For the last two months, far-right supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro had camped out in front of military barracks across Brazil.
Their chants echoed daily, calling on the armed forces to rise up against the results of last October’s presidential election that declared Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva the winner. They called on the army to reinstate Bolsonaro as president.
So, when thousands of Bolsonaro supporters invaded Brasilia last Sunday, ransacking Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace, they believed it was the spark that would set the army into action.
But it backfired.
Instead, Lula and the Supreme Court responded swiftly — removing the protesters and ordering all pro-Bolsonaro encampments disbanded by Monday night. For Bolsonaro’s radical supporters, it was a shock.
In a video shared on social media, a woman speaks into her cellphone camera, the Brazilian flag draped over her shoulders. She holds back tears.
“Until an hour ago, we believed in the army,” she said. “That they would protect us. And the army handed us to the military police. We are being taken out of here like animals, inside buses,” she said. “I don’t know where we are going.”
About 1,500 people would be arrested and detained. Their belief in an army that would save them vanished.
Political scientist Anaís Medeiros Passos, at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, said it’s a complicated moment, “because many members of the armed forces and their families actively participate in Bolsonarism, so the relationship between the military and the Bolsonaro movement will remain.”
“But right now, many Bolsonaro supporters feel betrayed by the armed forces,” she said.
And Bolsonaro is more isolated than ever. The former president has been in Florida since before Lula’s inauguration. According to polls released this past week, Bolsonaro’s online support is at an all-time low. More than 90% of Brazilians condemn the attack on the capital.
That includes even staunch Bolsonaro allies, like the head of the lower house, Arthur Lira, and department store billionaire Luciano Hang.
“We have a new president. We have a new government,” Hang said in a video he released this past week, in which he denounces the violence and vandalism in Brasilia. “Let’s support the pilot, so we have a great flight, because I’m inside the same plane.”
It’s a rare moment of unity sweeping across Brazil since the capital attack.
Earlier this week, the heads of the Senate and Lower House, plus all 27 state governors met Lula and his Cabinet in Brasilia. They walked across the esplanade and surveyed the damage of the attack.
“This is an extremely important scene,” a CNN reporter said. “We rarely ever see these people together like this and we see them united. United for the country. United for democracy.”
“I think the invasion has strengthened the position of Lula’s government,” said Sean T. Mitchell, an anthropologist at Rutgers University.
“Also, the similarity of Brazil’s Jan. 8 to the United States Jan. 6, I think, helps consolidate Lula’s international support.”
Lula is taking advantage to push full speed ahead into his new government.
“I’m meeting with ministers in each area, to get their immediate proposals,” he told the press this week. “Because in each sector, we are going to try and work immediately, even while we are still setting up the government.”
It’s a unique moment of respite in a country that has been embroiled in a pitched battle over the presidency in recent months — polarized and divided. Analysts say the differences remain, though, even among the armed forces, but most of the country hopes this moment of unity can persist.