Bolsonaro backers in Florida decry what they see as a stolen election in Brazil : NPR

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Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters Jan. 17, 2023, outside his home in Kissimmee, Fla.

Jim Urquhart for NPR


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Jim Urquhart for NPR

Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters Jan. 17, 2023, outside his home in Kissimmee, Fla.

Jim Urquhart for NPR

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Rows of cars, some of them rentals, line the shoulder of a highway, outside the security office of a gated community in this Orlando suburb.

Lutty Sutton is among dozens of people who showed up at the gated community on Tuesday afternoon hoping to catch a glimpse of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right former president, who is staying in a holiday home there owned by a Brazilian mixed martial artist. artist José Aldo.

“I want to see him. I’m going to cry,” Sutton says. “I want to tell him. ‘Don’t give up.’ I have so much hope in him. I want him to come back to Brazil.”

Bolsonaro arrived in Florida on December 30, two days before he was supposed to hand over the presidential nod to the peaceful transition of power to the rival who recently defeated him, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“He really just doesn’t like Lula and he didn’t want to pass the presidential baton to him at the inauguration.” says Bryan Pitt, assistant director at UCLA’s Latin American Institute.

Pitt says that Bolsonaro may have taken inspiration from President Donald Trump, who also set a precedent by skipping the inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021.

“I can’t sleep, because the situation in Brazil is very dangerous,” says Sutton, who is visiting the United States from Rio de Janeiro.

Bolsonaro’s stay in an Orlando suburb near Disney World drew criticism from US lawmakers who called on President Biden to revoke diplomatic visa Bolsonaro would enter the country, especially since he is no longer president of Brazil.

Forty-one Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Biden after Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the Brazilian national congress, the supreme court and the presidential office on January 8.

“We should not allow Mr. Bolsonaro or any other former Brazilian officials to take refuge in the United States to escape justice for any crime they may have committed while in office,” says the letter.

Brazil’s supreme court approved an investigation into Bolsonaro in mid-January, expanding a wider probe to find those responsible for the January 8 riots. More than 1,000 people have been detained so far.

The nation’s electoral court is also processing 16 separate cases related to Bolsonaro and his campaign.

“He might be hoping to stay in Florida until the heat dies down a little bit,” Pitts says.

Bolsonaro’s critics are noting the similarities between the Brazilian riot and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of then-President Trump, which he had recently lost his bid for re-election.

“Almost two years to the day that the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad trying to do the same in Brazil… The United States should stop harboring Bolsonaro in Florida,” wrote Alexandra Occasio Cortez (D- New York) in a social media post in response to a video of the Brazilian riots.

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro leaves supporters after greeting them and posing for photos with them January 17 outside his home in Kissimmee, Fla.

Jim Urquhart for NPR


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Bolsonaro’s supporters are embracing similar conspiracy theories peddled by Trump supporters, saying the stolen US election served as a blueprint for the Brazilian one.

“It’s really similar. They copied it.” says Eileen Lopes, another supporter who came hoping to meet Bolsonaro. “Everyone knows, votes are stolen.”

Lopes believes that Bolsonaro won the election although an investigation by the Brazilian military found no voter fraud.

Trump’s allies, including former adviser Steve Bannon, took the conspiracy theories before the Brazilian riots. Lopes believes, without evidence, that Bolsonaro fell victim to an elaborate scheme by the deep state in Brazil, the media and his political opponents to set up voting machines to steal the election.

“They are liars. We don’t have a poll. We don’t have proof on paper,” Lopes says of the Brazilian election, echoing a similar conspiracy theory held by election deniers in the United States on voting machines. – electronic voting.

Courts in several states have dismissed lawsuits alleging that the US election was stolen. Furthermore, no valid evidence was found to support electoral fraud.

Much of their mistrust is based on misinformation and outright lies on social media.

Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro greets and takes photos with supporters outside his home in Kissimmee, Florida, United States, January 17, 2023.

Jim Urquhart for NPR


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Jim Urquhart for NPR

“I follow him on social media, on the Internet,” says Sutton, who, like many Bolsonaro supporters, shares a distrust of news organizations. “The media doesn’t say anything. People who don’t follow social media, they don’t know the real situation. They don’t know.

“Nobody shows the truth, they just tell lies,” says Sutton, who takes exception to far-right media figures Tucker Carlson on Fox News and author Glenn Greenwald.

“Both of them really know the situation in Brazil,” she says.

Florida has proven to be a stronghold of support for Bolsonaro.

“Of all the Brazilian electoral districts, both in Brazil and outside Brazil, the highest percentage of votes that Bolsonaro got was in Miami,” says Pitt.

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