Bolsonaristas occupied the congress building, many of them sitting or lying on the ground. A flag placed in front of the building read “intervention” – a reference to calls for the military to depose Lula, who defeated Bolsonaro in October.
Most wrapped themselves in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag. Some shouted at police officers “this is just the beginning” and “May God bless you and prevent you from acting against us patriots.”
Images broadcast by Globo TV showed smashed glass and protesters roaming the halls of the Planalto Palace, the office of the president. In an echo of the behavior of the US insurrectionists, videos shared on social media showed bolsonaristas taking trophies.
Protesters set off fireworks from the roof of the congress. Others waved the yellow and green jersey of the national soccer team — now a symbol of the far right — in the main chamber of the supreme court. Bolsonaristas see the powerful court as an adversary.
Thousands more milled about a massive square similar to Washington’s National Mall, waving Brazilian flags and chanting “God, Fatherland, Family and Liberty.”
Videos shared on social media showed scores marching to the Praça dos Três Poderes — the Plaza of the Three Powers — according to videos on social media. One video, purportedly from the Sunday assault, appeared to show a group of protesters attacking a mounted police officer. A woman yells out, “stop, stop!” A man says “guys, let the police officer go.”
Later Sunday, the boom and clouds of acrid tear gas could be seen in the plaza as security forces tried to reassert order.
A visibly angry Lula, addressing the nation Sunday evening, condemned the invaders as “fascists.”
“There is no precedent for this,” he said. “All the people [who stormed public buildings] will be found and punished.”
Bolsonaro, who has been in Orlando, Florida, over the past week, had not spoken publicly by Sunday evening.
The assault underlined the challenge ahead for Lula as he seeks to lead a deeply divided nation polarized in the aftermath of the closest election in Brazilian history and poisoned by the global era of toxic politics.
Lula won Brazil’s closest ever election. That was the easy part.
Protesters launched the invasion around 2:30 pm local time. Justice Minister Flavio Dino said it would be met by security forces.
“This absurd attempt to impose the will by force will not prevail,” he tweeted. “The Government of the Federal District claims that there will be reinforcements. And the forces at our disposal are at work. I’m at the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice.”
The United States, European Union and Latin American countries were quick to condemn the insurrection. “”The United States condemns any effort to undermine democracy in Brazil,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted. “President Biden is following the situation closely and our support for Brazil’s democratic institutions is unwavering. Brazil’s democracy will not be shaken by violence.”
The incident amounted to another uncanny parallel between Bolsonaro and Trump, his political lodestar. Pundits have warned for months of the possibility of a Jan. 6-style action here. For months before the election, Bolsonaro called Lula a corrupt “thief” and claimed without evidence that Brazil’s electronic voting machines were untrustworthy. Since his loss, he has condemned violent protests, but called the election result unfair and encouraged protest camps outside military installations.
“This genocidal person … provoked this,” Lula said. “He encouraged the invasion of the three” branches of government.
Robert Muggah, co-founder of the think tank Igarapé Institute in Rio de Janeiro, called the “explosion of mob violence” an “insurrection foretold.”
“The similarities of Brazilian far-right mobs storming Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace with the Jan. 6 insurrections of the Capitol are not coincidental,” he continued. “Like their MAGA counterparts, Bolsonaro supporters have been fed a steady diet of misinformation and disinformation for years, much of it modeled on the narratives peddled by far-right influencers in the US”
Trump aides Bannon, Miller advising the Bolsonaros on next steps
The attack in Brasília appeared broader in scope than the attack on the US Capitol. The targeted buildings represent all three branches of Brazil’s government. The Plaza of the Three Powers, Pritzker-prize winning architect Oscar Niemeyer’s 1950s vision of the future, are viewed domestically as symbols of Brazil.
Lula faces ranks of police who remain tacit supporters of Bolsonaro, who encouraged heavy-handed police tactics during his tenure and stocked their senior ranks with loyalists. A sector of the police was accused during the election of setting up checkpoints in Lula’s strongholds to slow access to ballot boxes. On Sunday, the news outlet Estadao posted a photo of police on duty apparently buying coconut water as rioters assaulted the branches of the Brazilian government.
“Unfortunately, the ones who have to take care of security in the Federal District are the Federal Police. And they didn’t,” Lula said Sunday.
Anderson Torres, the secretary of public security in Brasília Federal District, was Bolsonaro’s justice minister. On Sunday, he condemned the rioters on Twitter, but was fired by the state governor. Brazilian media reported that Torres was in Florida with Bolsonaro. The Washington Post could not independently confirm his whereabouts.
Thousands of Bolsonaristas have camped out at military headquarters across Latin America’s largest country, demanding military intervention to reinstate Bolsonaro, who last week flew to Florida instead of attending a ceremony in the capital of Brasília where outgoing presidents traditionally hand over the sash of power.
Although the spark that lit the assaults on Sunday was unclear, Dino said on Wednesday that he would move to clear the protest camps outside the military headquarters in Brasilia and across the country on Friday. No significant operations were launched that day.
There was little indication that the authorities were prepared for the insurrection on Sunday. There was no evidence of an increased security presence at the targeted buildings.
Military police officers tried to stop the rioters at the Planalto Palace with tear gas and other weapons but initially appeared far outnumbered.
Bolsonaro supporters burn buses, attack police headquarters
By 5 pm, security forces and riot police managed to retake it, but some protesters remained in the parking garage, a court spokeswoman said. One judge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of developing events, said officials were still trying to assess the scope of the damage.
By 6:20 pm, the police had brought the Planalto Palace largely under control. Photos and videos provided to The Post by a member of the president’s team of the Planalto Palace showed extensive damage, including a painting cut out of a frame, broken mirrored-glass walls, shattered equipment, broken desks and defiled artwork.
The congress and supreme court are both in recess. No lawmakers or judges were present. After the assault began, Lula left São Paulo state to return to Brasília.
On Sunday, protesters appeared most focused on the Planalto Palace, now occupied by Lula, the former president whose election to a third term just three years after walking out of a prison cell has piqued the ire of the Brazilian right.
In a farewell address live-streamed on Jan. 1, a tearful Bolsonaro claimed his election loss was unfair, but acknowledged that a new administration would take office Sunday. He condemned violent demonstrations aimed at overturning his loss, calling on his supporters to “show we are different from the other side, that we respect the norms and the constitution.”
But his supporters have heard his contradictory speeches filled with dog whistles that appeared to call them to resist Lula. After the arrest last month of one prominent bolsonarista, accused of having expressly summoned armed people to prevent the certification of elected officials, others burned buses in the capital and attempted to storm the federal police headquarters. Authorities in eight states raided weapons caches and arrested suspects accused of “anti-democratic acts.”