Nara Roberta Silva in The Baffler:
THE MOB MET LITTLE RESISTANCE. For hours, thousands ran rampant through the halls of power, breaking windows and furniture, destroying art, stealing firearms and documents, defecating on the floor—a chaotic expression of an intensely held belief that South America’s largest democracy had failed them. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, inaugurated one week earlier to a third term, was not, in their view, Brazil’s legitimate president; that title belonged to Jair Bolsonaro.
The January 8 insurrection certainly did not arise from nowhere. Bolsonaro never formally conceded, nor did he attend the inauguration. His allies adopted an ambiguous tone when referring to the elections and the transition of power, allusively presenting Lula’s victory—by a historically narrow margin—as a sham. Blockades on highways in the immediate aftermath of the run-off in October and subsequent encampments in front of military headquarters across the country revealed the consolidation of reactionary dissent. Indeed, that thousands stormed the gleaming modernist government buildings in Brazil’s capital on January 8 came as no surprise; it was simply the most virulent manifestation of anti-democratic forces long at play in the country.
Bolsonaro first came into the national spotlight during the impeachment of Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, in 2016. An MP and former army captain, Bolsonaro delivered a speech paying tribute to the late Colonel Brilhante Ustra, a torturer during the country’s military dictatorship. In the event, several of Bolsonaro’s fellow legislators ignored the specific allegations of misconduct lodged against Rousseff when justifying their votes to impeach and used the floor to criticize the president’s economic and social policies, showing that the case indeed addressed other interests. Rousseff’s removal from power on legally precarious grounds brought an end to thirteen years of Workers’ Party rule—and marked a turning point in a crisis of democracy initiated in the massive demonstrations of 2013.