Bolsonaro supporters execute Jan. 6-style fascist coup attempt in Brazil
Supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, hold a banner that reads in Portuguese 'Military Intervention' as they storm the National Congress building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Eraldo Peres / AP

In a scene reminiscent of the Trump coup attempt of Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of defeated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tried to pull off their own overthrow of democracy on Sunday by storming the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace.

Thousands of right-wing demonstrators muscled their way past light security in the capital city of Brasília and managed to occupy government buildings for hours before police regained control—but not before offices were ransacked, the Congress hall doused with fire hoses, and the court’s chambers totally trashed.

Their objective: persuade the military to intervene to throw out recent election results, depose new President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and restore Bolsonaro to office. The latter lost to Lula in a run-off last fall but has refused to accept the results. Before the vote, he followed the Trumpist strategy of alleging pending electoral fraud and said he would only lose if the left cheated.

Supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the the National Congress building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Eraldo Peres/AP

Unlike the U.S. Capitol, which was occupied by lawmakers and the vice president on Jan. 6, the Brazilian government buildings were largely empty on Sunday, so the Bolsonarist forces’ counterrevolution devolved into a mass act of vandalism—especially when the army ignored their call for an uprising.

Failing to provoke the mass nationwide chaos they had hoped for, over 1,200 of the protesters found themselves behind bars by Monday morning. Progressive forces ranging from the president on down, meanwhile, are demanding immediate inquiries into how the demonstrators managed to get as far as they did in their plot.

Speaking from São Paulo, Lula accused Bolsonaro of encouraging the coup by “fascist fanatics” and issued a decree directing the federal government to take control of security in the capital after local police failed to protect the houses of government.

Referring to the demonstrators, Lula said, “There is no precedent for what they did, and these people need to be punished.”

Bolsonaro, tweeting from exile in Florida—the preferred home of Latin America’s disgraced former right-wing dictators and presidents—denounced Lula’s accusation. He wrote that “peaceful demonstrations…are part of democracy.” So as not to appear as though he was explicitly endorsing illegality, though, Bolsonaro said “invasions of public buildings” are exceptions to the rule.

Luciana Santos, leader of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) and Lula’s Minister of Science and Technology, demanded “strict punishment” for the coup participants. She condemned the invasion of the government buildings and said that inquiries and punitive action must extend beyond just those who carried out the assaults and include those who organized and funded them.

“The Brazilian people demand strict punishment of the financiers and those involved in these acts,” Santos said. She also expressed determination that right-wing forces not be allowed to derail the work needed to repair the country after years of Bolsonarist rule.

During the former president’s four years in office, millions of Brazilians slipped into poverty, with more than 33 million now classified as not having enough to eat. Bolsonaro also totally mismanaged the COVID pandemic, long maintaining it was nothing more than “a little flu.” He modeled his response on Trump’s, including refusing masking, vaccination, social distancing, and quarantine policies.

Almost 700,000 Brazilians were victims of the virus, with one top epidemiologist estimating that more than half of those who died could have survived if not for government malfeasance.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walks in Planalto Palace after it was stormed by supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Eraldo Peres / AP

Combined with an economic program that catered to the rich and major resource extraction corporations, Brazil is left with a lot of damage for the working class, poor, and Indigenous people of the country—not to mention its natural environment.

“Fascism and its terrorists will not stop the strength of the people and the return of hope for the reconstruction of Brazil,” Santos, the Communist leader, said late Sunday.

Other party figures joined her.

“We cannot tolerate this Sunday’s terrorist invasions,” Congress Deputy Renildo Calheiros of the PCdoB declared. He said an inquiry must quickly find answers as to who planned and paid for the criminal acts in Brasília.

Calheiros also demanded the government conduct a thorough investigation of police and other security agencies that either failed to prevent the attacks or even colluded with them. “If there was incompetence, ill will, or bad faith on the part of those who should take care of security,” then they too should face punishment, he said.

The Communist Party’s State Committee in Brasília was even more direct, pointing the finger at Gov. Ibaneis Rocha and the secretary of security for the federal district, Anderson Torres, for not adopting preventive measures even though the coup plotters announced their intentions in advance. Even after more than 100 buses packed with protesters arrived in the capital, local authorities took no action.

Torres has been fired from his position, and Rocha has been temporarily removed by order of the Supreme Court pending further review.

In the U.S., the former President Trump was silent on the copycat coup attempt, at least as of Monday morning. Meanwhile, many eyes are turning toward meetings held between Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro—who is a member of Congress in Brazil—and Trump and his top strategists Steve Bannon and Jason Miller.

From New York, the Communist Party USA echoed the PCdoB’s analysis of the situation, condemning what it called a “fascist, January 6-style coup against Brazilian democracy.”

In Washington, unlike past U.S. administrations that have orchestrated or at minimum endorsed the overthrow of elected progressive governments in Latin America, President Joe Biden called the riots an “assault on democracy” and said he looked forward to continuing to work with Lula.

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, center dressed in USA jersey, meets with right-wing admirers outside a vacation home where he is staying near Orlando, Fla., Jan. 4, 2023. | Skyler Swisher / Orlando Sentinel via AP

Biden faces increasing pressure, however, to go beyond just condemning the coup attempt and to take action against its leader—Bolsonaro himself. On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted, “Nearly two years to the day the U.S. Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil.” She demanded that the U.S. “cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”

She and several other Democratic lawmakers—including Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Joaquin Castro of Texas, and Mark Takano of California—are calling on the president to strip Bolsonaro’s visa and extradite him to face criminal charges back in Brazil.

Though no arrest warrant has yet been issued by the Brazilian government, Lula was clear Sunday where the blame lay for what happened: “This genocidist…is encouraging this via social media from Miami. Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this.”

Paulo Calmon, a political science professor at the University of Brasília, said the danger of fascism continues to grow and spread, despite the electoral defeats of figures like Trump and Bolsonaro.

“Bolsonarism mimics the same strategies as Trumpism,” he said. “Our Jan. 8—an unprecedented manifestation in Brazilian politics—is clearly copied from Jan. 6 in the Capitol.”

Calmon concluded that “Today’s sad episodes represent yet another attempt to destabilize democracy and demonstrate that the authoritarian, populist radicalism of Brazil’s extreme right remains active under the command of former President Bolsonaro, the ‘Trump of Latin America.’”


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.