Updated: April 22, 2021 04:36 AM GMT
A Thai pro-democracy protester makes the three-finger salute as he stands in front of riot police during a demonstration in Bangkok on March 13. (Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)
Hardline conservatives in Thailand have found a new scapegoat for the country’s ongoing political turmoil, which has seen the military-allied establishment pitted against a grassroots student movement clamoring for democratic reforms: the United States.
A group of hardliners calling themselves Prachachon Khon Thai (Thai People) staged a protest on April 20 outside the American embassy in Bangkok calling on the US to stop interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs.
Members of the group, which was led by a right-wing lawyer with a history of anti-democratic protests, allege that the US government has been fomenting dissent in Thailand against the administration of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a mercurial former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014 by ousting the elected Pheu Thai Party government led by Yingluck Shinawatra
Hardline conservatives have also taken to social media to insist that the leaders of a youth-led movement that has for months been staging street rallies calling on Prayut to resign have received their instructions from the CIA and other shadowy foreign entities.
“Nothing happens organically in Thailand,” a sympathizer of the hardliners who owns a business in Bangkok told a UCA News reporter.
“Do you think the students just started protesting on their own? Come on! Someone has been paying them to do it. Nothing happens by chance in Thailand.”
Anti-American and anti-European sentiments are also widespread among supporters of the Thai regime
Wild conspiracy theories have been commonly held by supporters of the current government, which has rolled back basic freedoms in Thailand while stifling all vocal forms of dissent.
The leaders of popular progressive party Phak Anakhot Mai (Future Forward), which was disbanded by a Thai court on a legal technicality last year, were accused of being in cahoots with the Illuminati, a fictitious cabal with a global reach whose alleged members have been blamed for various historic events, including the French and Russian revolutions.
As evidence, their accusers cited the Thai party’s triangular logo, which they said resembled the emblem of the Illuminati.
Anti-American and anti-European sentiments are also widespread among supporters of the Thai regime.
One of their most recent targets has been an American academic who works and lives in Thailand’s rural northeast.
David Streckfuss has been a vocal critic of the lese majeste, or royal defamation, law, which has been wielded by the regime over the past few months to charge more than 80 political activists, including students, who have been calling for democratic reforms such as new constitutional limits on the influential monarchy.
Both the American embassy in Bangkok and the student leader have denied the authenticity of the messages
On social media Streckfuss, whose visa and work permit were last week rescinded by Thai authorities, has been accused of working for the CIA. Streckfuss has denied the charge.
A screengrab of an alleged chat on a social media messaging app has also been produced by hardliners purportedly showing a US embassy official conspiring with a leader of the student-led democracy movement.
Both the American embassy in Bangkok and the student leader have denied the authenticity of the messages, saying they have been faked.
Nicole Fox, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Bangkok, said that as a matter of policy the US government is not providing any support, material or otherwise, to any political movements in Thailand.