The rioters had refused to accept Bolsonaro’s defeat to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose inauguration took place one week before the uprising. Lula, who also governed Brazil between 2003-2010, beat Bolsonaro by the narrowest margin in the country’s modern history.
The buildings of Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace were trashed by the pro-Bolsonaro rioters. They bypassed security barricades, climbed onto roofs, smashed windows and invaded all three buildings, which were largely vacant on the Sunday of the incident.
Some of Brazil’s political animus was on display in the Supreme Court’s session, as the two Bolsonaro-appointed justices declined to convict the defendant on all five counts and pushed for light sentences.
One of them issued comments that other justices interpreted as implying that Lula’s administration may have intentionally let down its guard on the day that the government buildings were breached, and rejected such claims.
“There are many questions without an answer,” said Justice Andre Mendonça. “I cannot understand how the presidential palace was invaded the way that it was.”
Justice Alexandre de Moraes shot back while sitting beside Mendonça. “You come to the plenary of the Supreme Court that was destroyed and say there was a conspiracy of the government against itself. Spare us,” Moraes said.
Lula has accused Bolsonaro of encouraging the uprising, as have many of Bolsonaro’s critics, and prosecutors are investigating his role in inciting the mayhem. The former president has denied any wrongdoing.
The incident recalled the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump. Politicians warned for months that a similar uprising was a possibility in Brazil, given that Bolsonaro had sown doubt about the reliability of the nation’s electronic voting system without any evidence. Recent jail sentences for far-right militants accused of storming the US Capitol have included 22 years for Proud Boys’ Enrique Tarrio.
In casting his vote, Justice Cristiano Zanin said participants in the Brasilia riot had been swept up in the moment.
“The members of the mob started having enormous influence on the others, which triggered a bandwagon effect,” he said.
Pereira’s lawyer, Sebastiao Coelho da Silva, denied there had been an attempted coup d’etat and questioned the severity of the damage. He criticised what he called “political judgment”.
Justice Gilmar Mendes said the facts should not be taken in isolation and all those involved must be investigated.
“We are here telling the story of the survival of democracy,” Mendes said.