Repudiating acts of violence perpetrated by thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, the Catholic Church in Brazil has condemned a Jan. 8 assault on government buildings in the national capital of Brasilia that many are comparing to the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol building in 2021.
The Brazilian rioters were protesting President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s electoral victory on October 30, which, like supporters of former US President Donald Trump, many backers of Bolsonaro see as illegitimate.
The far-right demonstrators arrived in the Brazilian capital city in dozens of buses from different parts of the country, and were joined by Bolsonarist activists who had been camping since the election in front of military barracks. Many had been asking the Brazilian armed forces to stage a coup.
Protestors invaded the Esplanade of Ministries, where most government buildings are located, after managing to pass through the policemen who were supposed to impede their advance. They got into the Congress building and then also invaded the Supreme Court and the presidential palace.
No politicians or justices were inside as it was a Sunday.
Footage released by several demonstrators indicate that the policemen failed to pose any serious resistance to their actions. The protestors caused extensive damage to the buildings, breaking glasses, doors, and windows, destroying equipment and furniture inside offices, and vandalizing works of art, including a painting authored by Modernist master Di Cavalcanti.
Videos posted on-line by the marchers showed a group getting into the Senate and screaming that “Brazil belongs to Jesus Christ!” During the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro was supported by Pentecostal megachurches and some segments of Catholic opinion, referring to the dispute with Lula, portrayed as a diabolical atheist, as one of good against evil.
Protestors were also spotted carrying sculptures of Jesus Christ and Our Lady of Aparecida. Others were seen with Israeli flags. Many Evangelicals who support Bolsonaro adopted Jewish symbology and believe that the second coming of Christ will only be possible when the Jewish people resume full control over the Holy Land.
After a few hours, the security forces regained control over the Esplanade of Ministries. Police sources say that at least 300 people have been detained.
Lula decreed imposed marital law on the Federal District, and Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered that the police must immediately disband all camps in front of military barracks. He also removed the Federal District governor, Ibaneis Rocha, for 90 days, arguing that his administration was neglectful in preventing criminal acts.
Further arrests are possible within the next couple of days.
Amid the upheaval, the bishops’ conference released a statement on social media condemning the violent acts and demanding the protection of democracy.
“The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), perplexed with the serious and violent events in Brasilia, calls for serenity, peace, and the immediate cessation of criminal attacks on the democratic rule of law,” the note read.
“These attacks must be immediately stopped, and their organizers and participants must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Citizens and democracy need to be protected,” the bishops added.
The conference’s Justice and Peace Commission also released a public letter, saying that the rioters had been “encouraged by [former president Bolsonaro] to not accept the democratic result of the ballots” and that they “defend a coup d’état, therefore they are perpetrating a crime against the Brazilian constitution.”
“We cannot live anymore with the hatred and violence disseminated by the former federal administration and a few of the former president’s supporters who, with authoritarian spirit, try to impose their will,” the letter said.
Other Catholic entities and groups also manifested their repudiation to the events in Brasília. The Dominican Commission of Justice and Peace published a statement in which it blamed police forces for deliberately failing to act to contain the protestors.
“With the failure of that attempted coup, there must be immediate punishment for the people who were responsible for it; prison for the vandals and their financial supporters; prohibition of any kind of act against the Brazilian democracy,” it said.
Cardinal Odilo Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo, affirmed on social media that the events in “Brasília are unacceptable.”
“That has no place in democratic coexistence. It is necessary to calm the spirits. If you want to be respected, you need to respect,” he added.
Several international leaders repudiated the attacks and manifested their solidarity with Lula, including US President Joe Biden and France’s leader Emmanuel Macron.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez condemned the invasion and compared it to the U.S. Capitol attack in 2021.
“Nearly 2 years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil,” she affirmed on social media.
Ocasio-Cortez added that “the US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.” On his last day in office, Bolsonaro travelled to Orlando. He is staying in a house owned by former Brazilian MMA fighter José Aldo.
On social media, Bolsonaro said that this kind of protest is “against the rules” and denied any kind of involvement with it. At the moment, Bolsonaro is believed to be residing in Orlando, Florida, in a rented house near Disney World owned by a professional mixed martial arts fighter.