The attack came a week after the inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro in a runoff election in October.
Images on Globo TV showed protesters roaming the halls and standing near smashed glass cases in the Planalto Palace, the office of the president. Thousands of others wearing the national soccer shirt — now a symbol of the far right — and waving the Brazilian flag milled about the massive square outside in a part of the Brasilia capital that is similar to Washington’s National Mall.
“God, Fatherland, Family and Liberty,” they cried as scores marched to the Praça dos Três Poderes — the Plaza of the Three Powers — according to videos on social media. In another video purportedly from today’s assault, a group of protesters appear to attack a mounted police officer, while a woman yells out, “stop, stop!” and a man adds “guys, let the police officer go.”
“This absurd attempt to impose the will by force will not prevail,” Lula’s justice minister Flavio Dino tweeted shortly after the invasion began around 2:30 p.m. local time. “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 incident captured the uncanny parallels between Bolsonaro and his political lodestar, Trump, and came after months in which pundits have feared a Jan. 6-style copycat action here.
In a manner similar to Trump, Bolsonaro has fueled discontent among his base since his loss to the newly-inaugurated leftist, stepping down while refusing to officially concede.
“Today’s explosion of mob violence is an insurrection foretold,” said Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Rio think tank Igarapé Institute. “Resentments among Bolsonaro’s militant supporters have been simmering for months.”
“The similarities of Brazilian far-right mobs storming Congress, the Supreme Court and Presidential Palace with the Jan. 6 insurrection of the Capitol are not coincidental,” he added. “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 pedaled by far-right influencers in the US.”
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 Brasilia where outgoing presidents traditionally hand over the sash of power.
Although the exact match that lit the assaults on Sunday remained unclear, Dino had said on Wednesday that he would move to clear the protest camps in front of the military headquarters in Brasilia and across the country on Jan 6th. However, no significant operation to clear the camps was launched that day. There was little indication that authorities were prepared for the Brazilian insurrection, with no evidence of a beefed-up security presence at the targeted buildings.
Military police officers attempted to stop the demonstrators with tear gas and other weapons but appeared far outnumbered. The group is inside the Palácio do Planalto, the official building where the president works. As of 5 p.m., security together with riot police managed to retake the — but some protesters remained in the parking garage, according to a court spokeswoman.
One judge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, said officials were still trying to assess the scope of the assaults.
The Congress and Supreme Court are both in recess, so lawmakers and judges are not there.
Lula was not in Brasília today, as he was in a São Paulo countryside. He had planned to return to Brasília by the end of afternoon.
Lula’s administration was promising to clear the protests in front of military headquarters but had not yet taken action.
Videos on social media showed protesters breaking glass windows and entering the National Congress and the Palacio do Planalto, where they vandalized furniture in one of the palace’s most traditional ceremonial rooms. Videos also showed supporters of the former president attempting to force their way into ministerial offices inside the presidential palace.
The assault on the halls of the democracy in Brasilia appeared broader in scope than the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021, with buildings targeted representing all three branches of Brazil’s government.
They rest in the capital’s center of power — the Plaza of the Three Powers built by the Pritzker-prize winning architect Oscar Niemeyer in a style reminiscent of a 1950s vision of the future and are widely viewed domestically as symbols of Brazil.
Vandals and protesters ran amok not only in the halls of Congress, but defiantly waved their national shirts in the air in the main chamber of the Supreme Court, which includes powerful members who are seen as leading opponents of Bolsonaro.
On Sunday, protesters appeared to particularly target the Planalto Palace — the office of the president, and now a symbol of Lula, whose election for a third term only three years after walking out of a prison cell has piqued the ire of the Brazilian right, which has vilified the president.