What Happened When Brazilian Protestors Stormed the Capitol

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By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook

Brazil is back to the international news, this time for the violent invasion and depredation of the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace in Brasilia (Federal District) by thousands of protesters on Sunday the 8th. The images of savagery quickly traveled the world, causing apprehension and commotion. 

It’s a grave institutional crisis that will lead to unpleasant developments in the near future.

There are no reports of deaths, but the depredation in and outside the official buildings was severe. More than 400 protesters have been arrested on site, with another 1.500 being looked for and investigated. The Federal District’s governor has been temporarily removed from post by the Supreme Court for dereliction of duty and under suspicion of having facilitated the agitator’s circulation.

President Lula has declared the Capital under federal intervention until the end of January, invoking Article 34 of the Constitution to restore and maintain order. In his official statement, Lula blamed former president Bolsonaro for the riots and called the protesters “…vandals,… fanatical Nazis, fanatical Stalinists … fanatical fascists.” He said the protesters “did what has never been done in the history of this country,” promising that “all these people who did this will be found and punished.” 

(Hmmm… Fascist Stalinists? Stalinists? Lula’s a leftist, did he actually let that slip?)

An unprecedented event?

Not really. Turbulent protests have happened with certain frequency in the Capital since 1989, when Brazil transitioned from the military regime installed in 1964 to democracy again – and even before that. Official buildings have been raided many times before as well. However, never like this. 

My American colleagues feeling of déjà vu might be excused. But while the similarities between J6 and our “J8” are many, the background and underlying structures are different. Every democracy is subject to shakes and shocks; how well they resist depends on its foundations. And the US has more solid institutions, a long tradition of democracy, and a much stronger separation of powers compared to Brazil. 

Be that as it may, this is just another unfortunate yet expected eruption of discontent caused by the ongoing polycrisis everywhere. You can always go lower: as a developing country, Brazil is certainly not immune to further Thirdworldization, that I can say. And indeed, the social and political scenarios aren’t the only ones deteriorating fast around here: the economy and liberty are quickly going down the drain as well. 

The chronology of the Brazilian Capitol moment.

Tension was building even before the election of Lula in October. In November, The OP published my report on the political, juridical, and social strain and the massive protests that erupted in cities all over the country. If you haven’t read that piece, I encourage you to click on the link to have a better insight into that background. 

Anyway, since then, Brasilia has become the center stage of political rift, violent protests, and even bomb threats. Sunday’s Brazilian J8 is the culmination of those events. Here’s some quick context to help you understand how we got here, what’s happening, and the likely developments and repercussions of Sunday’s unrest:

  • Following the elections, Bolsonaro recoiled in silence, leaving his officials, subordinates, and supporters in the dark, emptying his government and in practice ending his term. This allowed the newly elected government to become emboldened and steal (oops!) the spotlight, despite not yet having been officially inaugurated.
  • Between that and the inauguration on January 1st, right-wing supporters remained protesting in encampments all over the country, expecting the conservatives’ leader and the Army’s declaration about the election’s legitimacy and the overstepping of the Supreme Court. Instead, all they got was months of conflicting and evasive orientations (and fake news), which increased discontent and frustration.
  • On December 12th, the same day of Lula’s official certification and swearing ceremony before the congress, a violent protest erupted in the Federal District. Buses and other vehicles were set alight, and rioters tried to invade the Federal Police building, clashing with the police in the streets of the Capital.
  • On Christmas Eve, the feds arrested a man who planted a bomb in a fuel truck near the Capital’s airport. In his vehicle, the police found two shotguns, two revolvers, three pistols, a rifle, 1.000 rounds of ammo, and five sticks of TNT. He confessed to being part of a group planning an attack with the intent to provoke chaos and force authorities to install martial law in the Capital just prior to the inauguration. Other bomb threats were reported but found false.
  • Two days before his term (December 30th) and the transition solemnities, Bolsonaro requested an official flight to Florida, where he’s staying until the end of January. He refused to concede victory and hand over the presidential sash to Lula, who he calls “a thief, a corrupt convict who got taken out of jail by a bureaucratic and juridical maneuver.”
  • Vice president Mourão and other high-ranking figureheads of Bolsonaro’s government also skipped the inauguration, including some from the military’s top brass. The last time this happened was exactly when Brazil transitioned to democracy in 1989 and the last military president refused to hand over the power to his civil successor.
  • Inauguration day (Sunday, January 1st): There were no incidents during the inauguration party, but it was tense and took place under a heavy security scheme in the Capital and its surroundings. In the preceding week, the Supreme Court issued a mandate prohibiting any citizen from carrying concealed weapons during the inauguration day, among other measures to try and warrant Lula and the participant’s safety.

The bellicose rhetoric and intransigent posture are coming from both sides.

This will increase tensions and inevitably lead to further ominous developments going ahead. In my November article, I tried to highlight the divisiveness expressed by Lula’s small victory margin (1,38%) and the encroachment of radical positions from side to side. I also mentioned the dissatisfaction with both candidates by the significant part of the population who abstained or voted null.

None of that has been addressed in satisfactory ways by any of the parties.

Leadership from both sides is to blame. Bolsonaro and the conservatives are failing to mount a cohesive, organized, and responsible opposition capable of galvanizing serious support. They keep insisting on rigged elections, yet no solid evidence has been presented despite various promises and innuendo. Realistically, at this point, the chances of a democratic and peaceful revision of the 2022 elections are slim to none. 

Lula, on his part, has yet to fulfill his promise made during the campaign to unify the population and listen to all sectors of society. On the contrary: so far, the populist and rabid leader has displayed his typical aggressive bravado, only furthering the “them and us”discourse.

In short, both sides are deaf and screaming at each other simultaneously. No wonder things are reaching boiling point. 

Nothing justifies what happened. 

It was violent, unnecessary, uncalled for, anti-patriotic, and shameful. The storming and depredation of official buildings in the Capital of the country are grave and condemnable in any democracy; no two ways about it. 

Objectively, it was a shot in the foot. There was no gain, no conquering. Not an inch of the opposition’s agenda has been advanced, and nothing positive or concrete was achieved. If anything, it will backfire and cause a blow to the conservative movement. The left couldn’t hope for something this good for their “cause.”

However, I’m more concerned about the developments. 

The whole ordeal gave the government, the Supreme Court, and the media substantial ammo to turn the screws on the conservatives. Justice Alexandre de Moraes already ordered the demobilization and arrest of protesters still encamped in other cities and states, among other measures, to deflate the protests. 

The activism and overreaching of the Supreme Court to demoralize, persecute and criminalize conservative leaders, common citizens and even elected representatives is deeply concerning. Everything is being legitimized in the name of “defending Brazilian democracy”.  (“Never let a good crisis go to waste” seems to be the prevailing theory in every country.)

More will come. Repression, suspension of rights, censorship. 

In typical leftist fashion, the new government has already moved to revert the pro-gun policies implemented by Bolsonaro during his mandate and resumed its agenda to control and censor the media, among other questionable measures. To no one’s surprise, though, as this was being announced by Lula and his supporters during the campaign.

Those come on top of unorthodox economic policies and controversial diplomatic initiatives being announced, causing uneasiness and setbacks. All that is bad in more ways than one. Juridical insecurity, institutional turmoil and social instability tend to alienate and push away investments, foreign and domestic. If these crises aren’t swiftly controlled and reverted, Brazil will slide further down, and the world is just entering a recession that has all makings of turning severe.  

And we’re only one week into the year!

A lot will change in Brazil. That’s evident. It’s in the air, I can already feel it. There will be ripples and developments, which will cause other conflicts, that’s for sure. I’m paying attention and getting ready for more, that’s what I can do.  

However, I still don’t see a civil war or a government collapse, at least not anytime soon. It was an important and impactful event, but a localized one and was quickly controlled. The government and the institutions are intact, and so far, the military wasn’t involved. 

The recent events taking place in Brazil show conquering rights and freedom takes a long time, and always comes at a high cost – but taking them from the population is much easier and much faster. None of that is new, and we keep talking about this crap all the time here. 

The difference now is things are accelerating and going from abstract principles to material consequences rather, as I like to say. 

What are your thoughts?

Have you followed the situation in Brazil? Do you think the protestors have accomplished anything or made things worse? What do you foresee coming of this?

Let’s discuss it in the comments.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor


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