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June 30, 2013

Yellow Shirts in White Masks – reactionary and anti-democratic

Over the last few weeks a small but effectively managed and carefully strategised “protest” group has emerged on the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities. Dubbed the “White Mask” group – because they have adopted the white V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask long associated with the progressive Occupy and Anonymous movements – the Thai incarnation is about as far from the notion of democratic accountability, spontaneity and progressive politics as anyone could imagine.

White Mask “protest” in Bangkok

As New Mandala point out in two recent blog posts here and here the White Mask group are little more than a re-incarnation of the extreme right-wing violent nationalist groups that previously coalesced around the PAD, Pitak Siam and similar. These groups call themselves “anti-Thaksin” but their real enemy is democracy itself – the White Mask group are noted for making calls for the democratically-elected Pheu Thai government to be “overthrown”. The White Masks are also not shy of launching violent attacks on pro-democracy activists as this report in Thailand’s Khao Sod newspaper reveals – in central Bangkok two weeks ago they attempted to beat Red Shirt members with iron bars.

Such is the collusion between the White Mask groups and extreme right-wing sentiment that these masked activists have reportedly taken to the routine singing of a notorious neo-fascist Thai song entitled Nak Phaen Din orScum of the Earth”. In addition the leadership associated with the White Masks, such as “Green Politics coordinator” Suriyasai Katasila are beginning to make bizarre and outlandish claims that the Yingluck Shinawatra-led Pheu Thai government are “creating the conditions for a coup”.

What shouldn’t be underestimated is the White Mask group’s sophistication. The carefully calibrated air of contrived “spontaneity” gives them the image of a “grassroots” protest movement similar in tone to the Arab Spring groups of the last few years. Furthermore, their co-opting of the symbolism of the progressive Occupy and Anonymous protest movements has led to some benign – though deeply flawed – international press coverage. Such benign coverage is being further pushed by the Thai Democrat Party English language-mouthpiece, the Bangkok Post, who have gone to quite ludicrous lengths of deception to portray the White Masks as a legitimate protest group rather than as a confection of the most anti-democratic elements in Thailand.

So who is behind the White Mask group? The powerful and wealthy media mogul, Sonthiyan Chuenruethainaitham, founder of the Independent News Network and T-News outlets – both of which endlessly spout extreme-rightwing, anti-democratic invective – has emerged as one of the shadowy backers of the White Masks.

The Bangkok Post recently reported that Sonthiyan said that “that he supports the group, believes it is doing the right thing, and is confident it will continue to grow.” Sonthiyan went on to say that his company has been selling the White Masks to protesters and that “10,000 masks have been sold so far and orders are still coming in.” Yet Sonthiyan seems to be a bit out of step with his fellow Thais when he suggests that “Thaksin and his family must now ask themselves how they can continue to live in a place where people hate them.” Maybe Sonthiyan has conveniently forgotten the last five general election results stretching back 12years and the regular and large electoral democratic mandates the Thaksin-led political project has enjoyed and that the White Mask movement has yet to raise any substantial numbers on Bangkok’s streets?

The Thai White Mask group, whilst certainly exhibiting an increased sophistication in terms of how it portrays its message, is little more than the same reactionary, anti-democratic forces coalescing in a new, media-friendly form.  It shouldn’t be underestimated but simply borrowing and co-opting the fashionable symbolism of global progressive protest movements won’t make it any less reactionary.

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