police used tear gas to disperse rioters who had assembled at the Justice Ministry, per The Times. At least 200 people were arrested. At least eight journalists were attacked or robbed while covering the incident, according to Union of Professional Journalists of the Federal District.
President Joe Biden condemned the attacks as an “assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil” in a statement issued Sunday evening. “Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to work with” current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Biden has previously said that Lula’s election was “free, fair, and credible.”
Much like former U.S. President Donald Trump, the right-wing populist Bolsonaro has claimed for years that his country’s elections are riddled with fraud, claims many elections officials, election security experts and fact-checkers have adamantly refuted. Bolsonaro has even alleged that detractors attempted and failed to steal the election from him in 2018. For months since Bolsonaro’s defeat by Lula on Nov. 1, his supporters have been calling for a coup. Trump allies Steve Bannon and Jason Miller have reportedly been advising Bolsonaro since his defeat, and his son, Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, has reportedly met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
Similar to the U.S. insurrection, videos show protestors overwhelming police barricades and breaking glass to enter Congress. Unlike the U.S. insurrection, however, Congress was not heavily occupied by lawmakers or their staff ahead of the attack, as it was not in session. Lula was in São Paulo when the event began, although officials were working in the presidential palace, CNN Brasil reported.
Lula signed an emergency decree that would let the federal government use “any means necessary” to restore order, and also ordered the closure of the center of the capital for 24 hours, as BBC reports.
“They took advantage of the silence on Sunday, when we are still setting up the government, to do what they did,” Lula tweeted, translated from Portuguese. “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.” Lula surveyed the damage around 10 p.m. on Sunday local time, alongside some of his top ministers.
Bolsonaro denied responsibility for the incident, writing on Twitter that the accusation was “without evidence” and also wrote, translated from Portuguese, “Peaceful demonstrations, in the form of the law, are part of democracy. However, depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, escape the rule.”
Earlier in the day, one livestreaming protester said, “This is a historic moment,” per The Times, calling the event “the invasion — the invasion, no, the occupation — of the national Congress.”
“Give a like and subscribe to my channel, guys,” the streamer added.
Bolsonaro has refused to concede the election. Two days before his term ended and Lula became president, Bolsonaro delivered a video message to supporters and then left the country for Florida, skipping the traditional presidential inauguration and handover of power last Sunday. According to Reuters, Bolsonaro may have fled Brazil in part because once Lula became president, Bolsonaro’s presidential immunity would come to an end.
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As protesters stormed government buildings, the president of Brazil’s Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, issued a statement saying he was in contact with Brasília’s governor who told him the entire state’s police force was being deployed “to control the situation,” the Times reported. “I’m vehemently against these antidemocratic actions which should be punished according to law urgently,” Pacheco said. Another Brazilian senator, Jean Paul Prates, called the protesters “terrorists.”
This breaking news story has been updated.