Buses and WhatsApp: Brazilian government investigates congress attack

Highway blocked in São Paulo after anti-democracy riots on Sunday. Meanwhile, details emerge on how the events were planned and the “Selma party” codeword.

Brazilian security forces have detained over 1,200 pro-Bolsonaro protesters who were camping outside the army headquarters in Brasília in rejection of last October’s election results. Their removal comes as the government starts to investigate those responsible for storming the nation’s Congress, Supreme Court, and Presidential Palace on Sunday.

Rioters broke doors, destroyed furniture, and flooded large parts of the buildings. In the presidential Planalto Palace, they wrecked first lady Janja Silva’s office, as well as valuable artworks and sculptures.

Authorities confirmed that those arrested at the camp outside the army barracks would be taken to the police headquarters, where they will be identified. Only those tied to yesterday’s attacks will remain in detention.

“Some of the people [in the palace] knew what they were doing. While the horde destroyed everything, some of them acted with intelligence,” said Communications Secretary Paulo Pimenta at a press conference on Monday morning, adding that they had also taken weapons and documents from the buildings. “Those who entered the Planalto Palace knew it already, these events couldn’t have happened without some level of help and complicity,” he said.

Protesters had been camping outside the army headquarters since October 30. They claim Lula’s electoral victory was illegitimate and were responding to an anti-democratic campaign to overturn Brazil’s president.

Protesters also set up massive roadblocks in the major city of Sao Paulo, blocking the Marginal Tietê Avenue, a 25-kilometer highway that borders the city, by burning rubble and tires.

President Lula, the Presidents of the Senate and Lower House, and the Federal Supreme Court signed a joint statement saying: “We reject the terrorist attacks, vandalism, and coup plotting in Brasília yesterday […] normality, respect, and hard work are necessary for progress and social justice to flourish.”

Social movements are calling for pro-democracy marches across the country.

The investigation

Some 100 buses transported 3,900 people to Brasília for the storming of the buildings, newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo reported, indicating a degree of planning.

In a press conference held last night, Justice Minister Flávio Dino said that 40 of those buses have been confiscated. Today, he added that all their license plates and some of their financiers have been identified. His goal for Monday is to trace the money to pinpoint the intellectual authors.

Furthermore, minister of Institutional Relations Alexandre Padilha said the buildings would be combed for fingerprints and other pieces of evidence. “We won’t accept the path of crime for political battles in Brazil. Criminals will be treated as criminals,” he added.

Anderson Torres, Brasília’s former security secretary, was ousted during the riot, and the solicitor general’s office filed a request for his arrest. Torres, who previously held the post of Justice and Security Minister during Bolsonaro’s administration, was blamed for the Sunday events by members of the judiciary and Lula’s administration, mainly due to the idleness of the Federal Police.

Torres, who is reportedly in Florida, where Bolsonaro is also staying, denied his involvement. “I’m sad to read these absurd hypotheses about any kind of collusion [from his side] with the barbaric acts we’re witnessing,” he tweeted. Torres also denied that he has met Bolsonaro during his trip, which he called a “family vacation”.

On social media, the attackers used the expression “Selma party” to refer to the invasion, according to Palver, a company that monitors 17,000 public WhatsApp groups and Twitter users that discuss national politics. The words, usually accompanied by the hashtag #BrazilianSpring, were first used to call for actions in Brasília on December 27 and peaked on January 2.

“Selma” is a military code to refer to the jungle and was apparently used by the protestors to go under the radar.

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