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Brazil shows the USA how to handle a coup attempt


Insurrectionists tried to subvert the democratic process in both the U.S. and Brazil, using many of the exact same strategies and tactics. In fact, one could say that Team Trump exported their coup model to Brazil, but Brazil’s institutions aggressively responded, rounding up more people in two weeks than U.S. law enforcement was able to do in two years.

Now, ex-President Jair Bolsonaro is hiding out in the kingdom of Florida, begging the U.S. government for a few more months as a tourist, according to his attorneys, to “enjoy his time, breath, see what his next plans are.” In other words, “Please, please don’t make Jair face the consequences of his actions! He doesn’t wanna have to go to jail.”  

Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio Bolsonaro, who is a senator, told reporters in Brasilia, “I believe that the US is a serious country that won’t do anything illegal,” by which he meant denying his father further temporary exile as a “tourist” in Florida.

Nothing says “innocent” like Bolsonaro hiding out in a foreign country as news breaks that the ex-President attended a meeting where a senator was coerced to “save Brazil” by trying to compel Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes in a recorded phone conversation.

Flood the Zone

The Brazilian coup was an incompetent and unpopular attempt to seize power. The U.S. counterpart was more sophisticated and celebrated by the right, but it was also desperate and slipshod, like many policies created by the administration of former President Trump.

According to “chief strategist” Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s strategy was to “flood the zone with shit.” Although Team Trump’s shit-flood strategies never seemed to work out right, foreign fascists still seek their advice.

Trump aides Stephen Miller and Stephen K. Bannon advised Jair Bolsonaro on how to cling to power with claims of election fraud. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the defeated president’s son, even met Trump at Mar a Lago and conducted strategy sessions with other Trump allies on the phone. 

However, the administration of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) swiftly ordered the firing of various official accomplices while the Brazilian Minister of Justice and the Supreme Court ordered waves of arrests, without fear or favor.

This approach of immediately rounding up the fascist foot soldiers, as well as the commanders of the coup, is in great contrast to the reluctant, almost fearful approach of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland

Even though it’s been less than a month since the Brazilian coup, there is a lot already known about the planning and funding, and more Brazilian insurrectionists have been arrested than in the U.S., even though the U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) had a two-year headstart. 

In an email message to Disruption Banking, Professor Anthony Pereira, Director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University and a Visiting Professor in the School of Global Affairs at King’s College London, attributed the difference “to the degree to which the Republican Party in the US has become Trumpist and authoritarian. I think the political parties in Brazil, even those on the right, have been less ‘Bolsonarized’ than the Republican Party has been ‘Trumpized.‘” 

Although both of these “bête coups” ultimately failed, the comparison between them, how they were planned, financed, and executed, as well as the reactions of the military, the elected government, and the financial markets, is very instructive, if Western democracies are to survive in the future. 

Planning the Coup: Overt and Covert

In both the U.S. and Brazil, it was an open secret that coups were being planned. Trump famously called his followers to Washington and told the Proud Boys, a rightwing extremist group, to “stand back and stand by,” implicitly suggesting that he was their ultimate commander. Their leader, Enrique Tarrio, now on trial for sedition, answered on Twitter, “Standing by, sir.”  

Some of the planning was overt, organized on Facebook and Twitter, as well as disseminated on Youtube. Facebook, in particular, was an extremely effective venue for organizing, and the congressional investigation focused on Facebook, but Congress was too scared to release it publicly. 

Other plans happened behind the scenes. Before the attack on January 6, Trump and his advisers had staged a multi-pronged conspiracy to overturn the election results, reaching out to Republican officials on the state level in an attempt to strongarm them into lies and fraud. It is unknown at this point if Bolsonaro attempted a similar intervention, but given that the Brazilian coup seemed to be modeled after Trump’s, keep an eye out for those similarities to emerge. 

In the U.S., violent right-wing extremists came with sophisticated plans and weapons of war. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers used encrypted apps like Signal, an indication of their knowledge that they were involved in a criminal conspiracy. They had maps of congress, which they used to plan their troop movements before and after they breached the building. 

Almost all the innovations Team Trump brought to the coup were apparently transmitted to Team Bolsonaro. Trump aides Stephen Miller and Stephen K. Bannon advised the outgoing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro on how to cling to power with claims of election fraud. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the defeated president’s son, even met Trump at Mar a Lago and conducted strategy sessions with other Trump allies on the phone. 

Stop the Steal: Brazilian Version

There is debate about how much Bolsonaro was behind the violence, but two days before the attack, he posted a video on Facebook saying that Lula da Silva had not been voted into office, but rather he had been installed by the Supreme Court and the country’s electoral authority.  

Bolsonaro aired the exact same fraud allegations as Trump, but the courts weren’t having it. However, that didn’t stop his followers from disseminating the false allegations on social media sites like TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter.

Elon Musk, a friend of Bolsonaro, did his part by firing Twitter’s Brazilian staff and reinstating users spreading false allegations.

Nevertheless, Brazil’s election chief was given expansive authority to prod social media companies to remove election misinformation within two hours of being posted, the most aggressive legal measures anywhere in the world, but it didn’t stop the coup. 

Brazil’s coup planners learned from Trump’s henchmen who were cheering them on from up North.

The Selma Party

Most people rallying Balsonaristas to Brasilia, the Capitol city, did not say that they were going to attack the government. On Whatsapp and Telegram, they called for patriots to load up on at least 100 rented buses, calling for the murder of the children of Lula supporters. They used bomb emojis to indicate what they intended to do in Brasilia, but most of their communications skirted the actual purpose of the project. 

Using the codename “Festa da Selma,” they kept their purposes under the radar. “Selma” is a misspelling military code that refers to the jungle, which in Portuguese is “selva,” so they referred to the “jungle party.” 

When they forced their way into government buildings, many knew where they were going. 

Communications Secretary Paulo Pimenta said in a press conference, “Those who entered the Planalto Palace knew it already, these events couldn’t have happened without some level of help and complicity.” 

Police Response

In Washington, the Capitol Police were left to fend for themselves while an armed mob attacked them for four hours as President Trump watched on television, cheering them on in the West Wing, surrounded by his family and aides who beseeched him to do something. 

Trump could have marshaled the U.S. Army and the National Guard to put down the attack. But he didn’t. Vice President Mike Pence made calls, as did Democratic members of Congress, but the military and the National Guard sat on their hands, debating the chain of command, while Senators hid under their desks and Secret Service agents said goodbye to their families. 

In Brazil, as insurrectionists flooded the heart of Brazilian democracy, the military police or the ​​Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal (PMDF) stood by, according to an analysis of more than 150 videos and photos by the Washington Post. Few if any of them did anything to impede the progress of the coup. 

The military did not formally aid the attack by force of arms, but the army protected the insurrectionists in a massive show of force that made their allegiance to Bolsonaro very clear. When the Minister of Justice showed up with police to arrest the insurrectionists right after the riot, they were met with three rows of gun-toting soldiers and a row of tanks in front of the insurrectionists who had been camping in front of the army’s barracks for weeks preceding the insurrection.  

Brazilian Conspirator Round-up

In Brazil, around 1500 people have been arrested on January 8 and the morning after. As of the 17th of January, 39 people have been already charged

The Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino, has announced that all coup plotters and insurrectionists will face justice. He said, “We have the crime of coup d’état, as it is called in the Penal Code; the attempt to violently abolish the democratic state by right; the crime of qualified damage; the criminal association; bodily injuries, including in relation to press professionals.” He specified that the investigation will seek to arrive at those who financed and organized the coup. 

Even Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice, Anderson Torres, has been arrested, after returning from his ‘vacation’ in FLORIDA. Before Torres could destroy evidence, his home was searched and investigators discovered an unsigned emergency decree to re-run the October election. Torres says the draft decree was “taken out of context.”

Imagine that! It’s been known for months that Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, burned documents on multiple occasions, yet he is still walking around, a free man, after refusing to cooperate with the January 6th Committee.

The Brazilian coup was reportedly financed and organized by medium-sized agribusiness concerns in 10 states by tracking who had paid for the buses used to transport attackers to the capitol. The agribusiness sector had profited handsomely from Bolsonaro’s pro-deforestation policies. 

Last week, the Brazilian Supreme Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Bolsonaro’s nephew, Leonardo Rodrigues de Jesus, a former adviser to the federal senate who took a selfie during the insurrection on January 8th. He called out police for arresting insurrectionists, writingLook for the real hooligans and also the cowards disguised as patriots.” 

Announcing the warrants, Justice Minister Flávio Dino said on Twitter, “the authority of the law is greater than that of the extremists.”

Top Military Brass relieved of duty 

On January 21, Lula fired the commander of the army, General Júlio César de Arruda. When Justice Minister Dino showed up with federal police to arrest the insurrectionists, Arruda saidYou are not going to arrest people here,” according to people who were present.

Lula also fired at least 140 other military officers, complaining that the insurrectionists didn’t even need to break into the seat of government because someone let them in. 

There were retired high officers of the military and security services who participated in the coup. For example, a retired captain from the Brazilian Marines, Vilmar Jose Fortuna, was photographed among the insurrectionists. Additionally, during the attack, a retired colonel Adriano Camargo Testoni was caught on video in a Brazilian soccer jersey, screaming threats to the military. The investigations of those two officers have already been forwarded to higher authorities to decide on legal sanctions. 

This was in stark contrast to the way the situation was handled in the USA. Basically, nobody in government lost their job. Two years later, many of the coup plotters who have been exposed by the January 6th committee are still serving in government, even after flouting subpoenas and stonewalling Congress. A few of them are now being appointed to congressional committees to investigate the investigation of the insurrection! 

The FBI has confiscated the phones of a few Trump allies as part of their criminal investigation, but the aides’ and senators’ official positions and proximity to power afford them special privileges not accessible to normal citizens. The public is still awaiting a formal law enforcement response, beyond endless investigations and re-investigations. At this point, there is doubt that any meaningful consequences will ever materialize. 

Markets’ Reaction   

Perhaps the strangest and most illogical response came from financial markets. Wall Street rallied when Trump supporters stormed Congress. Faith in the U.S. economy went up as camo-clad terrorists stormed the heart of democracy. If that isn’t strange enough, markets sank just a little bit when the same thing happened in Brazil.  

After Sunday January 8th, the Sao Paulo stock market had two trading days (losing -3.06% on Monday and -2.08% on Tuesday), but then it added three trading days (+1.12% on Wednesday, +2.27% on Thursday, and +1.23% on Friday). The Brazilian Real had a similar journey to close on Friday at $5.28, which was barely changed on Monday. What are we to make of the contrast?

Roberto Dumas, a professor of international economics from Insper in São Paulo, told LexLatin, “At the beginning of the riots, on Sunday, we expected the stock market to open with a fall of at least 10% and that the exchange rate could reach 5.60 reais per dollar, but this did not happen. Some volatility will follow in the short term, but it should return to normal within a week or two as if nothing had happened, as long as the prisons are maintained and the camps in front of the barracks are dismantled. This will show the market that institutional forces are remaining in force in Brazil. This is what investors like to see.” 

It’s paradoxical that the U.S. dollar went up as the capitol was sacked, yet the U.S. government has been unable or unwilling to go after the high-level coup-plotters. Meanwhile, in Brazil, the markets slipped, but the government dispatched justice with ruthless efficiency. 

It could seem like the U.S. doesn’t really deserve the confidence of investors, unless they really don’t care about the institutional integrity of the government. That may be quite reasonable because even if democracy is completely abolished in the U.S. like it was in Chile, investors will probably benefit above and beyond what they could have expected in a democratic republic.

The Difference between U.S. and Brazilian Coups

According to Professor Pereira, “In Brazil, the rejection of the invasion of the Planalto on 8 January has been much firmer than what we saw in the US after January 6, 2021. You can see this both in public opinion polls (in one I saw, there was 93% rejection) and amongst elected officials such as those in Congress and the Governors. In Congress, even members of parties that supported Bolsonaro – such as the Republicanos, Partido Liberal, and Partido Progressista (PP) – largely condemned the attacks. As did most Governors, no matter whom they supported in the election.”

For Bolsonaro, his support has evaporated in public opinion and in Congress, which probably has a lot to do with his attempt to extend his stay in Florida. The open participation of his extended family members in the coup certainly undercuts the notion that he was an innocent observer of the events. 

Perhaps, the most important message delivered by the Brazilian government in the wake of the coup was a statement by Minister of Justice Dino, that “The authority of the law is greater than that of the extremists.” For this statement to have meaning, that authority must be demonstrated.

The demonstration is what strikes fear in the hearts of the coup conspirators. They think, “If so-and-so was arrested, I could be, too.” This is where Attorney General Merrick Garland has abjectly failed. His public, scripted statements about his commitment to accountability for January 6th are empty because they are not backed up by action. Garland seems timid and squeamish, even while professing courage and resolve.

Every day that passes in which those who openly flouted the authority of the law walk free, Garland undermines his own authority and that of the rule of law. The coup plotters fear no consequences. They are emboldened. They stood up against the authority of the law and the law backed down and retreated.

Apparently emboldened by the lack of consequences for the January 6th insurrection, Team Trump seeks to undermine democracy in other countries.

Judge Michael J. Luttig, a conservative American jurist respected on the right more than almost any other living judge, told the January 6th Committee, “We Americans no longer agree on what is right or wrong, what is to be valued and what is not, what is acceptable behavior and not, and what is and is not tolerable discourse in civilized society. America is adrift.”

Now, the rule of law in the USA is viewed as so weak that foreign coup plotters are using the territory as a restful refuge from the unquestioned authority of the law in their own countries.

Author: Tim Tolka, writer, journalist, and BI researcher

The editorial team at #DisruptionBanking has taken all precautions to ensure that no persons or organizations have been adversely affected or offered any sort of financial advice in this article. This article is most definitely not financial advice.

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