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LATIN AMERICA | 12-01-2023 14:55

Poll: Nearly one in five Brazilians back rioters

New survey reveals that 18.4% of Brazilians approve of last Sunday's capital rampage carried out by a diverse group of rioters united in their hatred of "communism." But who exactly are the rioters and what do they want?

Nearly one in five Brazilians said they approve of Sunday's capital rampage carried out by backers of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, according to results of a poll released Wednesday by Atlas Intelligence.

To the question: "Do you agree with the actions of Bolsonaro protesters" who stormed Congress, the presidency and supreme court in Brasilia Sunday, 18.4 percent of 2,200 respondents said "yes."

Nearly 76 percent disagreed with the actions, and 5.8 percent had no opinion.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said the invasions were "totally unjustified," while 27.5 percent said they were "partly justified" and 10.5 percent "completely justified."

Just over half said Bolsonaro was responsible for the acts that shocked many in Brazil, according to the poll conducted by the Sao Paulo-based data company over two days after the riots.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

 

Who are the rioters?

They are a diverse bunch –– black and white, rich and poor, young and old. But the Bolsonaro-backing rioters who invaded and defaced the symbols of Brazil's democracy are united by one thing: a visceral hatred of "communism."

Since their far-right hero Jair Bolsonaro lost elections in October, they have camped in the capital Brasília, clamouring for the military to launch a coup to rid the country of his leftist successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

As their call went unanswered, on Sunday they launched the assault. Hundreds flooded the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court in a rampage organized days in advance on Telegram and WhatsApp.

They sang the national anthem, hurled insults and objects at law enforcers, and left mass destruction in their wake.

But who are they?

A mechanic, a pensioner, an evangelical pastor and the wife of a former state governor –– those are just some of the rioters identified after posting unmasked selfies of their potentially criminal exploits on social media, in images reprinted in the O Globo daily.

Others included a nephew of Bolsonaro, a well-known YouTuber, a Big Brother contestant, and a retired general.

Almost all are dressed in the yellow-and-green colours of the Brazilian flag appropriated by the former president and his backers as a symbol of nationalist fervour.

 

Why did they riot? 

"I took part because I want a free Brazil, free of communism," arrested rioter Augustinho Ribeiro told AFP-TV after his release from custody.

"We live in oppression. We think our country could become communist," said Lucia, another arrested protester who did not want to give her last name.

Bolsonaro did his best on the campaign trail to raise the specter of "communism" under leftist Lula, who had already served two previous presidential terms during which he was credited with lifting 30 million people out of poverty.

Facing criticism over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and deforestation of the Amazon, among others, Bolsonaro sought to deflect attention onto Lula's graft conviction, which has been overturned.

Long before the election, the ultra-conservative leader also attempted to cast doubt on Brazil's election bodies, and suggested he would not accept defeat.

When he did lose, millions in a deeply divided society were left with suspicion over the reliability of the election outcome, and fearful of Lula and the left.

"All we want is freedom," an arrested rioter told AFP, unwilling to give her name.

"Nobody went there to kill," she added.

Indeed, unlike the assault on the US Capitol almost exactly two years earlier, the Brasilia rioters were unarmed despite gun ownership having quintupled under Bolsonaro's Presidency, and nobody died.

The Brasília invasions happened on a Sunday, when the government offices were unstaffed, whereas the storming of the Capitol –– with which many comparisons have been drawn –– took place with lawmakers gathered to certify the results of the 2020 election.

The BrasIlia rioters' stated goal was to sow chaos to provoke the military to act, and oust Lula.

"Military intervention!" they clamoured.

Chaos there was. But the army never left its barracks, to the frustration of many.

 

'Fight again' 

Just a week before Lula's inauguration on January 1, a Bolsonaro fan planted explosives in the capital, which failed to explode, in an apparent attempt to set the scene for a violent confrontation.

But not all of the far-right leader's 58 million voters approve of such violence, fed by a hard-core fan base that soaks up conspiracy theories and mass disinformation on social media.

In the wake of Sunday's riots, many suggested –– without evidence –– that left-wing agitators were the real culprits, just as in the United States when some on the right blamed the far-left Antifa group for the storming of the Capitol.

"When the 'bolsonaristas' arrived [at Congress], everything was already broken," one rioter told AFP-TV. "There were infiltrators of the PT [Lula's Workers' Party]. We were betrayed."

Ayrkol Lorena, a 62-year-old pro-Bolsonaro protester, said he had read on social media of "infiltrators in our yellow-and-green movement."

The response of the Lula government was firm, with hundreds of arrests in the wake of the uprising.

But the "bolsonaristas" do not plan to give up –– especially since Bolsonaro, in the United States since December where he received medical treatment –– was perceived to only superficially condemn their actions.

"If they think they're going to intimidate us with this, they're completely wrong," said rioter Ribeiro. "We will rest and fight again."

 

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by AFP

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