Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gathered outside Congress in Brasilia on Tuesday to back the far-right leader in his dispute with the Supreme Court, exacerbating a conflict that has rattled Latin America’s largest democracy.
On Monday night, hundreds of demonstrators dressed in the green-and-yellow colors of the Brazilian flag breached one police cordon and trucks honking horns advanced towards Congress.
They were blocked by police barriers then, and again on Tuesday, from reaching the Supreme Court, which some demonstrators have vowed to occupy in a protest modeled on the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
The court has authorized investigations of Bolsonaro allies over accusations they attacked Brazil’s democratic institutions with misinformation online. Bolsonaro has called the court-ordered probes a violation of free speech rights.
Congress and the courts also resisted Bolsonaro’s attempt to introduce paper voting receipts as a backup to an electronic voting system which he says is vulnerable to fraud. The electoral court maintains the system is transparent and safe.
Bolsonaro urged government supporters to turn out in record numbers, hoping for an overwhelming display to offset his slipping support in opinion polls and setbacks in his clash with the judiciary.
“From now on I won’t accept one or two people acting outside the constitution,” Bolsonaro said in comments to supporters on Tuesday morning, echoing his recent criticism of certain Supreme Court justices, before he donned the presidential sash and rode in an open Rolls Royce to a military event marking Independence Day.
In Rio de Janeiro, along Copacabana Beach, rows of trucks draped in Brazilian flags parked along the esplanade, as yellow-clad bikers roared past, honking their horns.
“I’m here because I’m Brazilian and as a Christian. Today we have a president who believes in God and the family,” said Claudio Mattos, 44, wearing yellow face paint and a camouflage cap. He said he was an off-duty military police officer.
Bolsonaro’s longstanding support among police and military rank and file has contributed to concerns that uniformed officers could take part in demonstrations or fail to contain potential excesses.
Critics fear the president is encouraging supporters to the point that they might try to invade the Supreme Court.
Brasilia security forces used tear gas outside the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday morning to deter a crowd heading toward the court. A public square outside the Supreme Court remained closed off by barriers and a line of police, television images showed.
Bolsonaro said on Friday the demonstrations will be an ultimatum to the Supreme Court justices who had taken what he called “unconstitutional” decisions against his government.
Bolsonaro’s critics say he is sowing doubts so he can challenge the results of next year’s election, which opinion polls now show him losing to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Neither has confirmed his candidacy.
Bolsonaro supporter Monica Martins, a 51-year-old lawyer at the demonstration in Rio, said she was certain of Bolsonaro’s victory next year.
“If he loses, we know there was fraud,” she said.
In the afternoon, Bolsonaro will join supporters on a major avenue in Sao Paulo at a gathering that he has billed as the biggest political rally in Brazilian history.
Many leftist leaders have urged their followers to avoid clashes by skipping counter-demonstrations on Tuesday in favor of larger anti-Bolsonaro protests on Sept. 12.