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Did the Jan. 6 attack lay the blueprint for Brazil's insurrection?

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(NEW YORK) — As thousands of supporters of former far-right Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro stormed three major government buildings in Brazil’s capital on Sunday in protest of the presidential election results, the shocking, violent scene drew immediate comparisons to another post-election uprising — the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

Former Vice President Mike Pence said he “has no doubt” the Jan. 6 attack to stop the certification of the 2020 election played a role in inspiring the recent events in Brasilia.

“It is evident that what happens in the United States has repercussions around the world,” Pence, who was evacuated from the Senate floor during the insurrection, told CBS News in an interview posted on Wednesday. “I have no doubt that that tragic day in January of 2021, in this country, played some role in sowing the seeds of what’s taking place in Brazil.”

Unlike the Jan. 6 insurrection, the riots in Brasilia occurred after the presidential inauguration on a day when the government buildings were closed. They were also much larger in scale, with protesters storming the Supreme Court, Congress and the presidential office, called the Planalto Palace.

Though in both cases, demonstrators were fueled by false claims about a stolen election, sown before polls even opened, Naureen Chowdhury Fink, executive director of the Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank, said.

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“There’s so many similarities in the narrative and the kind of disinformation being fomented in the lead-up to the election that it’s hard to ignore those parallels,” Fink told ABC News.

An ‘echo’ to Jan. 6 buildup

The Soufan Center, an organization focused on foreign policy issues, warned in September 2022 of the possibility of a Jan. 6 repeat in Brazil, as Bolsonaro “appears to be taking a page” from Trump’s playbook “by laying the groundwork for claims of a stolen election and a contestation of the results, should he lose.”

“Brazil could soon be on the verge of facing the most significant test to its democracy in nearly four decades, as its institutions brace for a potential torrent of disinformation and political violence,” the Soufan Center stated in a brief. “Ironically, the United States, historically known for exporting democracy, is now associated with developing the playbook for dictators and strongmen to use to sow doubt about democratic elections, while simultaneously offering a blueprint for authoritarian leaders to seize power by force.”

Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who has often been compared to Trump, has falsely claimed that Brazil’s new president, the left-wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known widely as “Lula,” won in a “stolen election.”

“One of the notable things for us was how long the groundwork has been, especially leading up to the insurrection here in the U.S. It’s not like it happened overnight,” Fink said. “You start with disinformation, you start sowing seeds of distrust in the political process. The narrative becomes very combative about established democratic processes and starts challenging the transfer of power. And then you get a buildup to the insurrection.”

“So I think we had seen certainly in a lot of Bolsonaro’s statements and actions and that of his supporters, a possibility to echo in that sort of process,” she said.

Sunday’s riots were unprecedented in Brazil’s history, M. Victoria Murillo, the director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University, told ABC News. The U.S. is an “important voice” in the region, and the influence of Jan. 6 was evident, she said.

“When I started getting the news on Sunday, it was clear — this is another Jan. 6,” Murillo said. “Many of the forms of the performance actually was very similar to the U.S. and obviously inspired by the U.S., even if the scale was even larger and after the inauguration.”

The Council on Foreign Relations said this week the uprising in Brazil was “not the first time American far-right violent extremism and activism had provided a model for counterparts abroad,” citing, for example, QAnon becoming a “global phenomenon.”

The U.S. is often seen as an arbiter of democracies elsewhere, which made the insurrection so “startling” to a global audience, Fink said.

“I think the sight of Americans questioning the democratic process in the U.S. — well, we’ve certainly seen that phenomenon in other countries, and I think the reverberations of that will not go away because it’s kind of cracked the edifice,” she said.

Domestic forces at play

For Christopher Garman, managing director of the Americas for the firm Eurasia Group, there are “eerie analogies” between the two uprisings, though Brazil’s insurrection has different contours.

“When I look at the events in Brazil, I think that it’s a much more domestically driven story that can have inspiration abroad … but the domestic conditions were prone for this type of dynamic,” Garman told ABC News.

The levels of disenchantment with the establishment are “very large” in Brazil and there’s “tremendous anger” at public institutions — conditions that helped lead to both Trump and Bolsonaro winning elections previously in the first place, he said.

“The underlying public opinion geology is favorable for these types of events in the U.S. and Brazil,” Garman said.

Bolsonaro was in Florida when the uprising occurred, having traveled to the U.S. late last year and missing the inauguration. He condemned the violence and denied responsibility for encouraging the rioters.

The former president’s absence may also uniquely factor into the uprising in Brazil, Garman said. An element of protesters frustrated nothing was done over what they considered to be a rigged election may have stormed the government buildings believing that the military could step in and secure order, Garman said.

“In the U.S., you have a sitting president inciting a mob to storm the Capitol. And in Brazil, you have a president [whose] base thinks that he’s turned his back on them,” Garman said.

Riots condemned

The violent attack in Brasilia was swiftly condemned.

In his first call with Lula, who was inaugurated last week, Biden pledged “unwavering support” for Brazil’s democracy and “condemned the violence and the attack on democratic institutions and on the peaceful transfer of power,” according to a joint statement from the two leaders.

Lula vowed that the “coup plotters” will be punished and described the violence as “acts of vandals and fascists.” Brazil’s Justice Ministry set up an email address to receive information about the “terrorist” attack.

At least 1,500 people have been arrested in connection with the attack, according to Brazil’s Justice Ministry. Protesters are likely to face charges of rebellion, military police said. Likewise, hundreds have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, with charges ranging from assaulting or impeding officers to seditious conspiracy.

Lula accused security forces of “incompetence, bad faith and malice” for failing to stop the rioters from accessing Congress. He will now have to navigate keeping security forces in line, amid concerns over future acts of sabotage, Garman said.

“That level of challenge on ensuring security and the role of the armed forces is not an issue in the States as it is in Brazil,” he said.

For Fink, the riots in Brazil are emblematic of a larger worry.

“You can always try and stop the next insurrection through a bunch of barriers and good police work and security measures,” she said. “But the fact that it is reflecting this kind of political polarization and almost like an anti-truth movement — this kind of distrust in democracy and democratic processes — I think that’s going to be the bigger concern. And it won’t be limited to the U.S. or Brazil.”

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