The president of Brazil was not present.
Chief Sund persisted in pleading for assistance, and eventually, a beleaguered Vice President Mike Pence ordered the sending of the D.C. National Guard to the White House.
Within 24 hours of the incident, the authorities detained 1,500 people.
According to reports, it took the Capitol Police in the United States six weeks after the uprising to suspend six officers (with pay) for their behavior that day and launch an inquiry against another 29.
At least 972 people have been charged with offences connected to the incident two years later.
On January 8, viewers of television news noticed a startlingly familiar image. Just two years and two days after the January 6th Capitol uprising in Washington, D.C., a crowd of thousands attacked government buildings in the capital city of another nation—Brazil. This was an “eerily familiar” instance of déjà vu. Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, called what was going on in Brasilia “the first significant worldwide copy of our Capitol riot.”
As it seemed, there were parallels, which brought to light a flaw in our democratic system that hadn’t been noticed before: the time between presidential terms.
On January 8, rioters in Brazil were opposing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also known as Lula, a politician that Barack Obama once called “my man.”
Like President Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing autocrat, was ousted from government by a narrow margin. He was called “the Trump of the tropics,” and he followed the example of the former American president by spreading doubt about how fair the election would be in the months before the vote. He predicted electoral fraud and pushed rumors about tampered voting equipment, just like Trump. It makes sense, given that his team has ties to Steve Bannon, who was Donald Trump’s top strategist in the White House and advised the Bolsonaro campaign. Bannon said Brazil’s election would also be rigged, and he later called the protesters “Brazilian freedom fighters.”
Like their American counterparts, the passionate Bolsonaro supporters caused chaos by destroying artwork and furniture at the presidential palace and leaving the insides of the buildings they broke into “in ruins.”
In Brazil, many members of the security forces seemed to support the protesters in a much more obvious way than in the U.S. According to a Brookings assessment, Bolsonaro supporters encountered little resistance as the raid progressed. On camera, police personnel can be seen conversing with demonstrators and purchasing coconut water. It also said that “several military officers were involved in the vandalism” and that it was worrying that the local government and public security officials seemed not to care at all.
However, if you look closer, there are some significant variances.
To begin with, Joe Biden was still 15 days away from taking office when the uprising on January 6th occurred. Still, Lula had already assumed office and wasn’t present when the presidential palace was attacked.
It’s difficult to exaggerate how important that is. The real transfer of power was not halted by the rioting in Brasilia. Even though many Bolsonaro supporters refused to accept the election results and camped in protest tent cities in the capital for weeks, there were protests before Lula became president. However, unlike Joe Biden, Lula accepted the position of president without incident. Bolsonaro has also permitted the handover of authority to the future president, unlike Trump. Before Lula was sworn in as president, he went to Florida. This left his supporters without a leader for their ongoing protests. He told them, “We either live in a democracy or don’t.” And nobody seeks adventure.
Of course, Donald Trump stayed there and did not travel. He had previously tweeted, “Big demonstration in D.C. on January 6th… Be there; you’ll be crazy! The next day, he told a group of armed people gathered in Ellipse Park in Washington to march on the Capitol and stop a vote to confirm the election results. This prompted the attack. He warned them, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness.” “You must be powerful and demonstrate strength.”
As the legal blog Just Security summarized the congressional January 6th report over two years later: “Without that speech, without that mob… the assault on the Capitol would not have happened.” Even though there were reports that weapons were taken from the presidential palace and that Brazilian rioters broke windows, destroyed computers, and stole art, the Associated Press said there were “no immediate reports of deaths or injuries” during the rampage. On the contrary, many of the police and the rioters had some level of camaraderie.
On the other side, the attack on the Capitol in Washington would result in seven fatalities, 140 injuries to police officers, and multiple hospital admissions. At the same time, the rebels wanted the heads of politicians like Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi, as well as a large number of militia members and active and retired U.S. military personnel. In front of the Capitol, some demonstrators even built gallows. In Brazil, there were no threats like this against political leaders, and most of the buildings that were supposed to be attacked were empty.
Should we send in the troops?
The methods used in both nations to stop the attacks varied as well. Due to the high levels, there wasn’t enough law enforcement in both countries, but in different ways. Insurrectionists in both countries were able to easily get past police barricades. The head of the U.S. Capitol Police, Stephen Sund, expressed his horror at seeing a “mob-like nothing I have seen in my tenure as a law enforcement officer.” He observed his police “attempt to protect themselves against projectiles being directed at them while being hit with pipes, wooden rods, flag poles, and sprayed with mace and bear spray.” In the meantime, two pipe bombs were found near the riot, one near the Democratic National Committee office and the other near the Republican National Committee office.
But soon, a noticeable difference became apparent. The president of Brazil was not present. Bolsonaro was out of touch, and even though there were shockingly few police and people who supported the riotous supporters of the former president at first, there were a lot of them when President Lula asked for help from the security forces.
President Trump did not travel anywhere in the US. He just kept arguing about the election results and watched what was going on on TV, as he still does today. Even though loyal allies in Congress, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asked for help, this was the case. McCarthy angered the president by telling him that his supporters were “trying to f—— kill” him. Trump waited hours before telling the rebels to return home and adding, “We love you.” You are incredibly unique.
Chief Sund immediately requested assistance but was denied. The Capitol Police “does not have the manpower, the training, or the capabilities to handle an armed rebellion involving thousands of persons bent on violence and destruction at all means,” he said in a letter to Congressional leaders. When he asked for help, the Secret Service, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and other groups came to his aid. But the National Guard was what he needed.
In the days leading up to January 6, Sund had asked that the Guard be placed on alert. In a later interview with reporter Aaron Davis, he said that on January 3, he also saw the need for the National Guard. He claimed that on the day of the attack, he practically begged for them, but his cries were ignored.
Before the chief can ask for the Guard, the rules say that the request must be approved by the Capitol Police Board, which took more than an hour, and that the Pentagon’s first responders should recommend against approving the proposal because it would look strange to see the National Guard standing in line with the Capitol in the background. Chief Sund kept asking for help, and finally, Vice President Mike Pence, who was in a tough spot, sent the D.C. National Guard to the White House. Even after they arrived (about 5:30 p.m.), it took another two hours to stop the violence altogether.
An aggressive approach to identifying leaders and followers started right away in Brazil. Within 24 hours of the incident, the authorities detained 1,500 people. Those who had helped the protest from the inside were also quickly suspended and put under more scrutiny. Additionally, higher-ups who might have encouraged the rioting were fired. Ibaneis Rocha, the governor of Brasilia and a Bolsonaro loyalist, was suspended, and his security chief and chief of police were both taken into custody. Even though the former president is being looked into to see if he had anything to do with the rebellion, Lula has promised to keep getting rid of Bolsonaro supporters from his security forces.
Some people, like Tyler McBrien at the Lawfare blog, think that the lessons learned on January 6 helped Brazil’s response move quickly and satisfactorily.
The variations are undoubtedly telling
According to reports, it took the Capitol Police in the United States six weeks after the uprising to suspend six officers (with pay) for their behavior that day and launch an inquiry against another 29. The Department of Justice focuses on the rioters who broke into the Capitol building and broke through its walls. Many of these people carried “deadly or hazardous weapons,” like baseball bats and pistols. At least 972 people have been charged with offenses connected to the incident two years later. Six of them, including Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. 495 of them reportedly pleaded guilty. At least 378 people have been given sentences, and at least 55% have been imprisoned. Even though no one has been found guilty of a seditious conspiracy, the longest sentence is ten years.
At best, the calls for those in charge who didn’t protect the capital well enough to be held accountable have been weak.
Both Sund and at least two Capitol Board members submitted their resignations. Other than that, there hasn’t been any effort to own up to what happened.
The Senate set up a special committee to look into what happened before January 6 in order to find the leaders of the uprising, not just the people who took part in it. On June 30, 2021, they began their work and interviewed over 1,000 witnesses. On December 22, 2022, just before the Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives, they released their report, which mostly focused on Donald Trump’s mistakes. The committee suggested that he be charged with crimes and that his election lawyer, John Eastman, also be charged with crimes. But despite Attorney General Merrick Garland’s promise of “justice without fear or favor,” neither the former president nor his closest allies have been charged.
Even though accountability measures like these are still necessary, the time between Election Day on the second Tuesday of November and Inauguration Day on January 20 is also a problem that needs to be considered. We now know that the 10-week period is full of chances for people to abuse their power and break democratic rules.
This is not the first time there has been talk about disruption or even a disaster.
Then and Now: Presidential Transitions
It wasn’t the first time the outcome of a presidential election had been contested before the 2020 election. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran for president in the House of Representatives in 1800. It took 35 votes and six days before Jefferson won. Consider the “corrupt deal” election of 1824, in which John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson in a runoff chosen by the House because neither candidate got a majority of the votes in the electoral college. Or Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 led to the separation of seven states by March 4, 1861, the day of his inauguration. Then there was the 1876 election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, in which Tilden fell one vote short of a majority in the electoral college. This resulted in a transition phase marked by bitter conflict over electoral irregularities. After the Electoral Commission Act was passed, Hayes, a Republican, agreed to the plan to rebuild the country after the Civil War. This helped him win the support of more Democrats and get elected president. Of course, the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was more recent, and a Florida recount caused the results to be delayed for several weeks.
Much must occur during any presidential transition period. The new team needs money transferred for equipment, offices must be set up, and perhaps most importantly, top-position nominations must be made. The Presidential Transition Act of 1963, which governs “the orderly transfer of executive power,” says that any trouble caused by the change in executive power could hurt the security and well-being of the United States and its people.
The 9/11 Commission pointed out the dangers of a bad handover of power and said that, at the very least, the lack of preparation for the attacks on September 11, 2001, was partly due to the short amount of time that was given for the handover. That term had been cut down to 39 days—less than half the usual length—by the time the Supreme Court finally stepped in to stop the Florida recount, electing George W. Bush president on December 12. This had adverse effects. The delay “made it harder for the incoming administration to find, hire, confirm, and get Senate approval of important officials,” the panel said. This made it harder for the National Security Council to stop those terrorists from attacking the following September.
In response to these worries, Congress extended the time for sharing information between administrations in 2010 and will do so again in 2019. It also moved up the dates for some government appointments. But the rough time after Joe Biden was elected made it clear that more needed to be done. Congress passed the Presidential Transition Improvement Act on December 22, 2022. This law addresses the problems that come up when an election is contested.
However, it is unlikely that any legislation will effectively address what Donald Trump and his band of election skeptics (and insurrectionists) attempted to achieve on January 6, 2021. It’s still too early to tell if that means the American system is headed for a new, more dangerous future. One thing is sure: on that day, the US failed to transfer authority peacefully. The new president was sworn in on a day when there was more violence than ever.
Yes, it isn’t easy to imagine how events in Brazil would have played out if they hadn’t happened. This is how much social media has changed the world, but the comparison to Brazil doesn’t work, even though there are some similarities and copying. Despite those aggressive protesters, Brazil’s actual transition of power took place peacefully, in contrast to how it happened in this country; this is a fact that shouldn’t be ignored.
The US barely avoided a coup and the blocking of a legal presidential election. Despite the ongoing legal actions against the insurrectionists from that day and any charges Donald Trump and his associates may face in the future, Even though laws have been passed to fix the security flaws that led to the crisis, it’s important to remember that a dangerous historical threshold has been crossed that we can’t afford to cross again.