Online influencers, who deny the results of the country’s recent presidential election, used a particular phrase to summon “patriots” to what they called a “Festa da Selma” — using the word “selva,” a military term for War cry, with an “m” substituted for the “v” in hopes of avoiding detection by Brazilian authorities, who have wide latitude to arrest people for “anti-democratic” postings online.” “Festa” is that Portuguese word for “party”.
Organizers on Telegram released dates, times and routes for so-called “Liberty Caravans” that would pick up people in at least six Brazilian states and bring them to the party, according to posts seen by The Post. One post read: “Attention Patriots! We organize for a thousand buses. We need two million people in Brasilia.”
That online activism culminated with busloads of people landing in the capital on Sunday, where they stormed and destroyed three major government buildings, reportedly setting fires and stealing weapons in the most significant attack on the country’s democratic institutions since the country’s military coup from 1964 was.
Brazilian analysts have long warned of the risk of an incident in Brazil similar to the Jan. 6, 2021 riot in the US Capitol. In the months and weeks leading up to the country’s presidential election in October – in which leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defeated right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro – social media channels were deluged with disinformation, along with calls in Portuguese to “stop the stealing” and calls for a military coup should Bolsonaro lose the election.
On TikTok, researchers found that five out of eight of the top search results for the keyword “ballot” included terms like “fixed ballots” and “ballots were tampered with.” At the same time, Facebook and Instagram redirected thousands of users who entered basic search terms about the election to groups questioning the integrity of the vote. On Telegram, an organizing center for Brazil’s far-right, a viral video that authorities removed called for the killing of children of left-wing Lula supporters.
How Facebook and TikTok are helping to drive Stop the Steal in Brazil
In the days following the final count of the October 30 election, Bolsonaro supporters who opposed the results blocked major highways across the country. Those blockades turned into demonstrations in dozens of cities, where supporters camped outside military bases for weeks. Some of them held signs that read “Stolen Election” in English, a testament to the close ties between right-wing movements in both countries.
Although Lula’s inauguration last week was largely uneventful, calls for violence and destruction have accelerated online in recent weeks, said researcher Michele Prado, an independent analyst who studies digital movements and Brazil’s far-right.
“For years, our country has been going through a very strong process of people’s radicalization to extremist views – mainly online,” she said. “But over the last two weeks I have seen an increasing number of calls from people promoting extremism and demanding direct action to dismantle public infrastructure. Basically, people are saying we need to stop the country and create chaos.”
Posts calling for a coup d’état, as well as common pro-Bolsonaro hashtags claiming “electoral fraud” and “stolen elections,” are circulating across social media services. The most violent rhetoric, as well as the most direct organizing, has taken place on the largely unmoderated news service Telegram.
Researchers in Brazil said Twitter in particular is a place to watch because it’s heavily used by a circle of right-wing influencers — Bolsonaro allies who continue to promote vote-rigging narratives. Several of these influencers suspended their accounts in Brazil and now reside in the United States. Bolsonaro himself was on vacation in Florida on Sunday.
Billionaire Elon Musk, who completed his acquisition of Twitter in late October, laid off all of the company’s workforce in Brazil except for a handful of salespeople, said a person familiar with the layoffs, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters . Among those fired in early November were eight people from Sao Paulo who moderated content on the platform to catch posts that violated rules against incitement to violence and misinformation, the person said. The person said he is not aware of any teams actively moderating infringing content on Twitter in Brazil.
Criticism aimed specifically at Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Electoral Court and Supreme Court Justice who is despised by Bolsonaro supporters for barring many prominent right-wing leaders from posting online, has also increased since the election , said Prado and others.
Footage from Sunday’s demonstration circulated on social media showed rioters pulling a chair from a government building on which they affixed the seal of the Brazilian Republic. One rioter shouted, “Look everyone, it’s Big Alexander’s chair!”, using a derogatory nickname for Moraes. According to the video, expletives followed. It could not be confirmed whether the chair had actually been stolen from Moraes’ chambers.
Despite their apparent similarities, Brazilian researchers said Bolsonaro supporters are careful not to draw too many comparisons to Jan. 6 in the US, as it could trigger an arrest for inciting anti-democracy acts, a crime in Brazil. When Jan. 6 is referenced, as was the case in a handful of posts this week, the remarks appear scrambled, said Viktor Chagas, a professor at Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro state who researches far-right online movements.
Still, Chagas said Sunday’s riot was “a clear attempt to mimic the invasion of the US Capitol as a reproduction of Trumpist movements and a symbolic signal of the strength and transnational connections of the global far-right.”
Chagas pointed out that January 9 was an important nationalist symbol in Brazil, when the country’s first ruler, Emperor Dom Pedro I, declared that he would not return to Portugal, popularly known as “I will stay”. day is known.
“It’s as if Bolsonarists are equating Bolsonaro with D. Pedro I and implying that the previous government will remain in place,” he said. Some posts also referenced “I will stay day,” indicating the demonstrations were likely to continue into Monday. he added.
In a tweet on Sunday, Bolsonaro — a prolific social media user who has been relatively quiet since his election defeat — denounced the attacks: “Peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy by law,” he tweeted hours after the attack began However, invasions of public buildings such as those taking place today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, were outside the law.”
Brazilian researchers said a counter-narrative was circulating among Bolsonaro supporters as early as Sunday, accusing the Lula government and people from Lula’s party of infiltrating peaceful, democratic demonstrations to incite the country against Bolsonaro supporters. The counter-narrative also echoed the Jan. 6 riot, in which many Trump supporters blamed left-wing activists for the violence.
Sunday’s chaos was “a disaster,” said Paulo Figueiredo Filho, a host for right-wing broadcaster Jovem Pan, who lives in Florida and whose social media accounts were terminated by Moraes. “It’s Moraes’ wet dream.”
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