Brazilian riot police and the military have moved in to clear a camp set-up by supporters of the far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro outside Brasilia’s military headquarters, as authorities seek to make sense of the turmoil created by the thousands who stormed the presidential palace and other federal buildings on Sunday – and punish those responsible.
Authorities, including President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, have promised swift retribution for the violence, with Bolsonaro supporters having launched the assault on the congressional building, the Supreme Court and the Planalto Presidential Palace to protest against Lula.
Brazil’s Ministry of Justice said that 1,200 people have been detained in the wake of the violent unrest, many of those at the camp in Brasilia. Bolsonaro supporters had converged near the military base in recent weeks hoping to convince the military to launch a coup against Lula, who was inaugurated on New Year's Day.
The action comes after the minister of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered the armed forces to dismantle all Bolsonaro supporters’ camps across the country within 24 hours. He also called for police to arrest and imprison any protesters still left in the camps, according to the Federal Supreme Court. Mr De Moraes also ordered the governor of Brasilia, Ibaneis Rocha, to be removed from office for 90 days over alleged security failings. Mr Lula said the local militarised police force that reports to Mr Rocha, a former Bolsonaro ally, did nothing to stop the protesters advancing.
The country's justice minister, Flávio Dino, said on Monday that everyone who “participated in or financed serious crimes this Sunday” are being identified and will “face justice” as soon as Monday or the coming days. Dino added that authorities have identified the license plates of the buses that brought “criminals” to Brasília.
“Many have been apprehended and others will be,” the minister added.
Those who stormed the complex of federal buildings broke windows, toppled furniture and destroyed office equipment at the nation’s highest seats of power in the capital. They punctured a priceless Emiliano Di Cavalcanti painting in five places, overturned the U-shaped table at which supreme court justices convene, ripped a door off one justice’s office and vandalised a statue outside the court.
The buildings’ interiors were left in states of ruin, evidenced by the pictures that emerged on Monday.
The heads of Brazil’s three branches of government released a joint statement on Monday condemning what they called “terrorist acts” in Brasilia. “We are united so that institutional measures are taken under the terms of Brazilian laws,” they said, calling for “serenity and peace”. Mr Lula, as well as the acting Senate president, Veneziano Vital do Rego, the lower house speaker, Arthur Lira, and the chief justice, Rosa Weber all signed the statement.
Mr Lula was back holding meetings in the Presidential Palace with his cabinet and Supreme Court ministers on Monday – and also planned to meet his defence minister and armed forces commanders to discuss the attacks. He has been quick to blame Mr Bolsonaro, who flew to Florida two days before his term ended, for the unrest. “[He] is encouraging this via social media from Miami,” Lula said. “Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this.” The current president had already promised to go after Mr Bolsanaro in his inaugural address, with the former leader already under investigation in four Supreme Court criminal probes before stepping down as president.
As for Mr Bolsonaro, he repudiated the president’s accusation, without actively dismissing his supporters – although he did say that raiding federal buildings was overstepping the mark. However, that was tempered by a bit of bothsidesism by relating the current incident to cross-country protests about the economy in 2013 and 2017.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Bolsanaro said peaceful protest is part of democracy, but that “depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, escape the rule.” He made no specific mention of the protesters’ actions in Brasilia.
He also defended his rule: “Throughout my mandate, I have always been acting according to the Constitution, respecting and defending the laws, democracy, transparency and our sacred freedom.”
This added to the similarities between events in Brasilia and the storming of the US Capitol building in Washington on 6 January 2021. In that episode, then-President Donald Trump refused to condemn his supporters as he was on his way out of the White House.
The fact that Mr Bolsonaro praised Mr Trump while in office and is currently in suburban Orlando, Florida – a state Mr Trump also has property in – only adds to the similarities. Mr Bolsonaro may be in no hurry to return to Brazil, where he is accused of instigating the violent election denial movement with baseless claims of electoral fraud, again like Mr Trump.
Pressure will grow on current US President Joe Biden to deal extradite Mr Bolsonaro, with some within his Democratic Party having already called for Mr Bolsanaro’s removal. “Bolsonaro should not be in Florida,” democratic congressman Joaquin Castro told CNN. “The United States should not be a refuge for this authoritarian who has inspired domestic terrorism in Brazil. He should be sent back to Brazil.”
Castro said Bolsonaro, a Trump acolyte now based in the former president's home state, had “used the Trump playbook to inspire domestic terrorists”.
Fellow Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed those views.
“The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida,” she tweeted on Sunday. “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.”
Leaders from around the globe have condemned the storming of the federal buildings in Brazil, including Mr Biden, who called it “outrageous”. France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, said that “the will of the Brazilian people and the democratic institutions must be respected” while Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, said that “what is happening in Brazil cannot leave us indifferent”.
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak condemned any bid to undermine the peaceful transfer of power, while the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz said: “The violent attacks on democratic institutions are an attack on democracy that cannot be tolerated”.
Back in Brazil, Pro-Bolsonaro truckers, who have caused havoc on Brazil’s highways for weeks, held more protests through the night. A toll road operator for the BR 163 highway that cuts through Brazil’s top grain-producing state Mato Grosso reported several blockades that were cleared by dawn. Police said blockages on another highway in Parana state were also cleared.
The justice minister, Mr Dino said investigations aimed to uncover who financed the several hundred buses that brought Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters to Brasilia and question the suspended Brasilia governor. There will also be questions about how security forces in the capital were so unprepared for rioters who had discussed their plans on social media for days.
Suggestions about an occupation of the government buildings had been circling for at least two weeks by Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters in groups on messaging platforms such as Telegram and Twitter, yet there was no move by security forces to prevent the attack, called by one group “the seizure of power by the people”.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report