President Joe Biden faced mounting pressure Monday to remove Jair Bolsonaro from the U.S. a day after supporters of the former far-right leader stormed Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace.
Riot police were deployed to protest camps in Brazil’s capital as the government vowed to prosecute the rioters for the assault on the nation's democracy. The attack, which carried unmistakable echoes of events at the U.S. Capitol two years ago, also turned attention to Florida — where Bolsonaro is believed to have flown days before his term ended.
“Nearly 2 years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Twitter, adding that the “US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”
Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Mark Takano of California, echoed calls for Bolsonaro's removal from the country.
NBC News has not confirmed Bolsonaro's current whereabouts.
Asked whether Bolsanaro entered the U.S. on an A-1 visa — meant for foreign diplomats or heads of state — State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on Bolsonaro’s status specifically but said that type of visa lapses if the individual using it has a change in position. The individual would need to apply for a change in status or leave the county, he said.
Bolsonaro’s wife posted on Instagram Monday that her husband has been hospitalized because of abdominal pain she said was linked to his stab injury in 2018. Bolsonaro has been repeatedly hospitalized in recent years, for medical issues both related and unrelated to the attack.
The attack Sunday on government buildings in Brasilia followed Bolsonaro’s decision to skip the inauguration of his leftist rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and fly to the U.S. instead, where he has been staying in suburban Orlando, according to reports not confirmed by NBC News.
White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters Monday that Biden had not yet spoken with Lula and that the administration had not received any official requests from the Brazilian government regarding Bolsonaro.
The actions of Bolsonaro and his backers came as little shock to analysts who have been following the former army captain who has often praised Brazil’s past era of military dictatorship.
“Bolsonaro ran on a very Trump-like ticket,” Todd Landman, professor of political science at the University of Nottingham in England, told NBC News. “He looked to Trump as a person to imitate. He also raised doubts about the integrity of the electoral process well in advance.”
After his defeat to Lula in October, Bolsonaro didn’t explicitly concede.
His supporters had been camping in front of military bases for months, calling for the army’s intervention. On Sunday, days after Lula’s inauguration, thousands donning the iconic yellow and green color of the national flag stormed and then trashed several government buildings.
Biden tweeted that the riots were an “assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil,” and that he looked forward to working with Lula. His condemnation was joined by other countries, including the U.K, France, Australia, Spain and Italy.
NBC News reached out to the White House for comment on congressional Democrats’ demands for Biden to remove Bolsonaro.
But despite the growing calls from lawmakers in Washington, experts said any decision to remove Bolsonaro from the U.S. may not be swift.
“They would have to have uncontroversial evidence that there’s a direct link or a set of explicit instructions that came from Bolsonaro to carry this out,” said Landman.
If Biden doesn’t choose to revoke his visa, Brazil may formally seek his extradition after issuing an arrest warrant. Bolsonaro’s visa status was not immediately clear.
Lula had already vowed to go after Bolsonaro during his inauguration speech on Jan. 1 if needed, and on Sunday didn’t hesitate to lay the blame for Sunday's unrest at the feet of his predecessor.
“This genocidist ... is encouraging this via social media from Miami,” Lula said Sunday in a news conference during an official trip to Sao Paulo state. “Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this.”
Bolsonaro later rejected the allegations, saying on Twitter that peaceful protest was part of a democracy but that vandalism and invasion of buildings were “exceptions to the rule.”
Although challenging the election results and casting doubt on the voting process, Bolsonaro has stopped short of an explicit call for action. But he did praise supporters who have blocked roads, held rallies and even invaded police headquarters in the capital in December.
“He’s afraid that if he said something like Trump did, he could be prosecuted and then be put in jail, especially when he lost the election,” Yuri Kasahara, a senior researcher at Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway, told NBC News, adding that Bolsonaro had lost his presidential immunity.
Unlike the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol, very few officials were in the buildings at the time of Sunday’s attacks, and Bolsonaro’s supporters faced little opposition. That led some to question whether local law enforcement was somehow involved.
The Supreme Court’s chief justice ordered Brasilia’s governor, Ibaneis Rocha, a staunch backer of Bolsonaro and responsible for the capital’s security, to be removed for 90 days.
At least 300 people have already been arrested, according to police, while authorities were now combing the buildings for fingerprints and images for evidence.
They have also begun investigating those who paid for the buses that transported the protesters to the capital, Justice Minister Flávio Dino said, adding that the acts amounted to terrorism and coup-mongering.
“They will not succeed in destroying Brazilian democracy,” he said.