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Former President Bolsonaro is now living in Florida, far away from unrest in Brazil


January 8 rocked Brazil. That is the day when thousands of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress and the Supreme Court and the presidential office. Bolsonaro had tried and failed in his bid for reelection as president. His supporters claimed with no evidence that the vote was rigged. Brazilian officials are now investigating events that triggered the riots. But there is one key player missing - Bolsonaro himself. The now ex-president is now living in Florida, where he makes regular appearances, poses for photos with supporters and keeps a conspicuous distance from Brazil's upheaval. NPR national security correspondent Sergio Olmos visited the Florida neighborhood where Bolsonaro is staying. Hey there, Sergio.


KELLY: Hey. So tell me more. Where exactly is he in Florida?

OLMOS: So he's staying at a vacation home owned by a Brazilian MMA fighter in a suburb outside of Orlando. It's near Walt Disney World. There's a few dozen people that go see him every day. There was 40 to 50 people when I was there last week. Seeing him, there's a mix of emotions among the crowd. It's like seeing a celebrity or going to church. People park their cars on a dirt road outside this gated community. They - a lot of them are rental cars. They walk past the security gate to get in and wait patiently on the sidewalk outside of his house. And they're dressed up, again, like they're going to church, very nice. There's families, kids. Some people bring Brazilian flags with them. It's a really wholesome atmosphere. And there's this informal schedule where Bolsonaro will come out in the morning and again in the afternoon, and people kind of wait around to see exactly what time he'll come out. And we saw him come out, and people were just aghast to see the ex-president.

KELLY: Sorry. Every day he comes out twice a day and greets supporters?

OLMOS: Yeah. And it's informal. It's not guaranteed. So people are kind of waiting and talking to each other like, has he come out today, what time and stuff like that.

KELLY: All right. So you were there one afternoon. Tell me what that moment was like, what you saw.

OLMOS: Yeah. Most of the people there are Brazilian expats. Some are visiting the U.S., and they're from Brazil, and they stop off to see him. It's near Walt Disney World, again, so it's kind of like a tourist attraction in some ways. And then some of the people who I saw there were just staying in the area. It's a vacation resort kind of area. And we saw a group of people walking by and ask, who is this man that everyone's taking pictures with? And they were stunned to learn it's the former president of Brazil. And they got in the queue and took a photo with him as well. Again, it's all very informal. Bolsonaro does not have a huge entourage or even official security. There's a Brazilian man who's kind of acting as a handler, telling people to stay in a single file line, stay out of traffic. And Bolsonaro himself seems to at times enjoy meeting and greeting supporters. And at times, to be honest, he looks a bit annoyed.

KELLY: Were you able to talk to them? Were you able to ask what do they make of the riots on January 8 and other events in Brazil?

OLMOS: Yeah. People were happy to talk, and they aren't deterred by the riots of January. They - some of these people that are in Orlando visiting him obviously are some of his most fervent supporters. They don't see any kind of thing wrong with January 8. And one thing that really struck me was talking to people there was their media diet, the role of social media. Some of these supporters were telling me that at this point, they almost exclusively get their news from social media, where, of course, conspiracy theories and fake news on there look just like real news. Here's what one supporter, Lutty Sutton, told me. She was visiting Florida from Brazil.

LUTTY SUTTON: Yeah, because television don't say nothing.


SUTTON: Television, TV, radios, newspaper, magazines - nobody says nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Only social media we have.

SUTTON: Social media only. You have to follow all the person that you believe. Instagram, Twitter, Tinder - all of them.

OLMOS: And we saw this with January 8 - like January 6 here in the United States - the role that social media played in ramping up supporters and spreading disinformation.

KELLY: So interesting. And I'll just note in passing that Bolsonaro is in a part of Florida not so far down the road than Mar-a-Lago and another former president. That is NPR national security correspondent Sergio Olmos. Thank you so much.

OLMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sergio Olmos