A riot rattled their democracy. Brazilians are worried about what’s next.

A man crosses the empty avenue of Ministries Esplanade in front of the Brazilian mounted police on Jan. 11 in Brasília. (Fernanda Frazão for The Washington Post)

BRASÍLIA — Brazilians are trying to come to terms with the Jan. 8 riot that rocked their young democracy.

The usually calm capital of Brasília became a site of chaos. Thousands of supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro — fueled by misinformation that newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had stolen the election — stormed the centers of government, shattering glass, splintering furniture and slashing paintings.

The divisions on violent display that day are still evident across Brazilian society. Some are disgusted with the chaos that unfolded; others are worried their nation is headed toward communist dictatorship. Some just want to get on with their lives.

Laura Pereira, 39

“It seems we can’t have a moment of rest,” Laura Pereira said while walking her dog, Corina. “It was like the screenwriter of ‘the Brazil show’ has gone crazy.”

But she’s not afraid: “I think we cure fear with information.”

She says that the new president’s decisive reaction to the riot “sends a very good message that someone is in charge.”

Lucia Melo da Silva, 64

Lucia Melo da Silva is a mosaic artist who sells popcorn at Brasília’s TV Tower Plaza for extra income. She said she didn’t vote for Lula or Bolsonaro and wishes Brazilians were given a chance to be led by someone new.

“The climate is tense, but the danger, I believe, has passed,” she said. “Since Lula has been elected, let’s see what he will do.”

Jeferson Mario, 62, and Eunice Carvalho, 58

Bolsonaro supporters Jeferson Mario and his wife, Eunice Carvalho, were not there on the day of the riot but came to Brasília’s main plaza on Jan. 11 because they heard there would be more protests.

“Frustrated is the word, right? I am outraged by the chaos in Brazil. Institutions are not working properly,” Mario said.

Carvalho said she is worried about where the country is headed: “I am afraid that Brazil will become a country like Cuba, a communist dictatorship.”

Kelson Henrique, 33

Kelson Henrique, a mounted police officer, was on the scene when the protest got out of control.

“They threw a lot of stones at us and hit us with sticks. Some people don’t realize it, but the tear gas also disturbs us a lot,” he said, standing guard on Jan. 11. “But that’s it, it’s part of our job, right?”

Lucas Rodrigues dos Santos, 20

Lucas Rodrigues Dos Santos, a student of museology at the University of Brasília, said it was “disturbing and revolting” to see the acts of Jan. 8. “They don’t know how to value works, museums.” He said having Lula in power is a “relief.”

Javé, 22

“It’s a complicated moment, but fortunately, as you can see, everything is already running normally here on the Ministries Esplanade,” said navy member Javé, standing guard Jan. 11 at the Monumental Axis, which is lined by federal offices. “It’s fine.”

Camila Ramaldes, 21

Camila Ramaldes said she expected what happened on Jan. 8 because it followed the same script as what happened in the United States when Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. “Bolsonaro supporters copy everything Trump supporters do,” she said.

She celebrated when Lula won, but her father-in-law is a Bolsonaro supporter. “We stopped talking about politics,” she said. “It’s very difficult to change his opinion, or the opinions of older people in general.”

Marcos Paulo, 34, children Cora, 5, and Ruan, 2

Marcos Paulo, a father of two, said rioters got things wrong.

“I imagine that these people do not accept what is different, they do not accept seeing an Indigenous person, like me, going up the ramp with the president of Brazil,” he said. “They are attached to a traditionalism that can no longer exist.”

Dilza Ferreira Jacó, 80

“I’m apolitical,” Dilza Ferreira Jacó said as she picked flowers in one of the many gardens in the city.

She’s worried, though, that this will happen again. But she’s also afraid of the return of the leftist government.

“Politics are very confused at the moment,” she said. “The authorities are disabling each other, and this is very unstable.

Beatriz Almeida Serafim, 19

Beatriz Almeida Serafim’s class was let out early on Jan. 11 in anticipation of another protest. “Everyone was scared by the amount of helicopters passing by,” she said. “We were very afraid of these people invading a museum or even invading the university, since it stands against anti-democratic acts.”

Faustino Silva, 36

“Honestly, I hope the government works out,” Faustino Silva said, smoking a cigarette on his motorcycle. “After all, we’re in the same boat, so if it goes wrong, it’s bad for everyone.”

He’s not hopeful, though, “due to previous Lula governments.”

Brazilians need to protest for what they want, but not like that, he said.

Marina Fiori, 26 and Malu Fiori, 50

Malu Fiori and her daughter Marina went out boating together at Paranoá Lake on Jan. 12.

They see their country very differently, highlighting a generational divide in Brazilian politics.

“The energy is not good. We've entered communism, a dictatorship,” the mother said. “It is desperate for us to see our people like this. We are no longer in a free country.”

She didn’t attend the protest on Jan. 8, but she recounted a baseless claim that other Bolsonaro supporters have adopted: “People were hired to break and destroy federal property. This was not done by the patriots.”

Her daughter takes another view.

“The right extremists have completely lost their track,” Marina said. When Bolsonaro was president, she said, he amplified prejudice, violence and ignorance.

João Pedro Rabelo, 19

“Lula took office, and I felt an incredible hope that we were finally going to have some peace,” said João Pedro Rabelo, 19, a student at the University of Brasília who lives on the outskirts of the Pilot Plan area.

The events of Jan. 8 left him feeling anxious. “It was a terrorist attack. I was quite scared. We expected the worst,” he said.

He still has hope for the future. “With the new government, we have the possibility of having a better world.”

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