Watchers of merican politics tend to see the Atlantic and Europe as analogies for our history. The best analogy to America’s East has not been to Latin American democracy, but rather to its south. These countries, our hemispheric neighbours, share more of the US foundational pathologies.
They were also founded upon early violence, which casts long shadows on our later attempts to equality and pluralism. This includes chattel slavery as well dispossession and genocide against indigenous peoples. They are home to diverse racially- and religiously heterogenous peoples, who seek to establish national projects that do not rely on shared ethnic identities but rather shared ideals. These Latin American countries, like the US, have an autoritarian streak that is encouraged both explicitly and tacitly by America.
In one way, the 8th of January in Brasilia was another example of our countries’ grim twinning. Far-right supporters for Brazil’s ex-president Jair Bosonaro stormed three federal buildings smashing windows and stealing, vandalizing, and flooding the interiors. It seemed like Brazil had its own Jan 6 rebellion.
The man behind the failed coup attempt, Jair Bolsonaro (far-right ex-president) is now in the USA, living in Orlando under the orders of Donald Trump, who was the inspiration for January 6. Bolsonaro was reportedly admitted to a Florida hospital on Monday after the violence.
The details of the Brazilian coup and how right-wing Brazilian elites participated in it are still being revealed. For example, it is not known how much Bolsonaro knew before the violence occurred. It is also not clear how many rioters communicated with Bolsonaro either prior to the ex-president fleeing the country or during the week since from Florida. Bolsonaro may have had legal allies, like Trump, that were open to bending the law and helping form post-hoc justifications of a coup. As it’s unclear in America, the extent of coordination between Bolsonaro and his booted thugs, their ringleaders and the snake-wearing Bolsonaro camp members is not known. There was clearly a riot. It is clear that the riot was intended to bring back a far-right leader after he was defeated in an election. We don’t know how plausible a Florida man has maintained his innocence.
American observers have long been reminded of Trump by Bolsonaro, not just for his extreme-right politics but also because he is indifferent to democratic checks and his power. Bolsonaro’s acrimonious speech and his policy views were what offended Brazilians when he was elected in 2019. He had been convicted of corruption in the aftermath of a heated impeachment.
His rage and hatred for outsiders was constant. He also tried to incite anger at his loyal fan base, which was something along the lines of Mussolini or Howard Stern. He suddenly began to produce scandalous soundbites after a relatively unremarkable tenure as a legislator. He stated, “I wouldn’t be able to love a homosexual child.” A female political opponent was “not worth raping”. Trump praised military dictatorship and called for torture of drug dealers. He also encouraged police violence. He once stated that a “policeman who doesn’t kill” is not a policeman. In photos with his supporters, Donald Trump smiles and gives the camera a thumbs up. Bolsonaro loves to pose in photos with a handgun gesture.
There were also some striking similarities in the violence. After camping out outside the military headquarters, rioters from Brasilia stormed government buildings in an apparent attempt to promote a coup. They marched up to the supreme courts, the congressional, and the presidency with Brazilian flags. Many of the flags were decked in far-right colors like yellow and green.
The January 6th rioters were disrupting a specific procedure and Mike Pence. However, they attempted to persuade and intimidate. Brazilian rioters appear to have used less forceful violence to try to get a change of government. They destroyed the buildings, and plied on the ground, just like their American counterparts. Tom Phillips from the Guardian reported that some members of the mob urinated in the Presidential Press Room, possibly in an indication of Bolsonaro’s attitude towards the media. They appear to have received at most tacit support from police, just like Americans. The Brazilian mob faced conspicuously low resistance by the security personnel of the federal district, despite being disproportionately populated with veterans and cops. Bolsonaro’s ally and governor in Brasilia has been expelled from office for his involvement in the violence.
One major difference lies in the way that Brazilians responded to the threat to democracy. The Biden administration was reported to have resisted the idea of pursuing an impeachment of Donald Trump in the wake of January 6th violence. This stymied Democrats in Congress who were trying to implement an aggressive accountability strategy. In years past, the Department of Justice repeatedly has dragged its feet and passed the buck to Trump’s inner circle.
The Brazilians are different. Lula de Silva (leftist president) immediately called the mob “neofascists” and was prepared, with clarity, candor, and honesty that is unimaginable for an American politician to tell his fellow citizens that they don’t trust any of the police officers. Photos purporting to show Brazilian rioters being held in custody by police in large warehouses were published Monday. David Adler, of Progressive International said that the federal Brazilian forces were interrogating each insurrectionist one-by-one and preparing charges against them for their crimes. It was a reminder that Brazil has many different ways to be just like America.
Moira Donegan, a Guardian US columnist