On January 8, thousands of supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the main buildings of all three branches of Brazil’s government including Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court, and the presidential palace. Since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won a runoff election on Oct. 30, some Bolsonaro supporters have been wanting the military to intervene. Lula defeated Bolsonaro by obtaining 51% of the votes to 49% of Bolsonaro's. During last year’s election campaign, Bolsonaro made unfounded charges about the security of the country’s system of electronic ballots, leading his supporters to question the legitimacy of the results. Later, when contesting his defeat in the recent election, he called on Brazil’s electoral authority to annul votes cast on electronic voting machines, claiming that the machines are untrustworthy and susceptible to error.
Although the electoral authority has already declared that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the election, many supporters of Bolsonaro have refused to accept the election results and recently began protesting in cities across the country. These protests, however, have been everything but peaceful. After Bolsonaro’s election defeat in late October of 2022, a large handful of his supporters protested the election results by blocking highways and camping outside army bases in Brazil for weeks, imploring the military to overturn the victory of Lula. And after Lula took office on January 1, violent unrest followed. Bolsonaro supporters set fire to cars in Brasília on the day Lula was certified.
Bolsonaro’s election-denying supporters, however, did not stop there.
There is an extremely clear resemblance between the Brazil riots and the January 6 Capitol riots that took place in the United States after President Joe Biden’s defeat of former president Donald Trump. Thousands of Trump’s supporters gathered in Washington D.C. on January 5 and 6 to support his claim of election fraud, demanding that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress reject Biden’s victory. Both Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro suggested that if they lost an upcoming election, it would have been because it was a rigged race. Following both of their electoral defeats, their supporters used violence as a means of contesting the results.
Similar to the January 6 riots, the protests who stormed the Brazilian capital overpowered police standing at the perimeter of the building that houses Congress. Videos have caught protests breaking windows and posing for photos in abandoned legislative chambers.
Other videos posted on social media showed a small group of law enforcement members trying to control Bolsonaro’s supporters with a spray. The protestors, however, easily outnumbered law enforcement and broke past barricades to gain entry to the government complex behind them. Similarly, during the Capital riots, rioters pushed over metal barricades – meant to protect officers– to gain access to the Capitol complex. Beyond pushing over the barricades, Bolsonaro supporters used the barricades to break into the government buildings by using them to shatter panes. Rioters of the January 6 riot used similar tactics. Now facing federal charges, Dominic Pezzola, a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys, was seen smashing a window of the U.S. Capitol, creating an entryway for rioters.
Rioters’ interactions with the police in both the Brazil and January 6 riots also convey a clear resemblance. During the recent protests in Brazil, video footage showed a police officer pulled from his horse while being hit by rioters armed with wooden sticks and waving Brazilian flags. The officer then disappears into the mob. In the same manner, camera footage showed rioters assaulting police officers attempting to defend the Capital during the January 6 riots. A rioter, who has now been sentenced to 7.5 years in federal prison, dragged former Washington D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone into the crowd on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Fanone suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury while trying to protect the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He resigned from the Metropolitan Police Department shortly after.
Both riots resulted in the destruction of core government buildings. Inside the Palácio do Planalto, the official workplace of the president of Brazil, footage taken showed photographs of former Brazilian presidents ripped and on the floor. Images posted to social media also showed vandalized artwork. Rioters of the January 6 Capitol Attack caused similar damage. The office of the United States Senate parliamentarian sits on the first floor of the Capitol. Following the January 6 Capitol riots, papers were left scattered across the floor of the office. Some pro-Trump rioters broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, leaving the message “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN” on her desk.
While the Brazil riots, in some respects, echo the January 6 insurrection, there are also many differences. At a rally, Trump told his supporters to “Fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore.” The committee that investigated the January 6 attacks recommended that the Justice Department prosecute Trump for encouraging his supporters to use illegal means to overturn the election. On the other hand, Bolsonaro called on his supporters to avoid violence and accept Lula’s victory. “We live in a democracy or we don’t,” he said in a recorded statement shared on Youtube. “No one wants an adventure.” Regardless, his supporters attacked the buildings that represent Brazil’s democracy.
Both the January 6 Capital attack and the Brazil protests have resulted in a fundamental change to the democracy of both countries. Addressing the riots, President Lula said there was “no precedent in the history of our country” for the events that had recently taken place in Brasilia. Echoing a similar sentiment of the unprecedented nature of the riots, President Joe Biden said, “Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America — at American democracy.”