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Bolsonaro Backers Storm Government Buildings in January 6-Style Attempted Coup

Steve Bannon and his network have been backing Jair Bolsonaro and trying to foment unrest, says reporter Michael Fox.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is condemning thousands of supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro who stormed the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace Sunday in a scene reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Rioters smashed windows, ransacked offices and set fire to a carpet inside the Congress building before authorities made over 400 arrests. Bolsonaro has never formally conceded the race to third-term President Lula and fled to Florida, where he has reportedly met with Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago, while his supporters have blockaded highways and set up protest encampments outside military bases and in the capital Brasília to protest what they falsely claim was a rigged election. We get an update from Brazilian newspaper columnist and professor Thiago Amparo in São Paulo and reporter Michael Fox, host of the “Brazil on Fire” podcast.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Brazil, where thousands of supporters of the former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace Sunday in a scene reminiscent of the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The rioters, many dressed in green and yellow — the colors of the Brazilian flag — smashed windows, ransacked offices, even set fire to a carpet inside the Congress building. Authorities eventually regained control of the buildings, made over 400 arrests.

This all came one week after the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party, who defeated Bolsonaro in October. Bolsonaro has never formally conceded the race. Just last week, a few days before Lula’s inauguration, he fled to Florida, where he was reportedly met with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Over the past two months, Bolsonaro supporters have blockaded highways and set up protest encampments outside military bases and in the capital to protest what they falsely claim was a rigged election.

Lula, who was not in the capital at the time, condemned Sunday’s attempt to overthrow his government by what he called “fanatical fascists.”

PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I’m going to return to Brasília now. I’m going to visit the three sites that were damaged — be assured that this will not be repeated — to discover who financed this, who paid for their stay, and they will have to pay the price under the law. …

Like true vandals, destroying what they found in front of them, we think that there was a lack of security, and I want to tell you that. All those people who did this will be found and punished. They will realize that democracy guarantees the right to freedom and free speech, but it also demands that people respect the institutions created to strengthen democracy. And these people, these vandals, what could we say? They’re fanatical Nazis, fanatical fascists. They did what has never been done in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro responded to Sunday’s attempted coup by writing on Twitter, quote, Peaceful demonstrations, within the law, are part of democracy. But depredations and invasions of public buildings like we saw today, like the acts done by the left in 2013 and 2017, are not within the rules,” he said.

We’re joined now by two guests. Michael Fox is a freelance journalist, former editor of NACLA and host of the podcast Brazil on Fire, the podcast a joint project of NACLA and The Real News Network. Thiago Amparo is a professor of international law and human rights. He is also a columnist for the — for — well, you can pronounce it for me so I don’t pronounce it wrong, Professor Amparo.

THIAGO AMPARO: It’s Folha de S. Paulo. It’s the main newspaper in Brazil.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much for being with us, to both of you. Professor Amparo, let’s begin with you. What happened in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, yesterday?

THIAGO AMPARO: So, first, thank you very much for having me.

What happened yesterday was something that — unprecedented in our history. What happened was the invasion of the executive, the presidential palace, the house of the Congress, and also the Supreme Court floor. So, that’s — and what happened was a massive invasion of those buildings, a physical destruction of historical documents, physical destruction of the buildings. The whole floor of the Supreme Court was destroyed.

And what began days before that, over the weekend, several buses arrived to Brasília to join the protesters that were camping outside of the headquarters of the Army in Brasília. They were there for many months. But since Saturday and Friday, several people joined the protests and joined the invaders. And then it became very abruptly from a protest to this massive invasion that was unprecedented in our history. So, that’s what happened in Brasília yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: You have said this is far bigger than the U.S. January 6 insurrection.



THIAGO AMPARO: So, I would say that there are several parallels, of course, because of the date and also the rhetoric. And also, one fact-checking agency yesterday, Agência Pública in Brazil, said that even the hashtag that people were using was inspired by the January 6th in the United States. So there are obvious parallels.

But, on the other hand, the scale is much bigger, because if it was in the United States, it would be like if people were invading not only the Capitol, the Congress, but also the White House and also the Supreme Court floor, and leaving it all destroyed. So, this is what happened in terms of the scale.

Secondly, in the United States, they were trying to — at least rhetorically, they were trying to prevent the certification of the U.S. election of Joe Biden. In Brazil, what happened, basically, Lula was already certified and was already — is already the president of Brazil. So, what’s the goal of the invaders? It’s still all under debate, but probably what they are trying to do first is to show their strength, but, secondly, even to overthrow the — or at least momentarily overthrow the power of the president, Lula. So, this is — in terms of the affect and the goal that they have, and also the scale of what happened yesterday, I would say that it’s even bigger than what happened on January 6th in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Bolsonaro not being there — though they’re being called, of course, Bolsonaristas — but having fled, or you could say flown out of, the country, a few days before Lula’s inauguration? Instead of being there to show the peaceful transference of power, he flew to Orlando, and apparently has since, reportedly, met with Trump. He is known as the “Trump of the tropics.”

THIAGO AMPARO: Mm-hmm, yeah. So, it was also part of the strategy, because, first, during the whole presidency, not only during the election cycle, Bolsonaro was spreading fake news about the electoral system and said that it was fraudulent. So it was very clear that the president, Trump — President Bolsonaro was even attacking, since the day one, the electoral system. And it was very clear by the last day — during the last days of his presidency that he was not clearly saying that Lula won the election. After the election results, he went silent. And a few days before the inauguration and the traditional passage of the mandate, in a symbolic act that usually we have on the January 1st of the new president in office, he did not go. He did not attend this event. He went before, a few days before, to the United States and stayed there.

And one interesting thing that happened also yesterday is that the person responsible for the security of the federal district where Brasília is situated is Anderson Torres. He’s a former minister of justice of Bolsonaro. And during the protest yesterday, the invasion yesterday, he actually was in the United States, as well, on vacation.

So, you see that it’s very clear that, first, Bolsonaro was trying to not — was very clearly not saying that he lost election. For many years he was saying that it was a fraudulent election — which it was not — spreading fake news. And also, the people were very clearly motivated by his rhetoric of challenging the institutions and attacking especially the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court justice that tried to fight against fake news during the election cycle.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece in The Daily Beast, Michael Fox, that quotes Steve Bannon, the President Trump adviser, who wrote Sunday, “Brazilian Freedom Fighters,” is what he called those that are supporting Bolsonaro and have laid siege to the Congress, to the Supreme Court, to the presidential palace in Brasília. Can you talk about who’s supporting these rioters in the United States?

MICHAEL FOX: Well, the connection between Bolsonaro, Trump, far-right Trump supporters and, of course, Steve Bannon — I mean, the connection between Steve Bannon and the Bolsonaro family runs deep, going back to even before Bolsonaro had won, you know, back in 2018. It was his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, who first got in contact with Steve Bannon. They were supposedly — he was then helping Bolsonaro on the campaign trail in 2018. Eduardo Bolsonaro is the head of Steve Bannon’s The Movement, his international far-right group, to try and foment exactly what’s happening in Brazil right now across Latin America.

And, in fact, we saw this after the first round and the second round of the elections. Steve Bannon came out just the day afterwards, talking about fraud, talking about the electoral machines. He was spewing this same information in a big conference in the U.S., talking about how Bolsonaro was going to win, if it weren’t for the fraud. So, absolutely, Steve Bannon and his network has been absolutely backing Bolsonaro and trying to foment exactly what we saw today. And the connections between January 6th, January 8th, it’s just so symbolic.

AMY GOODMAN: You also have one of the January 6th riot organizers, Ali Alexander, lauding the insurrectionists in Brazil, writing on Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform, “I do NOT denounce unannounced impromptu Capitol tours by the people.” So, so what if people like Steve Bannon and Alexander support Bolsonaro and the activists who are outside and destroying parts of the presidential palace, the capitol and the Supreme Court? Why does that matter? How much power do they have?

MICHAEL FOX: It matters, Amy, because it’s not just Steve Bannon. He is part of this much larger far-right network, and these people are sharing experiences, and they’re sharing — they’re sharing, basically, “Listen, this is what you need to do. This is how we’re going to make this happen.” And this is exactly what we saw. This is a copycat situation. You had January 6th, you have January 8th. And they’re trying to export this type of thing around the world.

I mean, this is what Bolsonaro is. He’s the “Trump of the tropics” because he embraced everything that Trump is and was, right? He pushed fascist ideology, pushed lies, far-right lies. And basically everything that Trump pushed, trying to stir his people up in the streets, trying to push conspiracy theories, Bolsonaro was doing the same thing as the United States.

We’re talking about — the parallels between the U.S. and Brazil run so, so deep, the same idea of exporting this kind of culture war into Brazil, which, of course, it happened automatically within Brazil, but also the evangelical movement. The connections — and I talk a lot about this, you know, in my podcast, Brazil on Fire, and these really, really deep connections, and how these are being exported abroad on purpose and embraced by Bolsonaro and a far-right imagery.

Now, what’s concerning here, Amy, and the great difference between January 6th and, of course, this situation, January 8th, is the role of the military and the power of the military historically in Brazil. Of course, the imagery of the dictatorship is — it was not long ago that Brazil had a 21-year dictatorship. It only ended in 1985. Many of the people who were in the streets just yesterday, they look back to that as a time of great wealth. They enjoyed the dictatorship. They are authoritarian. They want dictatorship, which is something that Bolsonaro has been pushing since he came into office. So, it’s really important to understand the role that these players are playing, that Trump and Steve Bannon and his allies are playing in the United States, and the great impact that this can have abroad.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Amparo, if you can talk about what you see is now going to happen? You had the Supreme Court saying that all the Bolsonaro encampments have to be taken down within 24 hours, which at the time of this broadcast is just a few hours from now. What about the role of the military and Lula calling out the military to deal with these protesters?

THIAGO AMPARO: So, I think, Amy, the main challenge here is — there are institutional challenges here, because the Army officials — and just for the viewers to understand, is that for the past months there were a lot of people camping outside of the headquarters of the Army in several capitals in Brazil, asking for a military intervention and military dictatorship and things like this. And so, these people were outside the headquarters of the Army, and the Army was resisting any kind of a forceful way of removing people from those camps. The camps are military areas that should not have gatherings of civilians outside of those areas. So, there is a first institutional challenge, because the Army officials are resisting any kind of intervention by the police and by the authorities in those areas. So, just yesterday, after the decision of the Supreme Court, right in the middle of the chaos, they decided that the camps should be taken down, as you mentioned. The first reaction of the Army in Brasília was to not allow the police to enter the area. So, there was a negotiation to allow them to enter that area and do their job, which was to remove people from outside of those camps. A lot of the invaders that were in the capital, that were attacking the buildings, they went back to the camps, and they were allowed to stay in the camps. So there was an institutional tension between the police, the security forces and the Army officials. Some of them are actually supporters of former President Bolsonaro.

So, there is a challenge on the ground there, but also in the legal accountability. One thing that the Supreme Court is trying to do now is trying to see who paid for it. So, basically, follow the money in terms of — there were a lot of buses, more than a hundred buses, that arrived to the federal district in the capital of Brazil over the weekend. So, who paid for the buses? Even the Supreme Court decision, there is the list of the numbers of those buses, should try to find who financed this.

So, there is a question also not only of removing people from those military areas to not allow for this kind of invasion to happen again, for security reasons, but also there will be a lot of discussions about what kind of legal accountability of people on the ground — more than a hundred people were arrested yesterday — but also people who financed and people who coordinated this kind of event. And we saw yesterday some U.S. lawmakers calling for the president, former President Bolsonaro, to be expelled from the United States and to face justice in Brazil. So, there was a lot of discussion, on the ground, what’s going to happen with those camps, but also the legal accountability of who financed it and who coordinated this kind of event.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. Michael Fox, do you think the military could side against Lula?

MICHAEL FOX: I don’t think the military is going to side against Lula. There are definitely sectors of the military that like Bolsonaro, that would like to stay in connection with Bolsonaro. But at this point, the military would lose so much clout. This is clout that it’s built over the last 40 years, since the end of the dictatorship, and they just don’t want to go down that road.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Michael Fox is a freelance journalist, has the podcast Brazil on Fire, sponsored by both NACLA and The Real News Network. And professor Thiago Amparo, professor of international law and human rights at FGV and a newspaper columnist, speaking to us from São Paulo.

This is Democracy Now! Next up, we look at Biden’s first trip to U.S.-Mexico border as president. Stay with us.

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