How to Make Sense of What Happened in Brazil on January 8?

On January 8, 2023, just a week after the inauguration of Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country’s Congress was stormed and vandalised by a large crowd of Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters.

In what seems like a replica of what happened in the US just two ago, on January 6, 2021, Brazil’s democracy was being threatened.

But what happened exactly? And how did this attack compare to the insurrection of January 6, 2021?

To answer that, I’d like to refer you to two excellent sources: a podcast episode and an article which you can find below.

Yet before I do that, I’d like to point to one broader concept that becomes instrumental in our analyses: political trust.

Levels of trust in political institutions, including in the very voting system, have to be at a certain level (albeit fluctuating) for democracies to function. That is, if we don’t believe that our political system is somewhat fair and working as it is intended, we might engage in anti-politics, which could take an anti-democratic turn. In both the US and Brazil, we can see intentional attempts to erode political trust so much – or in a population big enough – for that segment of society to try to overthrow the government.

Naturally, low levels of political trust don’t have to result in coups, yet this framework can explain the parallels between what Trump and Bolsonaro have been trying to affect with their anti-democratic rhetoric (you can learn more about this concept in my podcast episode).


And now, the promised resources that will provide you with a quality overview of what happened in Brazil on January 8, 2023.

First, please listen to this episode of Explaining Brazil, a podcast by The Brazilian Report, an independent media outlet you might want to follow and explore. You hear about the differences in when the two Congresses were attacked, the level of violence in both of them, the reaction of the state forces, what happened to the rioters, and more.

Second, it is an article republished in another independent media outlet, BRASILWIRE. In an interview, journalist and editor Brian Mier goes into the relationship between Jair Bolsonaro and the current US administration, what challenges the Workers Party is facing, and more.

When asked about what will happen next, Mier says:

Lula, to his credit and occasionally in my opinion to his own detriment, has always been a firm believer in the democratic rule of law. What he means when he says this is that the Justice Department <…> will use all of its legal powers to investigate the crimes committed, and do everything it can to guarantee that everyone gets a fair trial and, if found guilty, are sentenced according to the gravity of their crimes. These statements should not be interpreted as warning signs of authoritarianism – after all, whenever a leftist takes power in Latin American they are either accused by Anglo progressives of being “complacent with neoliberalism” or “practicing authoritarianism.”

To sum up, when leaders erode political trust – something they might find already low at the beginning of their mandate – and mobilise people to act, attacks on democratic institutions can happen indeed. In established democracies, like the US, they don’t happen often and, thankfully, on January 6, 2021, the attempted coup failed. Brazil cannot be considered an established democracy – it’s still very young – but has also shown its resilience to an anti-democratic attack.

Let’s hope it doesn’t have to prove it again.


Find my episode on the political turbulence in Brazil just before and during Bolsonaro’s rule here:

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