This Feels Like Deja Vu: The Riots of January 6, 2021 and January 8, 2023

Eraldo Peres/AP

By July Choi, 2L

On January 6, 2021, thousands of Americans stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to show their disapproval of the 2020 presidential election of Joe Biden. Rioters marched toward the capitol chanting “we’re taking our country back,” and wielding flags and weapons. The mob, referred to as “great patriots” by former President Donald Trump, stormed through the Senate chambers getting as close as 100 feet from former Vice President Mike Pence and breaking the doors of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. 

Almost exactly two years later, massive crowds in Brasília stormed through the congress building, Supreme Court, and the presidential palace. Hundreds of right-winged Brazilians burst through military police barricades, set fire to the buildings’ carpets, and destroyed priceless pieces of art. The rioters were supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former leader who lost the presidential election to Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva on October 30, 2022. Similar to the American January 6 rioters, Brazilian rioters called into question the validity of the election results, electing Lula de Silva as president after a 12-year hiatus.

In both nations, the respective former presidents are being investigated as to their involvement and incitement of the riots. In the U.S., a Congressional investigation committee concluded that Trump should be charged with conspiring to injure and seditious conspiracy and should be barred from office. The committee focused on Trump’s three-hour long silence while the Capitol was under siege and his pressuring election officials to overturn election results. In addition to the allegations that Trump was involved in the incitement of riots, the investigation also found culpability in Trump’s attorneys and the Republican National Committee.

Conversely, Brazilian prosecutors argue that Bolsonaro “delivered a public incitement to commit crimes” by posting a video that questioned Lula de Silva’s victory in the election, despite it being posted two days after the riots began. The nation’s Supreme Court has accepted the public prosecutor’s request to investigate the former president’s involvement in the riots. In response to the accusations of involvement, Bolsonaro’s lawyer stated that Bolsonaro rejects “all illegal and criminal acts. . . and has always been a defender of the Constitution and democracy.” 

Both riots were momentous and have serious consequences for the nations and the global idea of democracy. Though these two riots are far from the only displays of acts of violence and terrorism in response to unfair elections, they may provide dangerous expectations and standards to countries whose populations are divided deeply by political parties and ideals.

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