Bolsonaro ally attacks police officers

Brazil’s leader distances himself from Roberto Jefferson’s firing of ammunition ahead of presidential run-off

Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, was left scrambling to disassociate himself from a political ally who attacked police with grenades and gunfire as they were coming to arrest him, just a week before Sunday’s decisive presidential run-off.

Roberto Jefferson fired two grenades and 20 gunshots, wounding two of the officers sent to detain him for breaching house arrest terms after he called supreme court judge Cármen Lúcia the “Blair Witch” and “Cármen Lucifer”.

Mr Jefferson’s attack, made in a video posted on Twitter, was part of a new online offensive by Bolsonaro supporters against judges on Brazil’s electoral court after they moved to try to combat a deluge of fake news in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. The overwhelming majority of the unprecedented wave of disinformation is being produced by groups linked to the Bolsonaro campaign and targets his left-wing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who polls show is leading as the race heads to a climatic run-off between the two on Sunday.

Armed confrontation

Leader of the small Brazilian Labour Party, in recent years Mr Jefferson has become one of the president’s most radical supporters in threatening armed confrontation with the judiciary. As Sunday’s stand-off developed at his home in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state, Mr Bolsonaro sent his justice minister to try to resolve it peacefully. Mr Jefferson eventually surrendered to police. A small arsenal of illegally held weapons was subsequently found in his residence.


With his campaign desperately seeking to win over undecided voters as he tries to overturn a six million vote deficit from the first round earlier this month, Mr Bolsonaro moved quickly to disassociate himself from Mr Jefferson. But after he said “there is no photo of him with me”, social media was quickly inundated with images of the two men together. Other allies of the president sought to portray Mr Jefferson’s mental health as of increasing concern in recent months. Supporters of the president gathered to show support for the arrested politician as he was led off to prison. At least one journalist covering the stand-off was attacked by the crowd.

Corruption scandal

Mr Jefferson has long been a controversial figure in Brazilian politics.

In 2005, he set off the first great corruption scandal of the Workers Party’s 13 years in power when he revealed the administration of then-president Lula was funneling money to members of congress in return for support. In 2012, he was eventually convicted for his role in the scheme in a supreme court trial and served three years of a seven-year sentence. He nevertheless retained control over his party and in recent years has become one of the most fervent supporters of Mr Bolsonaro’s far-right agenda.

Already under investigation by the supreme court over his alleged involvement in the Bolsonaro administration’s use of so-called “digital militias” to attack opponents of the government, he was arrested in August last year after making threats against the court in a video in which he displayed several firearms. He was released into house arrest in January under strict conditions including that he stay off social media. Supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes ruled he had violated these terms with the attack on his colleague Lucia published online on Friday by Mr Jefferson’s daughter.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America