The climate was more aggressive than in 2018, people were angry, they felt the loss more keenly. “We demand army intervention in parliament!” shouted one woman. “Corrupt PT out! We don’t want to have a thief!”, exclaimed two men. “There has been fraud, it’s all a conspiracy of communism! We don’t want to eat dogs like in Venezuela!”, said a man wearing a flag as a cape. “We will not allow them to indoctrinate our children! Intervention now!”, cried a woman hugging her daughter. In the background, the slogan of Bolsonarismo could be heard over the microphone: “Brazil above everything, God above everyone!”.
From that day onwards, thousands of Bolsonarist supporters camped out in front of dozens of military headquarters, calling for military intervention. These protests reached their apogee on Sunday 8 January in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, when protesters, with the complicity of the Military Police, assaulted the headquarters of the executive, legislative and judicial powers. The president swiftly decreed the intervention of public security in Brasilia, regaining national control, but the attempted coup left shocking images that evoked those of the invasion of the US Capitol the year before. The event served as a material demonstration of the violent rhetoric that had been consolidated during the recent electoral campaigns.
The Bolsonarist campaign of 2021 had been dominated, as in 2018, by innumerable memes, images, and short, targeted TikTok videos that went viral on social media during this period. Campaign messages appeared to express a process of cognitive dissonance, distorting any evidence of reality. Some of the main messages and situations that marked the campaign agenda were unimaginable several years ago: pro-military intervention demonstrations; ideas of electoral fraud or communist conspiracies; science and climate change denial; alleged corruption with bologna sandwiches; MPs throwing grenades against the Federal Police, or chasing armed opponents after street discussions. As in previous elections, we also witnessed the circulation of fake news such as alleged baby bottles with penis-shaped teats given at public schools, “gay kits” to indoctrinate children, and visions conjured up of an imagined future Lula government in which everyone would eat dogs. We saw Batman and Captain America walking down the street, Hitler as a left-wing figure, mass prayers, baptismal trips to Jordan, alleged freemasonry, SOS requests to aliens, or Roman flag salutes. Most of these messages were aimed at constructing a dehumanising, immoral and scatological image of Bolsonaro’s political rival, Lula da Silva.
During the elections, alongside the wholesale discrediting of the democratic process, these productions of parallel reality took shape in the public space, through demonstrations in front of military headquarters, and ultimately with the attempted coup d’état. The event on 8 January was a crucial one, demonstrating that Bolsonaro’s electoral failure would not be interpreted by his supporters as having occurred within the parameters of liberal democracy, but rather, as shaped by historical authoritarianism. In other words, that “good citizens”—or people with rights as opposed to individuals supposedly lacking them—, saw themselves as having the superior right to demand armed intervention. This event normalized an aggressive discourse in which democracy could be openly attacked, a discourse that has been reproduced with varying intensities throughout the country. It was an event that demonstrated the power of information bubbles, segmented algorithms, and how the very business model of digital capitalism was a source of political radicalization—an articulated radicalization that was implanted in the minds of people other than those within Bolsonaro’s own leadership.