An attack on the presidential residence has caused the legislature to question the very core of Brazil’s democratic system.

On Sunday, thousands of Jair Bolsonaro’s advocates broke into and vandalized the executive office, the legislative branch, and the supreme court of Brazil, a scene reminiscent of the insurrection at the US Capitol by Donald Trump’s followers. This attack was the most serious threat to democracy in the biggest Latin American country since the 1964 military coup. Moreover, it revealed the proliferation of far-right demonstrators in Western democracies, with rebellious individuals being driven to extremism by inflammatory political discourse and denying the legitimacy of the election results, thereby attacking the rule of law.

Bolsonarists took over the congress building, and many of them lay or sat on the ground, with a flag displaying the word ‘intervention,’ referring to the demands for the military to oust Lula after he defeated Bolsonaro in October. Most of them bore the colors of the Brazilian flag, with some yelling to the police, “this is just the beginning,” and “God bless you to keep us patriots from harm.” 

Bolsonaro’s followers have interpreted his conflicting remarks as coded messages for them to oppose Lula. Subsequent to the apprehension of one renowned “bolsonarista” last month, charged with explicitly summoning armed persons to avert the accreditation of elected people, other activists set alight buses in the city center and attempted to invade the central police station. The police in eight states conducted raids to locate hidden weapons and apprehend those accused of “anti-democratic deeds.”

Television reports showed shattered glass and participants roaming the halls of Planalto Palace, the President’s office. The “bolsonaristas” were also stealing things as souvenirs. Firecrackers were set off from the roof of congress, and the yellow and green jersey of the national soccer squad, which is now a symbol of the far right, was waved in the main chamber of the supreme court. 

Protesters marched to the Plaza of the Three Powers, where a group was seen attacking a mounted police officer, with one person shouting to stop. After a couple of hours, the rioters were eventually pushed out of the government buildings. Bolsonaro, who was in Orlando, said that while protests were part of democracy, the break-ins and damages were not.

“Public protests, by law, are part of democracy,” he tweeted. “However, depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those that were carried out by the left in 2013 and 2017, were outside of the law.”

Meanwhile, a journalist from The Washington Post, Marina Dias, was assaulted while doing her job, with attackers pulling her hair and trying to grab her cell phone. At least eight journalists were assaulted in the riots, according to the Union of Professional Journalists of the Brasília Federal District.

The incident was a challenge for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as he seeks to lead a nation divided by the closely contested presidential election and poisoned by the global era of extreme politics. The attack started around 2:30 pm, and the minister of justice, Flavio Dino, said it would be met with security forces. The buses used by the rioters were seized, and the governor of the Federal District, Anderson Torres, was fired after he was seen to be in Orlando with Bolsonaro, although he denied it. 

The President’s legal team requested an investigation and arrest warrant for Torres and cellular companies to provide records for the geolocation of rioters. The US, European Union, and other Latin American countries quickly condemned the revolt. However, Lula is now dealing with police forces still loyal to Bolsonaro, with some of them accused of setting up checkpoints in Lula-supporting areas during the election to slow down access to ballot boxes. 

The spark of the revolt was uncertain, but a few days before the attack, the minister of justice said he would make efforts to clear the protest camps outside military headquarters, but this did not happen. Instead, the three branches of the Brazilian government were targeted, and the Plaza of the Three Powers, a 1950’s vision of the future, is seen as a symbol of Brazil. The assault was broader than the one on the US Capitol, and the security forces initially appeared to be vastly outnumbered. After the attack, photos and videos of the Planalto Palace showed extensive destruction, including broken mirrors, furniture, and artwork. The congress and supreme court were in recess, and no judges or lawmakers were present. 

The protesters mainly focused on Planalto Palace, which Lula now occupies. Bolsonaro declared in his farewell address that a new administration would take office on Sunday, but his supporters have taken his speeches as calls to resist Lula. Robert Muggah from the Igarapé Institute in Rio de Janeiro called the insurrection “foretold” and compared it to the US Capitol siege. 

He said Bolsonaro’s followers had been fed with misinformation and disinformation that was based on the narratives of supposed US influencers. The US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said the US condemned any effort to undermine democracy in Brazil and that their support for Brazilian democratic institutions was unwavering.