Two riots at the Capitol. Two very different results. | ET REALITY


Monday marks one year since thousands of right-wing protesters dressed in the colors of the Brazilian flag stormed Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices in violent fury and the goal of overturning an election.

Saturday marked three years since thousands of Americans did much the same thing.

They were two shocking attacks on the Western Hemisphere’s two largest democracies, both spread around the world and both driven by presidents who had questioned their legitimate electoral losses. Each of them posed an extraordinary test for the country’s democracy, and each raised the question of how a deeply polarized society would move forward after such an attack.

Over time, the answer to that question becomes clear: the parallel attacks have had almost opposite consequences.

In the United States, support is rising for Donald J. Trump’s campaign to retake the White House, as he frames his 2020 election loss as the real insurrection and January 6 as “a beautiful day.”

At the same time, his counterpart in Brazil, far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro, has rapidly fallen into political irrelevance. Six months after he left office last year, election officials barred him from running again until 2030, and many right-wing leaders have rejected him.

Among citizens, opinions on the dual riots (January 6, 2021 and January 8, 2023) have also diverged. Recent surveys showed that 22 percent of Americans Now they say they support the January 6 attack, while in Brazil, only 6 percent support the January 8 rioters.

So why have there been such contrasting reactions to such similar threats? Researchers and analysts point to a multitude of reasons, including countries’ different political systems, media landscapes, national histories, and judicial responses, but one difference particularly stands out.

Brazil’s right-wing leaders “publicly, clearly and unequivocally accepted the election results and did exactly what democratic politicians are supposed to do,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard government professor and co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.” “. which studies the American and Brazilian democracies. “That’s strikingly different from how Republicans responded.”

The night after the January 8 riots, Brazil’s leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, they marched arm in arm in the central square of the federal government with governors, congressional leaders and judges from both the left and the right in a show of unity against the attack.

In the hours after the January 6 riot, some Republican members of Congress voted against certifying President Biden’s electoral victory, and since then Republicans have increasingly sought to reframe the insurrection as a patriotic act, or even as an inside job of the left.

Ciro Nogueira, a right-wing politician who was Bolsonaro’s outgoing chief of staff and is now minority leader of Brazil’s Senate, said the reaction in the United States surprised him.

“There is a consensus in our country, among the political class, to condemn these acts,” he stated. “I think it’s really unfortunate that a portion of American politicians applaud this type of protest.”

He speculated that Brazil strongly rebuked the rioters because many Brazilians are old enough to remember the violent military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. “The United States has not experienced a dictatorship, a period of authoritarianism,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen again in our country.”

Analysts also noted that Brazil’s political fragmentation (20 different parties are represented in Congress) makes politicians more willing to confront each other and express a broader range of opinions, while American conservatives are largely confined to the Republican Party.

At the same time, they noted that the mainstream media is less fragmented in Brazil, which they say has helped a broader portion of the public agree on a common set of facts. A generally centrist news network, Globo, has a significant share of viewers, with ratings that often exceed those of the next four networks combined.

But there is another reason Brazil has so resolutely rejected the Jan. 8 riots: a factor that some fear could pose an inadvertent threat to the nation’s institutions. Brazil’s Supreme Court has expanded its power to investigate and prosecute people it considers threats to democracy.

The approach helped dampen allegations of fraud surrounding Brazil’s 2022 elections, as one Supreme Court judge in particular, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered tech companies to remove posts that spread such falsehoods. Moraes has said that he has watched online misinformation erode democracy in other countries and intends not to let that happen in Brazil.

As a result, Brazilian courts recently ordered tech companies to close accounts at one of the highest rates in the world, according to disclosures from Google and Meta, which owns Instagram.

Moraes also oversaw the January 8 investigation (in some cases in Brazil, the role of Supreme Court judges can resemble that of prosecutors and judges).

A year after the Brazil riots, 1,350 people have been charged and 30 have been convicted, with sentences ranging from 3 to 17 years. After three years, around 1,240 January 6 rioters have been charged and 880 convicted or found guilty. Sentences range from a few days to 22 years.

Last week, Mr. Moraes gave a series of interviews in which he lashed out at rioters who were accused in cases he helped try, calling them “cowards” and “sick people” who had threatened him and his family. He also said the actions taken by the Supreme Court, a bipartisan group of 11 justices, were crucial.

“If it had not been for the strong reaction of the institutions, we would not be speaking here today. The Supreme Court would be closed and I, as investigations have shown, would not be here,” he said in an interviewpointing out that some rioters wanted to kill him.

Thirty conservative senators in Brazil published a letter on Friday condemning the January 8 attacks but questioning the growing power of the Supreme Court. Legal experts across Brazil have debated whether the court’s actions are justified given the threat, or whether they constitute a new problem of their own.

“I think there are problems with the actions of the Supreme Court,” said Emilio Peluso, a constitutional law professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. “But I think the Supreme Court had to give a firm response to what happened on January 8.”

Moraes also headed the electoral court that voted in June to prevent Bolsonaro from running in the next presidential election. Five of the court’s seven judges ruled that Bolsonaro had abused his power when, before the 2022 election, he attacked Brazil’s voting systems in a speech broadcast on state television.

Levitsky, the Harvard professor, said Brazil’s approach resembles the doctrine of “militant democracy” developed in Germany after World War II to combat fascism, in which the government can ban politicians deemed a threat. .

The United States has preferred to leave it up to voters, although courts across the country are evaluating Trump’s eligibility and the US Supreme Court is expected to ultimately decide the matter.

As Bolsonaro’s political support has faded (and as he faces a series of criminal investigations, including one related to January 8), he has largely stopped claiming to have been a victim of electoral fraud.

At the same time, with the support of his fellow Republicans, Trump has intensified his lies. At a campaign rally on Friday, he called those jailed on the Jan. 6 charges “hostages” and falsely claimed that the far-left antifa movement and the FBI were “hostages.”leading the charge”in the riot. “You saw the same people as me,” he said to his followers.

A survey last month showed that a quarter of Americans They now believe FBI agents “organized and encouraged” the Jan. 6 attack.

For Levitsky, that statistic illustrates what the United States can learn from Brazil in this case: “What leaders say and what leaders do matters.”

Paulo Motoryn contributed reports from Brasilia.

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