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Brazil’s Capitol Riot And Jair Bolsonaro, Explained

Here's how Brazil's Capitol riot happened.

Claims of a “stolen” election, a far-right former president and thousands of his supporters storming the Capitol.

Sound familiar? Here’s how Brazil’s Capitol riot happened.

What Happened?

brazil capitol attack jair bolsonaro explained
Photo by Joedson Alves/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

On Sunday Jan. 8, far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential office.

They called for the newly elected president, Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva – commonly known as Lula – to resign.

Bolsonaro’s supporters have refused to accept his defeat, believing that the election was rigged, a delusion that Bolsonaro has fueled for years.

Who Is Jair Bolsonaro?

A former military captain, Bolsonaro, who was president from 2019 to 2022, is notorious for his far-right views.

These include:

  • Opposing same-sex marriage, saying he would rather his son “die in an accident” than be gay.
  • Being racist towards Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people
  • Not believing in climate change
  • Opposing abortion
  • Being derogatory against women, such as saying a woman was “not worthy of being raped”
  • Supporting the military dictatorship
  • Loosening gun laws

What Happened During Bolsonaro’s Presidency?

brazil capitol attack jair bolsonaro explained
Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

During his presidency, Bolsonaro:

  • Accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest by opening up for development, leading to record high deforestation levels.
  • Loosened gun laws to make it easier for people to access firearms.

What Happened In The Most Recent Elections In October 2022?

In October, people in Brazil voted out Bolsonaro, re-electing leftist former president Lula, who ran the country in 2003 to 2011.

Bolsonaro has yet to concede defeat.

Since October, many of his supporters have been camped outside military bases, calling for the military to intervene and bring Lula down.

When that didn’t happen, they decided to take things into their own hands.

Did Disinformation Play A Role In The Riot?

brazil capitol attack jair bolsonaro explained
Photo by SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

Bolsonaro has long been linked to disinformation.

During his 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro and his supporters used social media to spread misinformation and attack his opponents.

During his presidency, they spread false information:

  • Claiming fires in the Amazon rainforest are caused by natural phenomena, rather than illegal logging and farming.
  • Downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the lead up to the 2021 election runoff, Bolsonaro consistently questioned Brazil’s electronic ballot counting system, suggesting it could be unreliable and even instructed supporters “to go to war” if Lula “stole” the election.

What Happened On The Day Of The Riot?

brazil capitol attack jair bolsonaro explained
Photo by SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday Jan. 8, Bolsonaro’s supporters broke through police barriers and invaded the Capitol in Brasília.

They broke windows, toppled furniture and vandalized the buildings, destroying priceless artwork.

Police regained control of the three buildings three hours.

At least 1,500 people were arrested.

Neither Lula nor Bolsonaro had been in the capital at the time; Lula was on a state trip to Araraquara and Bolsonaro was in Florida.

How Does The Riot Compare To The Jan. 6 Attack On The US Capitol?

brazil capitol attack jair bolsonaro explained
Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The riot has been compared to Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Both events involved right-wing former presidents – Donald Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil – who claimed there was electoral fraud.

Social media played a significant role in the planning of both attacks. Bolsonaro supporters used code words, such as #SelmasParty, to avoid moderators, and Telegram, which is less moderated.

Since Elon Musk’s takeover, Twitter has laid off numerous employees, including staff in Brazil whose role was to tackle misinformation around the election, which may have played a factor in the attacks, according to the BBC.

What Was The Aftermath Of Brazil’s Riot?

brazil capitol riot damage bolsonaro
A security guard looks at damages inside the Supreme Court building in Brasilia on January 10, 2023, two days after thousands of supporters of Brazil’s far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro raided federal buildings. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)

In the aftermath, thousands of people held pro-democracy counter protests.

Pro-democracy protesters are calling for punishment for the rioters and those who enabled the attack.

brazil capitol attack jair bolsonaro explained
Photo by Mateus Bonomi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Authorities have launched an investigation into the riot, and Lula has declared a state of emergency until Jan. 31.

“Democracy guarantees the right to free expression, but it also requires people to respect institutions. There is no precedent in the history of the country what they did today. For that they must be punished,” Lula tweeted.

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