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Video of Brazil’s Capitol attack shows some police standing by

Several groups of Military Police were seen standing passively on Jan.8 while rioters overtook government buildings in Brasilia. (Video: Twitter, Secretary of Communications of the Presidency, TV Senado)

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A few officers of the Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal (PMDF) stand casually behind a metal barricade overlooking Brazil’s National Congress building, video posted to social media at 4:09 p.m. local time on Jan. 8 showed. One films the area. Another checks his phone. A third chats with a group of men, two of whom wear the Brazilian flag draped over their shoulders.

Captured on video, the scene appears quiet, boring even, until the end, when the perspective pans to reveal the plaza awash in a sea of green- and yellow-clad rioters.

Just 600 feet away, as the video of the police standing idle posts to social media, officers from the Polícia Legislativa battles the destructive mob that has taken control of congress, social media posts and CCTV footage of the insurrection in Brasília obtained by The Washington Post shows.

Polícia Legislativa respond to a riot inside Brazil’s Congress while Polícia Militar film outside, on Jan 8. (Video: TV Senado / Twitter)

A Post examination of more than 150 videos and images from Jan. 8 — including CCTV and body-camera footage — reveals that rank-and-file members of PMDF, tasked with securing the streets surrounding government buildings, did little to stop the initial assault. The visuals, chronologically synchronized by The Post, while not comprehensive, show few, if any, rank-and-file members supported other security forces in the first hours of their efforts to re-secure the government complex.

Brazil’s military blocked arrests of Bolsonaro rioters, officials say

Government officials were aware of the planned protest, which was widely promoted across far-right social media channels supporting former president Jair Bolsonaro at least five days earlier. “Patriots from all over Brazil,” the messages said, should come and “bring Brasília to a halt.”

The PMDF, which is generally responsible for the day-to-day policing of the Brazilian capital, initially deployed 365 rank-and-file officers on Jan. 8. Polícia Legislativa, which protects the National Congress, and Policía Judicial, which guards the Supreme Court, both posted fewer than 60 officers. Members of the Army, which oversees the forces that protect the presidential palace, are also seen at various points in available footage. The army, PMDF and Força Nacional de Segurança Pública did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.

At 2:33 p.m., protesters broke through a blockade of more than two dozen PMDF officers about a mile from Three Powers Plaza, which includes the Supreme Court, National Congress and Planalto Palace, in 13 seconds, social media footage first published by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo shows.


Satellite image ©2023 Google Earth

Satellite image ©2023 Google Earth

Satellite image ©2023 Google Earth

Ten minutes later, the crowd pushed past the last line of security forces along the Esplanada dos Ministérios that included a few military personnel in addition to PMDF officers, gaining direct access to the buildings at the heart of Brazil’s democracy.

Mob of Bolsonaro supporters pushes past a Polícia Militar line near Brazil’s Congress on Jan 8. (Video: Twitter)

Multiple analysts who reviewed footage at The Post’s request questioned the PMDF’s preparation, noting that the initial rank-and-file officers did not appear to be prepared for crowd control, as they were not wearing riot gear and appeared to have erected only a small number of physical barriers. They said the PMDF are often better prepared and implement greater crowd control measures at soccer games.

Fernando Miramontes Forattini, co-founder of a research consortium focused on corruption in the global south, told The Post that PMDF officers monitor and talk with organizers at soccer matches to understand the numbers attending, erect and hold proper barricades, perform body searches, inspect the stadium for security breaches and make emergency contingency plans.

Rioters rushed the ramp that leads to the National Congress building immediately after breaking the police line. Polícia Legislativa officers braced for a fight, spreading out across the balcony. Unlike the PMDF and the handful of military personnel that guarded the perimeter, these officers were outfitted in riot gear and protective shields and armed with crowd control munitions.

At 2:44 p.m., just a minute after breaking the last police line, CCTV footage from inside the building shows the rioters entering.

CCTV captures the moment a mob of Bolsonaro supporters broke into Brazil’s Congress on Jan. 8. (Video: TV Senado)

The Polícia Legislative requested backup twice — once on the day before t