Bolsonaro leads a large march and proclaims his innocence in the investigation for plotting a coup

Bolsonarism displays pride, muscle and support for the leader on the streets after a year of low profile. The former president of Brazil, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, 68, achieved this Sunday in São Paulo the massive event that he was looking for in response to the accusation that he plotted a coup d’état along with several generals who were ministers. Some 185,000 faithful, according to a count of academics, supported him along with four allied governors and dozens of parliamentarians. Three days after remaining silent when questioned by the police about the alleged coup plot, Bolsonaro wanted a crowd photo to counter what he considers a judicial persecution. The Supreme Court has eight cases open against the leader of the Brazilian opposition, who preserves notable political capital, although he is disqualified until 2030 for abuse of power. “All this is a conspiracy, we live in a veiled dictatorship,” said Claudia, a 64-year-old educational psychologist.

“Lula, thief, your place is prison,” those present chanted enthusiastically, including families with children. The “Myth, myth, myth” dedicated to Bolsonaro, the flags of Israel, and t-shirts with slogans such as “proud patriot” or “God, country, family and freedom” have also returned. Following Bolsonaro’s instructions, there was not a single slogan against the judges of the Supreme Court, just in case, since it has multiple open judicial fronts. There are so many that speculation about whether he will be imprisoned is very much alive. “We do not know. Anything can happen, but he is innocent,” emphasizes Mónica, a 39-year-old receptionist.

This is the ultra’s first major political act since it narrowly lost the elections in 2022 against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and since thousands of its followers carried out the most serious attack against Brazilian democracy since the end of the dictatorship. Although he cannot run in the next two elections, Bolsonaro is not throwing in the towel. After months of a low profile, dedicated to answering the multiple accusations that he faces, he returns to the ring because he fears going to prison and in October there are municipal elections that also mark the halfway point of Lula’s mandate.

Standing on the roof of a bus and after showing an Israeli flag, Bolsonaro has defended himself with the argument that a coup is “tanks in the streets, it is weapons, it is a conspiracy. There was nothing like that here!”, ignoring that in the 21st century, coups are perpetrated by distorting the laws. And, immediately afterwards, he referred to what researchers consider a draft coup decree. “Now it turns out that it is a blow because there is a draft decree of a state of siege. Coup d’état using the Constitution? Patience”. The previous president has also demanded an amnesty for Bolsonaro supporters convicted of perpetrating the assault on the headquarters of the three powers in 2023.

Jair Bolsonaro celebrates with the shirt of the Brazil national soccer team.Other Pens (AP)

Bolsonaro called this demonstration on Paulista Avenue days after the police showed up at his summer home, confiscated his passport and the judge prohibited him from traveling abroad. He broadcast a video in which, wearing the soccer team’s shirt, he encouraged his followers to accompany him. “It will be a peaceful act in defense of our democratic rule of law (…), I want to defend myself against all these accusations,” he explained, in addition to asking them two things: “Not to appear with any type of banner against whoever it may be.” and that they wear green and yellow, the colors of the national flag, which they have made part of their heritage. He also made it clear that what was important was the photo, not the speeches. “This photo is going to go around the world,” he promised the crowd.

Those present complied with the order of not one banner, slogan or threat against the Supreme Court or Judge Alexandre de Moraes – the black beast of Bolsonarism or the savior of democracy, depending on who you ask.

Increasingly cornered

This Sunday’s event was organized and paid for by evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, who officiated Bolsonaro’s third marriage and remains one of his most unconditional followers. The preacher has been in charge of attacking the Supreme Court, and Judge Moraes, of whom he has said that “he does not have to fight the extreme right or the extreme left. He is the guardian of the Constitution.”

Before the speeches, Michelle Bolsonaro, former first lady and fervent evangelical, said a prayer and cried. Among the speakers, the governor of São Paulo, the most powerful in Brazil and potential successor to Bolsonaro as leader of the right. In his speech, Tarcísio de Freitas, a retired military officer and less ultra than his political godfather, said “we are here to celebrate the democratic rule of law and understand its challenges.”

Bolsonaro, who has sometimes proclaimed that he would rather die than go to prison, is increasingly cornered by justice and police investigations. The fence also tightens around his family and political circle. The eight cases investigated by the Supreme Court cover a little bit of everything: spreading false news, keeping valuable jewels that were gifts from the State or the mismanagement of Covid-19. His son Carlos, a councilor, is investigated in an illegal espionage plot against political adversaries of the clan.

He sent another son, Eduardo, a congressman, to Washington this Saturday to represent him at the great Conservative Political Action Conference, in Washington. Donald Trump, who hours later won the South Carolina primaries and is seeking the nomination, Javier Milei, Nayib Bukele, Santiago Abascal and Bolsonaro Jr. reactivated their alliance.

The Brazilian federal police accuse the former president of organizing, along with around twenty military collaborators, active and in the reserve, as well as civilians, an attempted coup. Investigators have accumulated evidence and clues thanks to the confession of Bolsonaro’s personal secretary, who served as a liaison in many of the efforts.

Followers of Jair Bolsonaro during the demonstration.
Followers of Jair Bolsonaro during the demonstration.Other Pens (AP)

According to the indictment, before the election and after, while thousands of Bolsonaro supporters mobilized demanding military intervention, the then president proposed to the leadership of the Armed Forces to participate in a constitutional break. Several lawyers drafted a decree to give it the appearance of legality, but the objective was a coup: to annul the electoral result and prevent Lula from assuming a third term that he won cleanly at the polls in 2022.

Paulista Avenue is the scene where Bolsonaro most publicly and explicitly attacked the Supreme Court and Judge Moraes. Three years ago, at an event for Independence Day, the then president gave a fiery speech in which he insulted the magistrate by calling him a scoundrel and announced that he would disobey his orders. Days later he staged a public act of contrition.

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