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Bolsonaro supporter fires on police, throws grenades as election looms

Bystanders take pictures of a federal police vehicle damaged when Brazilian politician Roberto Jefferson fired at police Sunday while resisting arrest ordered by the country's Supreme Court in Comendador Levy Gasparian. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
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RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian former congressman and supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro fired a rifle and threw grenades at federal police officers who were attempting to take him into custody on Sunday, authorities said, wounding two and further stoking fear of violence around Sunday’s presidential election here.

Roberto Jefferson, who boasted in 2020 of a personal friendship with Bolsonaro, was under house arrest when police converged on his home in Rio de Janeiro state. Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court had ordered him detained after he broke the conditions of his confinement by attacking Justice Cármen Lúcia online, calling her a witch and a prostitute, and spreading misinformation.

After an hours-long confrontation, the former lawmaker was taken into custody Sunday evening and charged with attempted murder.

The incident came a week before the second and final round of Brazil’s bitterly contested presidential election Sunday, pitting Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a left-wing populist. Lula has maintained a narrowing lead in head-to-head polls throughout the campaign, but Bolsonaro and some of his allies and supporters have suggested they won’t accept an election loss.

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The confrontation followed efforts by the Supreme Court to rein in the rampant disinformation flooding the internet ahead of the vote, amid rising tension between Bolsonaro and his most radical supporters on one side and the Supreme Court and top electoral court on the other.

Bolsonaro condemned Jefferson’s actions Sunday, saying in a tweet that anyone who assaults police “is a bandit,” and criticized Jefferson’s attacks on Lúcia.

But he also repudiated the court’s investigations of Jefferson, who was arrested in 2021 as part of a crackdown on misinformation and disinformation from the so-called digital militias that have allegedly attempted to undermine democracy.

Such investigations, he argued, do not have “any support in the constitution.”

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Electoral authorities say misinformation, disinformation and violent content online, including claims that candidates are Satanists, cannibals or alcoholics, have increased in Brazil in recent weeks. The top electoral court last week authorized the elections chief, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, to remove any posts that have defied takedown orders.

The electoral court has also opened an investigation into an alleged misinformation scheme on social media involving Rio city council member Carlos Bolsonaro, the president’s son, and several social media accounts linked to Bolsonaro supporters. The Bolsonaros have denied wrongdoing.

The court actions have been harshly criticized by Bolsonaro’s supporters, who have called them acts of censorship and tyranny.

He attempted to distance himself from Jefferson, telling a television interviewer “We are not friends, we have no relationship.” Opponents responded by posting several images on social media of the two men together.

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Lula, meanwhile, said Jefferson is “everything that Bolsonaro stands for.” He alluded to a spate of violent episodes in recent weeks, including the killings of two Lula supporters. Self-proclaimed Bolsonaristas allegedly killed them because of their political affiliations.

“Hate, violence and disrespect of the law,” Lula tweeted. “Roberto Jefferson is not only a criminal, he is one of the main allies of our adversary: He is the face of everything that Bolsonaro stands for.”

Lula, who has tacked to the center during the campaign, said attacks on Lúcia “cannot be accepted by anyone who respects democracy.”

“They have created a violent faction in society,” he tweeted. “A machine to destroy democratic values. This generates behavior like the one we saw today.”

As Brazil’s election day approaches, fear of violence grows

Jefferson barricaded himself in his home in the rural municipality of Comendador Levy Gasparian for eight hours, authorities said. He resisted arrest using “firearms and explosives,” they said, including a grenade that injured two officers with shrapnel, the police said. The officers were treated for minor injuries.

In a video posted to social media, Jefferson said he had fired a gun but did not intend to injure the officers. He said he would “not surrender” to “tyranny” and the “oppression” of the Supreme Court justices.

“Fight for our flag to be on top of the world so that we can put the cross of Christ on top of the world again,” he said.

Gabriella Sá Pessoa in São Paulo reported contributed to this report.