Why Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and the presidential palace

On Sunday, thousands of Bolsonaro's supporters turned to violence.

Why Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and the presidential palace
Bolsonaro supporters protest at the Esplanada dos Ministerios in Brasília on January 8, 2023. Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

The backstory: Last October, Brazil held its presidential election, pitting the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, against his left-wing rival, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, who’d held the office before him. Lula was previously convicted of corruption, but the ruling was later annulled, so he was able to run for office again. The election was contentious, with both politicians often campaigning while wearing bulletproof vests. Many feared political violence would erupt around the country. Because the election ended up being pretty close, a run-off was held, and Lula won.

More recently: Bolsonaro has never officially conceded, and he left ahead of Lula’s inauguration for the US – a move that broke with the democratic tradition of the former leader handing over the presidential sash to the incoming president. Throughout his campaign, he often hinted that the election results couldn’t be trusted and corruption was rampant.

Many of Bolsonaro’s supporters refuse to see Lula’s win as legit. Some believe rumors that the voting machines were rigged or Lula had plans to close down churches once he was elected. Still, Lula was sworn in as president on the first of this year. Bolsonaro’s supporters tried to protest outside his inauguration, calling on the military to stop Lula from being sworn in. After the inauguration, protesters spread the word online about a massive demonstration on Sunday.

The development: On Sunday, thousands of those supporters turned to violence, storming Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices in Brasília, Brazil’s capital. They set fires, used barricades as weapons, knocked police officers down and filmed their own crimes. Lula blamed Bolsonaro for motivating the attacks by spreading false rumors about election fraud and government conspiracy. On Monday, a spokesman for the police said that at least 1,200 of these protesters had been arrested. Many are comparing the events to the January 6 US Capitol riots that occurred after Trump supporters alleged the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen.”

Key comments:

"[Bolsonaro] spurred attacks on the three powers whenever he could," Lula said on Sunday in a national address. "This is also his responsibility."

"Nearly two years to the day, the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil," tweeted US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "We must stand in solidarity with @LulaOficial's democratically elected government. The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida."

"We believe the democratic institutions of Brazil will hold, the will of the people in Brazil will be respected," said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan. "The freely elected leader of Brazil will govern Brazil and will not be deterred or knocked off course by the actions of these people who have assaulted the instruments of governance in Brasília."

Bolsonaro tweeted about the events on Sunday, saying that peaceful demonstrations are a part of democracy but condemning "destruction and invasions of public buildings, like what occurred today."