Understanding the Federal Police operation in Brazil: Why Bolsonaro and allies could be arrested

On Thursday, February 8, the Federal Police (PF) carried out an operation that shook the Brazilian political scene

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
Former President Jair Bolsonaro and his main allies were the targets of a recent Federal Police operation - Alejandro Pagni/AFP

Former President Jair Bolsonaro and his main allies, both civilian and military, were the target of this operation. The suspicion is that they are involved in an attempted coup aimed at invalidating the 2022 elections, in which Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva emerged victorious.  

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The Federal Police carried out 33 search and seizure warrants and four preventative arrest warrants. In addition, precautionary measures were applied, such as restrictions on contact with other individuals under investigation, surrender of passports and removal from public office posts. The Minister of Brazil's Supreme Court (STF) Alexandre de Moraes authorized these warrants. 

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 Who are the targets?  

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The former special advisor to Bolsonaro, Filipe Martins, was arrested. Valdemar Costa Neto, president of the Liberal Party (the party for which Bolsonaro ran for reelection in 2022); Admiral Almir Garnier Santos, a former commander-in-chief of the Navy; General Stevan Teófilo Gaspar de Oliveira, former chief of the Army’s Land Operations Command; Tércio Arnaud Thomaz, former advisor to Bolsonaro and seen as one of the pillars of the so-called “hate cabinet,” were also targeted by search and seizure warrants. The term refers to a group of advisors who worked at the Planalto Palace, coordinated by former President Bolsonaro and his second eldest son, Carlos Bolsonaro. This group played a crucial role in managing the former president’s social media accounts and emerged during the campaign for the 2018 presidential elections. Its activities continued until the end of Bolsonaro's term as president. 

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The virtual militia  

The existence of a “virtual militia” was made public in mid-2019 when then federal deputy Joice Hasselmann, a former ally of Bolsonaro, talked publicly about the group and its intentions. The "hate cabinet" operated through fake profiles on social media and aimed to spread fake news to attack Bolsonaro's political opponents. The strategy involved amplifying repercussions on the news, creating an environment of polarization and disinformation. In sum, the “hate cabinet” played a significant role on social media during the Bolsonaro government, generating debates about ethics, democracy, and the use of the internet as a political tool.

:: Commission’s report on the January 8 attacks requests the indictment of Bolsonaro and military personnel for “criminal association” :: 

 Fraud goal 

The Federal Police called this operation “Tempus Veritatis,” which means “hour of truth” in Latin. This operation represents a crucial moment in Brazilian politics, with significant implications for democracy and the rule of law. 

According to the Federal Police, the group under investigation was divided into nuclei to disseminate misinformation during the 2022 presidential elections. The goal was to enable and legitimize a military intervention, acting as a digital militia, which culminated in the invasion of the National Congress on January 8, 2023. 

The attacks of January 8, 2023, in Brasilia  

On January 8, 2023, a crowd of Bolsonaro supporters stormed federal government buildings in Brasília, intending to instigate a military coup against the Lula government, elected in the 2022. - Joedson Alves/Agência Brasil

It was a series of depredations of public property committed by a crowd of extremist supporters of Former President Jair Bolsonaro. This crowd invaded federal government buildings with the aim of instigating a military coup against the elected government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in an attempt to reinstate Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. 

Around 4,000 Bolsonaro supporters marched towards Praça dos Três Poderes, clashing with the Military Police of the Federal District on the Ministries Esplanade. The crowd broke the security barrier and occupied the ramp and roof slab of the National Congress Palace, while part of the group managed to invade and vandalize the building, the Planalto Palace and the Palace of the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court classified the events as acts of terrorism. Around 400 people were arrested on the day of the attacks, and another 1,200 were detained in the protesters' camp in front of the Army Headquarters the day after the depredations. As of March 2023, 2,182 people had been arrested for participating or being involved in the attacks. 

Government representatives criticized what had happened and declared that those responsible for the violent acts, their financiers and instigators would be identified and punished. Leaders of several Brazilian parties and government officials from several countries also repudiated the invasion and considered it a serious attack on democracy. The event is compared to the invasion of the United States Capitol in January 2021 by Donald Trump supporters who refused to accept his defeat in the elections. 

Edited by: Lucas Estanislau