COMENDADOR LEVY GASPARIAN, Brazil -- A Brazilian politician attacked federal police officers seeking to arrest him in his home on Sunday, prompting an hours-long siege that caused alarm and a scramble for a response at the highest level of government.
Roberto Jefferson, a former lawmaker and an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, fired a rifle at police and threw grenades, wounding two officers in the rural municipality Comendador Levy Gasparian, in Rio de Janeiro state. He said in a video message sent to supporters on WhatsApp that he refused to surrender, though by early evening he was in custody.
The events were stunning even for Brazilians who have grown increasingly accustomed to far-right politicians and activists thumbing their noses at Supreme Court justices, and comes just days before Brazilians go to the polls to vote for president.
The Supreme Court has sought to rein in the spread of disinformation and anti-democratic rhetoric ahead of the Oct. 30 vote, often inviting the ire of Bolsonaro’s base that decries such actions as censorship. As part of those efforts, Jefferson was jailed preventatively for making threats against the court's justices.
Jefferson in January received permission to serve his preventative arrest under house arrest, provided he complies with certain conditions. Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a decision published Sunday that Jefferson has repeatedly violated those terms — most recently by using social media to compare one female justice to a prostitute — and ordered he be returned to prison.
“I didn’t shoot anyone to hit them. No one. I shot their car and near them. There were four of them, they ran, I said, ’Get out, because I’m going get you,’” Jefferson said in the video. “I’m setting my example, I’m leaving my seed planted: resist oppression, resist tyranny. God bless Brazil.”
Later, Brazil's federal police said in another statement that Jefferson was also arrested for attempted murder.
Bolsonaro was quick to criticize his ally in a live broadcast on social media. He denounced Jefferson’s statements against Supreme Court justices, including the threats and insults that led to his initial arrest, and Sunday’s attack. He also sought to distance himself from the former lawmaker.
“There’s not a single picture of him and me,” Brazil’s president said. His opponents promptly posted several pictures of the two together on social media.
Bolsonaro also said he dispatched Justice Minister Anderson Torres to the scene, without providing details on what his role would be.
Bolsonaro’s base had mixed reactions, with some on social media hailing Jefferson as a hero for standing up to the top court. Dozens flocked to his house to show support as he remained holed up inside. They chanted, with one group holding a banner that read: “FREEDOM FOR ROBERTO JEFFERSON”.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is campaigning to return to his former job, told reporters in Sao Paulo that Jefferson “does not have adequate behavior. It is not normal behavior.”
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court convicted lawmaker Daniel Silveira for inciting physical attacks on the court’s justices as well as other authorities. Bolsonaro quickly issued a pardon for Silveira, who appeared beside the president after he cast his vote in the election’s first round on Oct. 2.
The runoff vote between Bolsonaro and da Silva is set for Oct. 30
“Brazil is terrified watching events that, this Sunday, reach the peak of the absurd,” Arthur Lira, the president of Congress’ Lower House and a Bolsonaro ally, wrote on Twitter. “We will not tolerate setbacks or attacks against our democracy.”
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.