Just days after the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol, Brazil experienced an insurrection of its own this past weekend. Supporters of the far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed Brazil's capital buildings in protest of Bolsonaro's loss to the recently sworn-in Lula da Silva.

Fueled by Bolsonaro's baseless claims of election fraud and years of peddling conspiracy theories, supporters led an attack on Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices in what's been called one of the worst attacks on Brazil's democracy in the 38 years since the end of military dictatorship.

Eduardo Siqueira, professor at UMass Boston and coordinator of the Transnational Brazilian Project, joined GBH’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss the events of this past weekend. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: First question is about the timing of this — because the election was sometime ago, Bolsonaro is now in the United States. Why did this happen now in Brazil?

Eduardo Siqueira: This has all indications of a copycat of what happened in the United States. My own impression in Brazil is that this has been planned for a while. There were clear messages — social media messages — around for a while now, inviting people to participate. There were caravans of buses from different parts of Brazil, paid by sponsors that still are to be identified. This is something that was announced. It was very well known that this rally was going to happen. The idea of ‘why now?’ probably has to do with the date of January 6th. The idea is very similar.

Rath: Do we know about Bolsonaro's role in this in terms of planning, or was he asked at any point — the way that Donald Trump was — to ask to call off his supporters?

Siqueira: As far as we know, he moved to Orlando to not give Lula the traditional welcoming as usually happens when you have new presidents coming in. What we do know is, the person who was in charge of the military police, the Secretary of Justice of the federal district in Brasilia, is in Orlando — which is very weird because he was supposed to be there in Brazil, making sure that the public would not have access to the House and the Senate. So it is very suspicious that, at the same time that this is happening in Brazil, he is in Orlando talking to Bolsonaro.

I don't think that Bolsonaro overtly supported this, but he certainly was not unhappy. The folks who organized this clearly were doing this on behalf of, and in support of, Bolsonaro.

"Definitely, social media was what was used by the organizers to mobilize people. There's no question about this."
Eduardo Siqueira

Rath: Mentioning Florida, one has to think: Orlando is not exactly close to Mar-a-Lago. At the same time, we know about the connection with Donald Trump and American supporters here. Is there any connection there that we can understand?

Siqueira: It was reported in the media that he would meet Trump in Mar-a-Lago. I don't know exactly what happened that he ended up in Florida, but what was publicized and reported in Brazil is that he was going to go to Mar-a-Lago. And I suspect that he probably met with Trump this last week — or if not, had some contact with him because the idea had been discussed before. Trump encouraged Bolsonaro not to recognize the results of the election. From that perspective, it's easy to understand that the follow-up would be similar to what happened on January 6th in the United States. It seems to be very much, as I said before, a copycat operation.

Rath: The last time we spoke, you talked about how a significant portion of the Brazilian community here in Boston are Bolsonaro supporters. Do you have any sense of their reaction to the insurrection this weekend? Do you think that lost any support for him?

Siqueira: My understanding is you are seeing a lot of folks in Orlando, Florida, who went there to take pictures with him. This is what the Brazilian media reported. So I would say that a number of those folks who supported this, as happened here with Trump, were also supportive of the actions, the protest. I don't know if they would support the destruction that happened. Fortunately, the House members and senators were not in session, but the level of destruction was really amazing, impressive. Folks behave very much as if this was not a patrimony of the Brazilian people.

Broken computers are little among other small pieces of rubble all over the floor. A worker kneels to look at some.
A worker inspects destroyed computers in the main entrance of Planalto Palace, the office of the president, the day after it was stormed by supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. The protesters also stormed Congress and the Supreme Court.
Eraldo Peres/AP AP

Rath: I want to talk a bit more about the social media aspect of this, and also the intersection of right-wing social media with Brazil and the U.S. How big a role did social media play in what we saw this past weekend?

Siqueira: A major role. The Minister of Justice in Brazil is identifying all the social media accounts that actually promoted this, publicized this, invited people to participate. Definitely, social media was what was used by the organizers to mobilize people. There's no question about this. It was Instagram, Twitter and also Telegram. A number of these channels — social media channels — were used to organize this protest.

In Brazil, another one that's very important is called WhatsApp. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is a very important one. So maybe this was the major one used in Brazil, but all the others were also used, as far as we know.

Rath: Finally, one aspect of the insurrection — comparing this to what happened in the U.S. — that was different was the law enforcement response. We've seen around 1,200 people, at least 1,200 people, have been arrested for storming the capital buildings. What do you think about that? Is that going to have any more of a deterrence effect from Bolsonaro supporters?

Siqueira: This is still being investigated. It seems to me there was consent to allow this to happen. The Minister of Justice decreed intervention in the federal district because the suspicion is that the Secretary of Justice allowed this to happen. The negotiation that was going on between the Minister of Justice and the Secretary of Justice in Brasilia for some reason went awry. And the Minister of Justice is actually saying that somebody did something else that was not agreed upon before. So it seems to me that there was consent.

There are also military police involved in this. A number of these folks were camped in front of the army quarters in Brasilia. So we suspect, and probably this will be investigated very soon, we'll find out who exactly supported this, what level of support these protesters had from the police. And, different than the United States, they have not been called “insurrectionists.” They've been called “terrorists” and “vandalists.” That's how Brazilian authorities are calling this.

Rath: It certainly seems that one similarity is going to be that the events of that day are going to be unpacked now for years to come.

Siqueira: Absolutely. And I believe you should expect a large number of people mobilizing throughout the country to defend democracy. There will be a counter-mobilization that will be much bigger all over the country. The governors have already supported this. Pretty much everyone else in Brazil is saying this is not something that cannot be accepted, and these folks should actually be prosecuted and arrested to the fullest extent of the law.