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Bolsonaro Supporters Wreak Havoc on Brasília
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Bolsonaro Supporters Wreak Havoc on Brasília

Brazilian authorities are investigating recent riots aimed at restoring the former president to power.

Happy Thursday! When we were nine years old, our Christmas lists featured things like PlayStations and American Girl dolls. This year, Molly Sampson asked for “insulated chest waders” so she could hunt for shark teeth in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs State Park.

Within a few days, she had found one—and it was five inches long, 15 million years old, and from the mouth of a 50-foot megalodon. Best Christmas present ever!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Tigrayan rebels have reportedly begun handing over tanks, artillery units, and armored vehicles to the Ethiopian national army, a sign the peace deal brokered in South Africa last November to end the country’s civil war is holding. The disarmament was a major component of that agreement, and a senior Tigrayan official said he hoped the move would “go a long way in expediting the full implementation” of the accord.
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry announced Wednesday Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu was shaking up the country’s military leadership yet again, appointing General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, as the overall commander of the “special military operation in Ukraine.” The previous commander, Gen. Sergey Surovikin, was only installed in that role in October; he will now serve as one of Gerasimov’s three deputies.
  • Days after CBS News reported on the discovery of classified material at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington last November, NBC News reported aides to President Joe Biden discovered “at least one additional batch” of classified documents in a separate location. Citing a “person familiar with the matter,” the NBC report reveals aides have been searching since November for any additional classified material that might be in other locations Biden used after leaving the vice presidency. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to answer multiple reporter questions yesterday about the circumstances surrounding the documents’ discovery.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration ordered airlines to pause domestic departures for nearly two hours Wednesday morning due to the agency’s Notice to Air Missions system—which provides real-time safety information regarding flight operations—being knocked out. The agency later said it found “no evidence” of a cyber attack, attributing the outage to a damaged database file.
  • The House voted 220-210-1 on Wednesday to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, legislation that would mandate health care providers try to save the life of an infant in the rare scenario the baby is born alive during or after an attempted abortion. One Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted for the bill—which is highly unlikely to be taken up in the Senate—and another, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, voted present. The House also voted 222-209 to pass a resolution condemning the recent attacks on pro-life facilities, organizations, and churches. Three Democrats—Reps. Gonzalez, Chrissy Houlahan, and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez—supported the resolution. Three Democratic representatives introduced a counter-resolution condemning violence and threats primarily against abortion clinics and providers.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra announced Wednesday the Biden administration was extending the COVID-19 public health emergency another 90 days, marking the twelfth time the declaration has been renewed since January 2020. “There’s still a lot of COVID out there,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said, referencing an increase in cases that has come with the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant.
  • A growing number of New York Republicans—including Nassau County GOP leaders and U.S. Reps. Anthony D’Esposito, Nick LaLota, Nick Langworthy, and Brandon Williams—have called on Rep. George Santos to resign from Congress amid allegations the freshman representative fabricated large portions of his resume. “He’s disgraced the House of Representatives and we do not consider him one of our congresspeople,” Nassau County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Cairo said Wednesday. Santos remained adamant yesterday that he “will NOT resign,” and Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters he won’t urge him to step down or withhold his committee assignments. “The voters elected him to serve,” McCarthy said. “If there is a concern and he has to go through the Ethics [Committee], we’ll let him move through that.”
  • One day after Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California announced she was running for the 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat in 2024, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee reportedly told colleagues she will also mount a bid for the seat—but that she isn’t announcing yet out of respect for Feinstein. Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Ro Khanna are also reportedly weighing bids.

The Blow Up in Brazil

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro didn’t succeed in returning him to power last weekend, but their storming of Brazil’s federal seats of government may have curtailed his Orlando vacation.

Though Bolsonaro hasn’t impeded the transition to a new government, he never formally conceded his October presidential election loss to leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—known as Lula—even as courts rejected his party’s evidence-free fraud claims. And when Lula was set to be sworn in on January 1, Bolsonaro skipped town, decamping to Florida where he has been spotted swanning through the aisles of a Publix grocery store, signing fans’ shirts, and chowing down on KFC.

Back in Brazil, supporters parroting Bolsonaro’s election fraud claims aren’t moving on so easily. In the months since October’s runoff, they’ve blocked highways and camped near military installations, calling on the armed forces to overturn the election results. But their frustration boiled over this Sunday when crowds ransacked Brazil’s presidential palace, Congress, and Supreme Court.

Once inside, the rioters lit carpet fires, stole artifacts, smashed windows, and beat journalists. Law enforcement finally regained control of the situation after several hours, arresting some 300 people Sunday and on Monday detaining about 1,200 from a Bolsonaro supporters’ camp for questioning. About 600 of the detainees have since been released for “humanitarian reasons” like health conditions, but they may still be charged in the ongoing investigation.

Coming just days after the second anniversary of Trump supporters’ attack on the Capitol, the parallels to January 6 are obvious. But in this case, the rioters weren’t trying to stop a vote certification—they were hoping to goad the military into taking control and restoring Bolsonaro to power, an approach Bolsonaro supporters have tried elsewhere. A man arrested in December for allegedly participating in a plot to bomb an airport reportedly told police his mission was to “provoke an intervention of the armed forces,” and on Sunday and Monday Bolsonaro supporters in several states tried to block roads and seize control of oil refineries. On Sunday, rioters at a federal building cheered the military’s arrival only to find themselves under arrest a few minutes later. 

Bolsonaro supporters’ hopes for military intervention didn’t come out of nowhere. The former president served in the Army prior to the fall of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1980s and has maintained close ties with the armed forces ever since. Some officers even joined him ahead of the election in priming voters to expect voter fraud. Relatedly, Lula has demonstrated deep skepticism of the country’s armed forces, a distrust fueled further by the weekend’s events. The president accused security forces of “incompetence, bad faith, or malice” in failing to prepare for and swiftly control the riots and this week vetoed a bill provision that would guarantee police officers’ right to political protest.

Authorities—led by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes—took swift action against officials deemed responsible for security lapses. Brasília Governor Ibaneis Rocha fired the district’s public security chief Anderson Torres, only to be suspended himself by Moraes, who called Rocha’s failure to prepare “intentionally omissive.” Moraes also ordered Torres’ arrest and for his apartment to be searched, leading the public security chief—who jetted off to Florida just before the riots—to maintain his innocence and vow to return to Brazil. Ricardo Cappelli—Torres’ temporary replacement—accused his predecessor of firing key security officials before skipping town, insisting, “If this is not sabotage, I don’t know what is.” Col. Fábio Augusto, now-former commander of military police in the federal district, has also been arrested.

Officials have begun investigating who organized Sunday’s riots. Calls to gather in the capital had spread widely on social media apps like Telegram in the days leading up to the attack, including viral posts promising free bus rides and food for those who showed up. Justice Minister Flávio Dino said Tuesday officials had identified “business executives” suspected of renting the buses, declining to specify names but saying they’re from regions known for supporting Bolsonaro. 

In the wake of Sunday’s attack, officials have cracked down on the Bolsonaro supporters’ broader protest movement. Security forces have been clearing camps and bracing for more demonstrations—one planned for Wednesday and advertised as a “mega-protest” to “retake power” fizzled, and the Supreme Court ordered Telegram to block accounts calling for protests and preserve phone records. 

While fears of a military-backed coup haven’t materialized, analysts worry sympathy to protesters in the Army ranks could undermine effective responses to future demonstrations, allowing a steady trickle of political violence to persist and destabilize Brazil. “I think that is the concrete threat going forward,” said Filipe Campante, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who was raised in Brazil. “This ongoing tense environment of low-level violence, political instability that then can generate a situation where things could eventually snowball into something bigger.”

Already, partisan narratives around the ransacking have begun creeping in—similar to those after the January 6 attack. Some Bolsonaro supporters have accused left-wing agitators of infiltrating the crowd and egging them on to violence. One priest told the Washington Post that the rioters weren’t “terrorists” but “heroes.” Still, Valdemar Costa Neto—head of Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party—said the rioters did not “represent” Bolsonaro, adding that anyone caught on camera storming the government buildings would be expelled from the party. 

Bolsonaro himself hasn’t been nearly as forceful. It took him hours to issue a milquetoast statement on Sunday saying “depredations and invasions” of public buildings aren’t protected by law, and within days he was back to sharing—and subsequently deleting—voter fraud claims on his Facebook page. Brazil has a long history of political instability, and Bolsonaro has repeatedly made reference to previous protests—in 2013 and 2017—that turned violent. “Nothing justifies this attempted terrorist act here in Brasília airport,” Bolsonaro said last month after one of his supporters planted a bomb in a gas tanker. “[Have] intelligence. Let’s show we are different from the other side, that we respect the norms and the Constitution.”

Prosecutors have asked the courts to authorize the seizure of Bolsonaro’s assets to help pay for property damage from Sunday’s attacks, but it’s uncertain whether the court will approve the request—the former president hasn’t been charged with a crime. That said, his time in the Sunshine State may be limited, as he’s considering cutting his Florida vacation short by a few weeks. “I came to spend some time away with my family, but these weren’t calm days,” he told CNN Brazil. Not only was there that “unfortunate episode” on Sunday, but he was hospitalized with severe abdominal pain. 

If Brazilian Sen. Renan Calheiros has his way, Bolsonaro won’t have a choice. He asked a court on Monday to order the former president’s return to Brazil, and U.S. Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joaquin Castro have also called for his extradition. President Joe Biden called Lula Monday and invited him to visit the U.S., but the White House has thus far resisted offering details on Bolsonaro’s visa status or what might happen if Brazil requests extradition.

Regardless of what happens to Bolsonaro, his supporters have proven they don’t need him publicly egging them on to disrupt Brazil. “The problem goes way, way, way deeper than that one man,” Campante said. “This political energy is going to be there. When you have that type of energy, someone is going to come and try to harness it.”

Worth Your Time

  • After last week’s speakership drama, the calls to let C-SPAN control the cameras in the House chamber have been bipartisan. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, Fred Bauer argues for National Review. “No doubt, allowing cameras to film what’s happening elsewhere on the House floor could provide some interesting viewing: the negotiations, the arm-twisting, the frantic texting, and so forth,” he writes. “[But] consider the spectacle of contemporary State of the Union addresses, coverage of which is full of calculations of who stood, who clapped, and who booed. Members of Congress know that they’re being watched during such set-pieces, so they offer performative displays of partisanship. Regular filming of the House floor would bring that same reality-TV spirit to everyday floor proceedings. And once that happened, all bets would be off. A member might read It Can’t Happen Here or The Communist Manifesto while one of his political opponents spoke. Loud applause or a demonstrative thumbs-down might be offered at the end of every speech. Different cliques of members might start wearing color-coordinated outfits. All this would make for great viral content, but it would also likely interfere with the ability of members to deliberate in those spaces on the House floor that C-SPAN’s cameras don’t currently cover under most circumstances.”
  • In an essay for Harvard Law Review, Will Baude and Stephen Sachs critique Adrian Vermeule’s new book, Common Good Constitutionalism. “What’s wrong with the book is not that it advances a form of living constitutionalism, that the common good is unknowable, or that pursuing the common good will necessarily lead to untoward results,” Baude and Sachs write. “Indeed, the book highlights important strands of Founding-era and nineteenth-century legal thought, of which scholars of all stripes should take account. What’s wrong with the book is that it fails to hold up at a theoretical level—either on its own terms or as compared to the originalist approach it purports to threaten. Vermeule is a very deep thinker, working with a many-centuries-old legal tradition, yet the results are surprisingly superficial. The problem, we think, is that the demands of a political and legal campaign and those of a constitutional theory are not the same. Though Vermeule writes with extraordinary skill, the sort of red meat that inspires a movement can, on reflection, seem rather thin gruel. Vermeule once reminded his many Twitter followers ‘that twitter is a dark arena of rhetorical combat, not an academic seminar. Tweet accordingly.’ We fear that the spirit of the dark arena has now spread to the monograph—and that the tools and techniques that serve so well in one medium turn out to be handicaps in another.”

Rest in Peace, Jeff Beck

The legendary English rock guitarist died on Tuesday at 78 after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis. While he came to prominence with the Yardbirds in the 1960s, his solo career is what vaulted him into the pantheon of history’s greatest guitarists. Here’s why:

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Toeing the Company Line

  • In this week’s Capitolism (🔒), Scott dives into the unintended consequences of Democrats’ plan to subsidize electric vehicle purchases. “In case after case, industrial policy plans sound good on paper,” he writes. “But they are ultimately distorted by politics, bureaucratic inertia (or incompetence), pre-existing policies, private or public resistance, or unanticipated market developments.”
  • Has no one watched Schoolhouse Rock? House Republicans are going to pass a lot of messaging bills over the next two years, but that doesn’t mean those bills will become law. “There’s a weird social compact to deceive people,” Jonah notes in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒). “Republicans and their friendly commentators want to claim they’ve done something really awesome that’s not just symbolism and messaging. Democrats and their friendly commentators very much want to claim that Republicans did something really terrible that’s not just symbolism and messaging. “
  • Republicans are waiting for a new Ronald Reagan to impose ideological discipline from the top down, Nick argues in his latest Boiling Frogs (🔒). Could it be Ronald … DeSantis? Probably not. “Until a true ideologue captures the imagination of the GOP base and galvanizes the party around his beliefs,” Nick writes, “an uneasy coalition based on little more than confrontation may abide.”
  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss Biden’s mishandling of classified documents and what effect—if any—the news will have on the case against his predecessor. Plus: Supreme Court arguments about attorney-client privilege and union strikes, the legality of non-compete clauses, and a tribute to Sarah’s late friend Will Consovoy.
  • Jonah is joined by Cass Sunstein on today’s episode of The Remnant for a discussion of Sunstein’s new book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment. What is noise? How is it different from bias? And how can we prevent it from impairing our everyday decision-making?
  • On the site today, Charlotte covers efforts to supply Ukraine with battle tanks amid reports of planned offensives and the CATO Institute’s Walter Olson looks at how the U.S. avoided a Democrat-led proposal to effectively reverse the outcomes of House elections conducted under “bad” laws. 

Let Us Know

Do those comparing what happened in Brazil last weekend to the January 6 attacks have a point, or are they projecting American divisions onto another country unnecessarily?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.