At CPAC, Brazil’s Former President Jair Bolsonaro Blames the Left for Insurrection

“Our people would never do what the people did on January 8th.”

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Alex Brandon/AP

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On Saturday, Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, who has become a darling of the US far-right, attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC. After losing his reelection bid last October to three-time president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro self-exiled in Florida, where he has been living the life of a retiree, with occasional public appearances at right-wing events. Bolsonaro was greeted with enthusiasm and cheers at the conference. “It’s indispensable for me to tell all of you that my relationship with President Donald Trump was simply exceptional,” he told the crowd.

The so-called Trump of the Tropics gave his usual spiel about a socialist threat in Brazil and claimed credit for not making the Brazilian people get vaccinated. Speaking with the assistance of a translator, he also suggested his “mission is not over yet.” Bolsonaro’s son and Brazilian Congressman Eduardo, who is behind the organization of CPAC’s Brazil-based version, also took part in the event and spoke on a panel titled “The Red Menace Comes to the Americas.”

Backstage, Bolsonaro told NBC News he has plans to return this month to Brazil, where he faces several investigations, including over his alleged role in inciting the January 8 insurrection in the Brazilian capital this year. The former president denied having any responsibility for the violent attack, saying he was no longer president and was outside of the country. Instead, he said he was “fighting for an investigation” into what he baselessly claimed was the work of leftist infiltrators. “All the Right rallies of the last four years were peaceful and we don’t have anything to do with that,” he said. “Our people would never do what the people did on January 8th. So we are more and more certain that it was people from the left that planned all of that.”

As I reported for Mother Jones earlier this year, Bolsonaro’s extreme far-right supporters lay siege to three government buildings in the capital’s Three Powers square: the Supreme Court, Congress, and Palácio do Planalto:

With revolting and gut-wrenching images of destruction that were eerily evocative of the January 6 invasion of the US Capitol, what transpired was far from surprising. Several experts in the United States and Brazil have noted that Sunday’s violence is the product of a transnational far-right movement. For weeks after Bolsonaro’s defeat, his fanatic followers who bought into the collective delusion of stolen elections engaged in various forms of civil disobedience: blocking roads, attacking police headquarters, and camping outside the army headquarters in Brasília and elsewhere in the country. Their convictions were similar to those who believed Donald Trump’s “Big Lie,” and these were crafted and fueled over time by their leader and US-based far-right demagogues. “Just as Bolsonaro is a cheap imitation of Trump, this was a cheap imitation of the [US] Capitol [invasion on January 6, 2021],” Lula’s former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told the Guardian.

When asked about the 2022 election results, Bolsonaro refused to acknowledge his loss. “The Brazilian people on the conservative side protested the results of the election,” he said. “I had much more support in 2022 than I did in 2018 [when first elected president].” In some ways, Brazil has become a laboratory for the global far-right and Bolsonaro has borrowed from Trump’s playbook, questioning the integrity of the electoral system and spreading misinformation about Brazil’s electronic voting machines. In the aftermath of the election, prominent US far-right supporters of the “Big Lie” said without evidence that the election had been rigged and encouraged Bolsonaro to refuse to accept defeat. 

Bolsonaro’s appearance at CPAC, whose influence appears to be dwindling, is fitting. The event, as Media Matters’ Madeline Peltz told CNN, “no longer launches the careers of hopefuls looking to make an impact, rather; it’s now simply a box to check off. And without much otherwise on his to-do list, Bolsonaro might as well check it off.”

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