Over the past three months, dozens of conspiracy theories have been put forth by Thailand’s right-wing media to criticize and discredit the pro-democracy student protesters.
The theories range from the ones grounded in reality, like the students advancing the LGBT cause, to the downright malicious, that the students were funded by the CIA and George Soros to topple the monarchy.
These conspiracy theories have taken root in the greater Thai public to a large degree with royalist, pro-military Thais regularly accusing students of their links to the Americans on social media.
It was exacerbated further when on August 29, a Facebook page called “Thai Vision” released a conspiracy theory chart that was trying to link foreign funds and NGOs that are allegedly providing support for the Free People Movement in Thailand.
Included in the chart were nefarious organizations like Netflix, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, Business Insider, and de Bild. There were mentions of other international organizations that had a presence in the country, such as Amnesty International Thailand, Human Rights Watch, and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
Local news outlets such as the Matter, the Momentum, and The Standard were also on the list; there was even a link to the Demosistō activist group in Hong Kong.
To a normal onlooker, the chart is nonsensical and a bit ridiculous. However, to conservatives in the country, the chart was fuel for the gossip wildfire and sparked numerous Facebook posts and Line messages.
The Thai Pakdee royalist group was formed partly due to the influence of the above chart.
The chart even prompted the US Embassy to release a statement on August 31, saying that the US government “is not funding or otherwise providing support to any of the protests in Thailand.”
Nevertheless, the Thai Pakdee group has continued to spread such claims by spreading a photo of the former US Ambassador Glyn Davies photographed with Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, one of the protest leaders in a 2016 photo.
Suphanat Aphinyan, a Thai academic from MAST Center at the University of Arkansas, pushed the point further in various right-wing outlets by claiming that the US government is behind the movement in Thailand.
He said the main influencer is the US-based National Endowment for Democracy organization which is receiving funding from the US government.
He also tried to link Ambassador Michael George DeSombre’s alleged involvement with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong to Thailand before his move to the country.
“I don’t know if Michael George DeSombre’s stay in Thailand will lead to conflict and violence, escalating to an urban civil war like what happened in Hong Kong,” he posted on his Facebook page on September 11.
By mid-September, the damage had been done by the right-wing organizations, in a poll published by the government 75 per cent of the participants believe that foreign organizations are working to destabilize Thailand by destroying its “main pillar” so that they can reap the benefits from the country.
It led to a demonstration on September 16 by a pro-monarchy group called the People of Thailand in front of the US embassy to call for the US to stop supporting the student rallies, citing the media reports and the above charts.
The heart of the matter
It is bad enough that right-wing media has engendered such ludicrous viewpoints and have allowed them to take root but government and coalition politicians are now beginning to push the same theories, proving the symbiosis between them once and for all.
Education Minister Natthaphon Teepsuwan said in September that the students were being financially supported by other groups and that there will be an investigation. Of course, he only said this after more than a thousand high school students protested against him and the current educational system in a widely publicized protest.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan asked the press last week to look into who is behind the funding of the student-led protest while Pareena Kraikupt, a Palang Pracharat MP, also said that the people behind the Free People Movement are the same people who were behind the Red Shirts (eg, Thaksin).
Juti Krairiksh, the Social Development and Human Security Minister, said on September 24 that the university and high school students who came out to protest against the Prayut’s administration are all pawns to a “foreign superpower.”
“The reason why they are coming out to protest and creating demands is that they are all being used by a foreign superpower that wants to gain control over Thailand,” he said.
He said the country sits on an important strategic location at “the real intersection of the Indo-China region” so if any superpower wanted to gain control over the region, “they will have to take over Thailand.”
“The government already knows that the hundreds of millions that are being used to help the students came from abroad via foundations,” Juti said.
Charnwit Polcheewin, an appointed senator, has been pushing the conspiracy theories in parliament for weeks.
Charnwit told parliament that Elizabeth Warren was actively commenting on the situation in Thailand but further investigation shows that her comments that Charnwit played back in parliament were actually made back in 2016.
The outgoing police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said last Friday that the police are “solving a jigsaw puzzle” and they are coming close to finding out which groups are behind the student protestors but he cannot provide their latest findings yet.
“They are using high school students as hostages,” he said.
It should be noted here that the CIA, the United States, and the western allies have funded groups in Thailand in the past to keep friendly powers in government. This was especially true at the height of the Cold War when the US helped to fund films, scholarships and dictators.
But what’s important to remember is that historically, the people that have benefited most from US covert funding has been the military and the dictators that came from them.
It is highly ironic now for the people backed by the military to accuse student protesters of being funded by Trump or Soros or any other gloomy shadowy mastermind.
One supposes it is a better alternative for them than confronting the fact that their rule is deeply unpopular and has led this country into chaos.
(Photo Credit: Michael Brown)