The Trump-Bolsonaro Connection

Anne Applebaum on the global cohort of antidemocratic influencers that encouraged the insurrection in Brazil

A broken window at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil
A broken window at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil (Mateus Bonomi / Anadolu Agency via Getty)

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Staff writer and Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Anne Applebaum is uniquely qualified to plumb the American influence on Brazil’s “January 6 moment,” the insurrection on Sunday by supporters of the country’s far-right former president, Jair Bolsonaro. I called Anne to discuss her article about how antidemocratic revolutions can be contagious, and the diplomatic path forward for the United States.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Autocracy International

Kelli María Korducki: In your essay, you use the term Autocracy International to describe a global cohort of antidemocratic influencers that includes figures from Donald Trump’s universe. Who are these people, and how do they factor into the Brazil riots?

Anne Applebaum: It’s mostly an online phenomenon. They operate in different languages—French; Dutch; Spanish; Italian; English, obviously; German—and they borrow one another’s memes and rhetoric. But they have some in-person meetings hosted by different religious and far-right groups as well. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—which is, of course, an American organization—held a meeting in Mexico in November, and a number of members of the Latin American antidemocratic right met there, including Eduardo Bolsonaro, the ex-president’s son, along with some Hungarians and several Americans; Steve Bannon joined by video. Already, at that meeting, Bannon was claiming that the Brazilian election had been stolen—a theme he has been repeating on his podcast for weeks, even before the results were known.

Kelli: You also write that even though Bannon certainly played a role in what happened in Brasília this week, the most powerful American influence was ultimately the example of what happened in D.C. on January 6.

Anne: The Brazil event was, in many ways, a kind of copycat riot. Look at what happened in the run-up to the Brazilian election: Bolsonaro essentially said, as Trump did, If I lose, it’s because the results have been falsified. And after the election, like Trump, he refused to [concede defeat]. He refused to attend the inauguration; in fact, he left the country. He’s now in Florida, at least as far as we know, not too far from Trump, and conceivably even in touch with him. And some of the language that he’s used, and some of the language that his followers have used, is clearly an imitation of what they read in the United States. The most important hashtag that was circulating in Brazil last week was #BrazilianSpring, in English, as if this were an Arab Spring–style uprising against dictatorship—whereas, in fact, it’s an uprising against an elected leader.

Public buildings have been attacked in Brazil before, so it’s not the first time this has happened. But the comprehensive nature of it—that it was the Congress as well as the Presidential Palace as well as the Supreme Court, that it involved using security barriers to break windows—this is, again, an imitation of what happened on January 6. That date, in the U.S., had an additional significance, which was that it was supposed to block the process of the change of presidential power. The Brazil attacks didn’t have that element but instead seem to have been timed to the anniversary of January 6.

Kelli: You close your essay by arguing that the U.S. should be proactive in supporting the Brazilian government’s investigations into the attacks. Why is this important?

Anne: If it turns out that Steve Bannon or Jason Miller or any of the other far-right propagandists who may have been supporting the idea of a coup in Brazil were involved or are indicted by the Brazilian government, then I think we should cooperate, and we should extradite them. If Bolsonaro turns out to be in the United States escaping justice—it’s not clear right now what his position is—then we should consider deporting him as well.

Above all, we should make it clear that these kinds of investigations are legitimate. We think they’re legitimate in Brazil, and we think they’re legitimate in the U.S. The faster they can happen and the faster these kinds of movements can be shut down, the better.

It’s very important that this riot, just like the riot at the Capitol on January 6, be shown to be a failure. This is not how you change power. It doesn’t work; it backfires. It has a terrible impact on those who started it. And, to the degree that there was any American financial or propaganda support for it, we should help in tracking down people who were involved.


Today’s News

  1. Leaders of the Nassau County Republican Party called for Representative George Santos to resign over the lies he has told about his personal life.

  2. A Federal Aviation Administration system failure this morning delayed thousands of flights across the United States.

  3. Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that the head of Russian forces in Ukraine was demoted after three months on the job.


Explore all of our newsletters here.

Evening Read

Picture of a flower against the sun
Gregory Halpern / Magnun

The Quiet Profundity of Everyday Awe

By Dacher Keltner

What gives you a sense of awe? That word, awe—the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world—is often associated with the extraordinary. You might imagine standing next to a 350-foot-tall tree or on a wide-open plain with a storm approaching, or hearing an electric guitar fill the space of an arena, or holding the tiny finger of a newborn baby. Awe blows us away: It reminds us that there are forces bigger than ourselves, and it reveals that our current knowledge is not up to the task of making sense of what we have encountered.

But you don’t need remarkable circumstances to encounter awe. When my colleagues and I asked research participants to track experiences of awe in a daily diary, we found, to our surprise, that people felt it a bit more than two times a week on average. And they found it in the ordinary: a friend’s generosity, a leafy tree’s play of light and shadow on a sidewalk, a song that transported them back to a first love.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

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The Atlantic; Getty; HBO Max

Read. When you’re feeling alone, these eight books will make excellent companions.

Watch. Single Parents, on Hulu, a short-lived series with breezy plots and youthful energy by the creator of New Girl.

Or check out another of our 13 feel-good shows to watch this winter.

Play our daily crossword.


Anne has written extensively about authoritarianism and global antidemocratic movements, both for The Atlantic and in several of her books. In her most recent book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, she devotes an entire chapter, “Cascades of Falsehood,” to social media’s role in spreading far-right, pro-authoritarian conspiracies around the world.

— Kelli

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.