Societies must understand and learn the lessons of history to avoid repeating the same mistakes. That is why the detailed report and supporting materials of the January 6 Committee is instructive for those in the United States and in other countries who seek to keep their democracies intact. As we look at conditions around the world, however, there is growing reason for worry about democracy’s future.
Consider Brazil, where extremists invaded and looted their Congress, the Presidential Palace, and the Supreme Court, while asking the Army to take over – in effect, stage a military coup. The then chief of security for the capital city of Brasilia, Anderson Torres, was later arrested for his alleged collusion with the rioters and his failure to act in his role.
Taking a page from former president Trump’s response to the 2020 election, Brazil’s ex-President, Jair Bolsonaro, refused to accept his political defeat and instead claimed election fraud. Just before his term expired, he flew to Orlando, Florida, where he has continued to take refuge. Bolsonaro has been a fervent ally and pursued many of the same policies of the former U.S. president, including Covid denialism; Steve Bannon was among those counselling Bolsonaro on his election rejection strategy.
Bolsonaro supporters were bused from all over Brazil and had communicated on social media for weeks in advance, but the local and federal authorities were ill-prepared for what was glaringly imminent. Brazilian prosecutors have ordered investigations, arrests, and suspensions of officials who supported or enabled the attacks, including an investigation of Bolsonaro himself.
In Germany, an extremist network was stockpiling weapons, developing a shadow government, and preparing for an armed uprising to sabotage the electrical network, storm the Capitol, and take over Germany’s government. The federal police learned of their plan and arrested many of the leaders. The participants were part of a growing group influenced by the ideology of QAnon and a belief that a deep state cabal ran the German government and needed to be overthrown. In describing increased threats against those in government service from the combined efforts of Germany’s extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, the BBC noted: “Their enemy is liberal, global, and often Jewish.”
In describing the threat from the significant growth in right wing extremist groups, the Center for Strategic & International Studies importantly notes that the term is not related to political parties, but rather is a general description of “the use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities whose goals may include racial, ethnic, or religious supremacy” as well as opposition to social welfare, tolerance of diversity, and objections to “Jews and other minorities” in influential roles.
The lessons of history lurk behind these modern efforts to overthrow democracies, including the experience of January 6 in our own country. For all who value freedom and democracy, it is critical to understand that complacency breeds complicity. No country is immune.