Brazil faced another day of political turmoil on Monday as troops moved in to break up far-right encampments and pro-democracy groups prepared to hit the streets, a day after insurrectionists attacked all three branches of government in the country’s capital.
In Brasília, hundreds of army troops and riot police began clearing hardcore supporters of Jair Bolsonaro from the camps where Sunday’s chaos originated.
Bolsonaro extremists have been occupying areas near military facilities since the far-right leader was defeated in a tight-fought election in October.
Bolsonaro lost to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva but his supporters have refused to accept the result and camped out across Brazil alleging the election was stolen, even though there is no evidence to back up their claim.
A significant number have appealed for the military to overthrow the elected government and thousands of them marched on the capital on Sunday, storming into the presidential palace, the congress building, and the supreme court.
They smashed windows, furniture and equipment, destroyed works of art and official documents, and occupied the buildings before law enforcement officials moved in to end the chaos. At least 1,200 people were arrested, according to the Folha de S Paulo newspaper.
The lawlessness was condemned by politicians, world leaders and most Brazilians but the hardcore fanatics – described by Lula as “vandals and neo-fascists” – were unbowed on Monday morning.
“He’s a corrupt thief,” one Bolsonaro activist, Carla Coutinho, said of Lula as she looked on from her makeshift camp outside the army’s cultural centre.
The mood was tense as the camp was surrounded by riot police carrying shields and truncheons. Some radicals had fled after Sunday’s chaos and soldiers removed what remained, leaving scores of tents and plastic sheeting blowing in the wind.
Brazil flags and placards fluttered in the trees and blew along the ground, beside pallets and other debris. Some stragglers hauled backpacks away under the watchful eye of troops.
At the same time, left-leaning organisations in cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were preparing to march in support of Lula and democracy.
Demonstrations were also planned at universities.
Lula met with the defence minister on Monday morning and called a meeting of state governors for 6pm.
Leaders of all three branches of government issued a joint statement expressing their united front against the threats to the democratic order.
“We call on society to remain calm in defence of peace and democracy,” the letter said. “The country needs normality, respect and social justice.”
Lula was in São Paulo overseeing flood relief at the time of the insurrection but returned to the capital on Sunday night after ordering federal officials to assume control of public security decisions in Brasília.
He promised to use the full force of the law to bring those responsible to justice, as well as those who financed the camps and their occupants.
The justice ministry set up an anonymous email to receive “information about the terrorists who invaded and destroyed” government buildings and independent sources set up image searches to identify those who appeared on camera.
Around the same time, Anderson Torres, the Federal District’s police chief, was relieved of his duties and shortly afterwards, the capital’s governor was also removed.
The supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes said Governor Ibaneis Rocha had ignored requests from federal authorities to prepare an appropriate security plan ahead of Sunday’s protests. The pro-Bolsonaro governor had also defended what he called “free political manifestations”, Moraes said.
“Absolutely nothing justifies the omission and connivance of the Federal District’s public security secretary and the Federal District’s governor with the criminals who announced ahead of time that they were going to practice violent acts,” Moraes said in a statement.
Bolsonaro criticised what he called the “depredations and invasions” but in keeping with his strategy since losing the election he did not unequivocally ask his supporters to stop their protests.
The former president fled to the United States on the eve of Lula’s inauguration and with US leaders vocally supporting Lula, intrigue mounted over his status there.
The O Globo columnist Guga Chacra suggested that Bolsonaro, who arrived in Florida while still president, may have done so on a diplomatic passport.
However, after leaving power on 1 January he could be considered a tourist and so might need to change his visa status.
US authorities, though, may not be willing to make life easy for the disgraced leader.
President Joe Biden and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, both condemned Sunday’s attacks and expressed support for democracy, while the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”