Videos of Brazil attack show striking similarities to Jan. 6

Rioters break down barriers near government buildings in Brasília on Jan. 8, 2023, and D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. (Video: Twitter / Elijah Schaffer)
6 min

Editor’s note: Some of the following videos contain violence.

Thousands of far-right protesters supporting former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the main buildings of all three branches of Brazil’s government on Sunday. Videos capturing the attack show scenes that are eerily familiar to when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020.

The insurrection, which took place over several hours, was the most serious threat to Brazilian democracy in more than half a century. It came a week after Bolsonaro’s successor — President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — was inaugurated. Consequently, unlike at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, rioters in Brazil could not attempt to stop the transfer of power nor could they target specific lawmakers, as the complex was largely vacant on a weekend day. Bolsonaro denounced the rioters’ actions in a tweet hours after the attack began.

How Bolsonaro’s rhetoric — then his silence — stoked Brazil assault

While Trump and Bolsonaro are often compared for their rhetoric and political stances, a Washington Post comparison of more than 50 videos of the attack in Brazil to our archive of Jan. 6 videos reveals moments where the two mobs also take strikingly similar actions. Rioters draped in Brazil’s national colors and waving the Brazilian flag left a trail of shattered glass, ransacked offices and splintered furniture behind them. They documented and published key moments of Sunday’s assault on social media — from breaking past police barricades and fights with police to vandalizing government buildings and stealing property.

A violent entry

Video posted to social media on Sunday shows a small, outnumbered group of law enforcement members attempting to hold off Bolsonaro’s supporters with a spray. Shouting and then charging the line, rioters broke past law enforcement, as well as plastic and metal barricades, to gain access to the government complex.

Rioters break through barriers and police lines near Brazil's National Congress building on Jan. 8. (Video: Twitter)

A similar scene played out when a small line of U.S. Capitol Police officers were overrun, as rioters pushed over metal barricades on Jan. 6, gaining open access to the Capitol complex. Video shows mobs at both riots used the barricades — meant to protect officers and property — as weapons.

Rioters push past U.S. Capitol Police in order to gain access to the complex on Jan. 6, 2021. (Video: Elijah Schaffer)

The rioters used similar tactics to break into the government buildings, too. After breaking at least one large glass pane, Bolsonaro’s supporters used metal police barricades to attempt to shatter additional panes of the Supreme Court. This allowed rioters to enter and exit the building almost freely.

Rioters use metal barriers to break windows at Brazil's Supreme Court on Jan. 8 (Video: Twitter)

Similarly, video shows Dominic Pezzola, a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys, punched through a window on the western front of the U.S. Capitol to create the first entry way for rioters. He faces federal charges in connection with the riot.

Dominic Pezzola, a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys, punches through a window on the western front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Video: Brendan Gutenschwager via Storyful)

Fighting with police

Even as the complex was overrun with rioters in Brazil, police attempted to regain some kind of control against those who threw bottles and signs at them. Officers rode horses and fought with the crowd. But video shows that even with horses, a policing tool that was requested by D.C. police on Jan. 6 but did not arrive, the crowd overwhelmed Brazilian officers, pulling at least one from a saddle in a violent struggle.

After being pulled from the horse, video shows the officer disappears into the mob. It was not immediately clear from the visuals whether the officer was injured.

Rioters attack police on horseback near government buildings in Brazil on Jan. 8. (Video: Instagram)

Police on Jan. 6, too, were vastly outnumbered — more than 58 to 1, according to a previous investigation by The Washington Post. In an attempt to hold off the rioters, video shows, officers were often in something closer to a brawl than a controlled policing environment. Officers were slammed in closing doors, and rioters threw items including hammers and sharpened flagpoles at the police line.

Video shows that on at least one occasion, a D.C. police officer, later identified as Michael Fanone, was dragged into the mob and beaten. Fanone later resigned from the force and has since been publicly critical of lawmakers who have attempted to play down the day’s events.

A D.C. police officer, later identified as Michael Fanone, was dragged into the mob and beaten on Jan. 6, 2021. (Video: Christopher Chern via Storyful)

Interior destruction, souvenirs

Rioters in Brazil left widespread destruction across the complex, a video posted to social media shows. Footage taken inside the Palácio do Planalto, which houses the office of the president, shows photographs of former Brazilian presidents ripped and strewn across the floor. Smashed furniture is left spread across the floor in the Supreme Court building.

Rioters damage the interior of Brazil's Supreme Court on Jan. 8. (Video: Twitter)

In the hours and days following the Jan. 6 insurrection, images and videos surfaced showing rioters in every part of the U.S. Capitol building. Adorned in Trump hats and Confederate flags, insurrectionists stood at the dais in the Senate chamber, plowed through the mazelike hallways of the Capitol complex and ransacked offices.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) posted a video of his office after rioters had been cleared from the building. Trash is visible across the hallways; rioters left granola bars and ash from a cigarette or “something,” as Merkley says, on his desk. Debris is strewn across the floor, and a Trump flag has been added to the Democratic senator’s decor.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) shows his ransacked office. (Video: Sen. Jeff Merkley)

Although the majority of Brazilian lawmakers were not in the federal complex, rioters made no secret of their disdain for particular individuals and flaunted property stolen from federal offices.

A protester proudly held part of a door stolen from inside, shouting down the lenses of the many smartphones filming him. The door is labeled as property of Ministro Alexandre de Moraes, a justice of the Supreme Court, and a key target of Bolsonaro supporters. Bolsonaro previously said Moraes “has all the symptoms of a dictator.”

A rioter holds a door stolen from inside Brazil's Supreme Court belonging to Alexandre de Moraes. (Video: Twitter)

Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) similarly was a target of rioters’ ire on Jan. 6. Some rioters chanted, “Bring her out now!” Others ransacked her office as they searched for her. Members of her staff huddled in fear under a conference table in an adjoining room.

Video shows Richard “Bingo” Barnett bragging about a letter, addressed to Pelosi, stolen from her desk. Her name is written clearly in the upper right-hand corner. Barnett had been photographed with his feet on a desk in the speaker’s office earlier in the day.

A man accused of breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Jan. 6, 2021, holds up mail addressed to her outside the U.S. Capitol. (Video: Brandon Buckingham via Storyful)

Massive crowds

Crowds poured across the Eixo Monumental, a 10-mile-long avenue in the center of the city connecting some of Brazil’s most iconic government buildings. As the crowds arrived at the country’s National Congress, they dispersed across the grounds.

Rioters descend on Brazil's National Congress on Jan 8. (Video: Twitter)

Similarly, on Jan. 6, Trump supporters filmed themselves celebrating as crowds swelled and they took over the steps and balconies near the entrance of the U.S. Capitol.

Then-West Virginia state lawmaker Derrick Evans narrates Trump supporters taking over the eastern front of the U.S. Capitol complex on Jan. 6, 2021. (Video: Derrick Evans)

In Brazil, after security forces regained control of the buildings, at least 400 people were detained Sunday night, Ibaneis Rocha, governor of the Brasília Federal District, tweeted. In contrast, roughly 40 people were arrested for breaking curfew — not for their role in the attack — in the immediate aftermath of the riot at the U.S. Capitol. It took about 100 days for federal investigators to arrest 400.

Júlia Ledur, Samuel Oakford, Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.