President vows thorough investigation and says ‘many people were complicit … the truth is the palace was full of Bolsonaristas’
The Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has said he suspects hardcore supporters of the former president Jair Bolsonaro among the presidential staff facilitated the entry of insurrectionists who stormed his presidential palace seeking to overthrow Brazil’s government.
Speaking to a group of political journalists in Brasília’s Planalto palace – one of three buildings trashed by the pro-Bolsonaro mob last Sunday – Lula vowed to carry out a “thorough screening” of employees in the wake of the historic attack.
“I am waiting for the dust to settle. I want to see all of the [security] tapes that were recorded inside the supreme court, congress and the Planalto presidential palace,” Lula said on Thursday morning.
“[But] many people were complicit in this … many people in the military police were complicit. There were many people in the armed forces here inside [the palace] who were complicit,” added the leftist veteran, as a bodyguard carrying a flexible bulletproof screen loitered behind him.
“We are carrying out a thorough screening [of our staff] because the truth is that the [presidential] palace was full of Bolsonaristas and military officials and we want to try to correct this so we can appoint career civil servants – preferably civilian ones … so that this becomes a civilised department.
“Nobody who is suspected of being a hardcore Bolsonarista can be allowed to remain in the palace.
“How can I have someone at the door of my office who might shoot me?” Lula added, pointing to media reports he said he had read about military officials vowing to assassinate him.
The ease with which thousands of fanatical supporters of Brazil’s former far-right leader marauded through the country’s most important democratic institutions has shocked the nation and the world, and sparked deep soul-searching among members of Lula’s 12-day-old government.
“I feel very, very, very angry about what happened,” Lula told journalists over breakfast at the palace he previously occupied between 2003 and 2010.
“I am convinced that the door to the Planalto palace was opened so these people could get in because I didn’t see the front door had been broken down. And that means that somebody facilitated their entry here,” Lula said.
Brazil’s president added: “What happened was an alert, a major alert, and we must take more care. We need to understand that we won an election and we beat Bolsonaro but Bolsonarismo is still out there. And fanatical Bolsonarismo is very tricky because it respects no one.”
Fears over a new round of pro-Bolsonaro protests came to nothing on Wednesday evening, after a massive deployment of security forces around the palace, congress and supreme court. Only two or three people are reported to have turned out.
“We need to be wary but not afraid,” about the prospect of future episodes of violence, Lula said.
As Lula spoke, disturbing new details of what he called last Sunday’s “stupidity” – and the stunning security failure that failed to contain it – emerged in the Brazilian press.
The newspaper O Globo reported that police officers responsible for protecting the senate building – which suffered severe damage – had given statements describing how they had been overwhelmed by a horde of radicals armed with homemade bombs, wooden clubs, metal railings, firecrackers and slingshots used to hurl marbles.
Another broadsheet, the Estado de São Paulo, claimed that on the eve of the insurrection, the organ responsible for presidential security had rejected the need for reinforcements from the army battalion tasked with defending the Planalto palace. In their absence, the building was trashed, with the office of Brazil’s first lady, Rosângela Lula da Silva, sustaining particularly severe damage.
A video obtained by the New York Times showed the exact moment, at 2.42pm on Sunday, that an overwhelmingly outnumbered line of military police were engulfed by hundreds of Bolsonarista extremists, who smashed down their plastic barrier and surged towards Lula’s palace.
Inside, they ran amok, vandalising celebrated works of art, smashing windows, furniture and doors, stealing weapons and food, and even urinating inside the room used by journalists who cover the presidency.
On Thursday, Lula told reporters he believed the putschists had only spared his office because they believed Bolsonaro would reoccupy it once their alleged coup attempt had been completed, allowing the former president to fly back from the US to retake power.
Lula condemned the images that have emerged of rioters’ behaviour during their historic assault. “I don’t know if you saw the pictures of this fellow defecating [in one of the ransacked buildings],” Lula said.
“This kind of fellow cannot go unpunished. If he has a granddaughter we should show them to her and say: ‘Look what a scoundrel your grandfather is.’”
More than 1,800 people were reportedly arrested in Brasília after the attack, 1,159 of whom remain in custody. Six hundred and ninety-four detainees, mostly women, children and elderly citizens, have been released.
Those transferred to one of the city’s prisons were reportedly vaccinated against Covid – an ironic plot twist given the resistance of Bolsonaro’s movement to immunisation against a disease their science-denying leader has dismissed as a “little flu”.
Lula and his ministers have described Sunday’s attack as an attempted coup staged by hardcore Bolsonaro backers who refuse to recognise the leftist’s victory in last October’s election, which Lula won by a margin of 2m votes.
Bolsonaro has denied involvement in Sunday’s violence, and no evidence has emerged showing he played a direct role.
But the supreme court this week ordered the arrest of Bolsonaro’s former justice minister Anderson Torres – who was in charge of Brasília’s security at the time of the riot – and federal police searched his home.
Torres, who, like Bolsonaro, was in Florida during the attack, has also denied involvement, and announced he would fly back to Brazil to turn himself in. Torres is reportedly expected to arrive on Friday.
Bolsonaro has also been linked to several of the extremists present during the riot, including Marcelo Soares Corrêa, a former paratrooper who reportedly had breakfast with the then president at his official residence in June 2021. The former president’s nephew, Leonardo Rodrigues de Jesus, was also reportedly present during the insurrection.