Jim Urquhart for NPR
KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Rows of cars, some of them rental, line the shoulder of a freeway, outside the security office of a gated community in this suburb of Orlando.
Lutty Sutton was among dozens of people who showed up at the gated community on a Tuesday afternoon hoping to see Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right former president, who is staying at a vacation home owned by Brazilian mixed martial arts. the artist Jose Aldo.
“I want to see it. I’m going to cry,” Sutton said. “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 came to Florida on December 30, two days before he was supposed to hand over the presidential sash signifying the peaceful transition of power to the rival who had recently defeated him, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
“He really doesn’t like Lula and didn’t want to give him the presidential sash during the inauguration.” says Bryan Pitt, associate director of the Latin American Institute at UCLA.
Pitt says Bolsonaro may have taken inspiration from President Donald Trump, who also set a precedent by skipping Joe Biden’s 2021 nomination.
“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 has drawn criticism from US lawmakers who have called on President Biden to revoke a diplomatic visa Bolsonaro used to enter the country, especially since he doesn’t is no longer President of Brazil.
Forty-one Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Biden after Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s National Congress, Supreme Court and presidential office on January 8.
“We must not allow Mr. Bolsonaro or any other former Brazilian official to seek refuge in the United States to escape justice for crimes they may have committed while in office,” the letter said.
Brazil’s Supreme Court approved an investigation into Bolsonaro in mid-January, expanding a broader probe to find those responsible for the Jan. 8 riots. Over 1,000 people have been detained so far.
The country’s electoral tribunal is also handling 16 separate lawsuits related to Bolsonaro and his campaign.
“He may be hoping to stay in Florida until the heat drops a bit,” Pitts said.
Bolsonaro’s critics note the similarities between the Brazilian riot and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Trump, who had recently lost his re-election bid.
“Nearly two years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempting to do the same in Brazil. … The United States must stop granting refuge in Bolsonaro Florida,” Alexandra Occasio Cortez (D-New York) wrote in a social media post in response to a video of the Brazilian riots.
Bolsonaro supporters espouse similar conspiracy theories fueled by Trump supporters, saying the stolen US election served as a model for Brazil’s.
“It’s really similar. They copied it.” said Eileen Lopes, another supporter who came hoping to meet Bolsonaro. “Everyone knows the votes are stolen.”
Lopes believes Bolsonaro won the election, although a Brazilian military investigation found no voter fraud.
Trump allies, including former adviser Steve Bannon, have married the conspiracy theories before the Brazilian riots. Lopes believes, without evidence, that Bolsonaro was the victim of an elaborate scheme by the deep state in Brazil, the media and his political opponents to rig voting machines to steal the election.
“They are liars. We don’t have a ballot. We don’t have paper evidence,” Lopes said of the Brazilian election, reiterating a similar conspiracy theory held by Holocaust deniers in the United States. United on electronic voting machines.
Courts in several states have dismissed lawsuits alleging the US election was stolen. Moreover, no valid evidence was found to support electoral fraud.
Much of their mistrust is based on misinformation and outright lies on social media.
“I follow him on social media, on the internet,” says Sutton, who like many Bolsonaro supporters shares a distrust of news outlets. “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’s showing the truth, they’re just telling lies,” says Sutton, who makes an exception for far-right media personalities 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 inside Brazil and outside Brazil, the highest percentage of votes Bolsonaro got was in Miami,” Pitt said.