In the weeks leading up to Sunday’s violent attacks on Brazil’s Congress and other government buildings, the country’s social media channels surged with calls to attack gas stations, refineries and other infrastructure, as well as for people to come to a “war cry party” in the capital, according to Brazilian social media researchers.
Online influencers who deny the results of the country’s recent presidential election used a particular phrase to summon “patriots” to what they called a “Festa da Selma” — tweaking the word “selva,” a military term for war cry, by substituting an “m” for the “v” in hopes of avoiding detection from Brazilian authorities, who have wide latitude to arrest people for “anti-democratic” postings online. “Festa” is the Portuguese word for “party.”
Organizers on Telegram posted dates, times and routes for “Liberty Caravans” that would pick people up in at least six Brazilian states and ferry them to the party, according to posts viewed by The Washington Post. One post said: “Attention Patriots! We are organizing for a thousand buses. We need 2 million people in Brasília.”
That online activism culminated in busloads of people landing in the capital Sunday, where they stormed and vandalized three major government buildings, reportedly setting fires and stealing weapons in the most significant assault on the country’s democratic institutions since a military coup in 1964.
On Monday, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, declared the rioting “a violating event” and said it would remove “content that supports or praises these actions.” In a statement, the company said, “In advance of the election, we designated Brazil as a temporary high-risk location and have been removing content calling for people to take up arms or forcibly invade Congress, the Presidential palace and other federal buildings. … We’re actively following the situation and will continue removing content that violates our policies.”
Brazilian analysts have long warned of the risk in Brazil of an incident akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In the months and weeks leading up to the country’s presidential election in October — in which leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the right-wing incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro — social media channels were flooded with disinformation, along with calls in Portuguese to “Stop the Steal” and cries for a military coup should Bolsonaro lose the election.