I’m Seeing Red!

Well, I decided to go home from my Soi 11 exile just in time for more violence in the streets. Last Thursday night it kicked off again.

While the news media might have you believe that the red shirt movement is a “popular” movement, it really has only about 15,000 – 20,000 hard-core supporters who are coming out for the rallies. Many of those people are paid.

When they first started demonstrating there were rumors of protesters being paid anywhere from 500 baht (about $15 USD) to 2000 (about $60 USD) per day to attend the protests.

Remember, if they get their way, the former billionaire fugitive PM can come back to Thailand once the government changes a few rules. And the Thai government just seized $1.1 billion USD from him so you know the first thing on his agenda once he steps back on Thai soil. It doesn’t take Horatio from CSI Miami to figure out where all this money to finance the protesters is coming from.

At first the reds denied it. Then someone caught them on video paying out protesters. They counter-claimed they were simply reimbursing people for travel expenses to come down to Bangkok. But let’s just call things for what they are. Nearly every Thai I have spoken to has either been offered money to protest or has a family member who has. It’s common knowledge (except to the foreign press).

Many businesses are losing their employees because the red shirts are paying better than they do. They can make 300 baht per day (7200 baht per month) working a job or get paid 12,000 to protest and get free meals. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure this one out.

But something strange happened on the way to toppling the current government. Some of the other 69,985,000 residents of the kingdom started to get fed up with the protesters.

I can’t say I blame them. The PM has agreed to their demand that he dissolve parliament and hold new elections but he wants 9 months to do it and they want it done yesterday.

So the silent massive majority has started to come out. They call themselves the “multi-colored shirts” or “anything but red” because they profess no allegiance to the reds, the yellows, the current government or anyone else. They’re just tired of this pointless standoff.

So about a quarter of a mile from my place they’ve been standing out there every night on the opposite side of Rama IV Road (roughly where the Z is on the bottom of the map) taunting the red shirts. Words have been exchanged and things have escalated into ass-kickings and slingshot wars.

That was until Thursday night. Five grenades were thrown across the intersection killing several people (though I have seen that revised to 1 dead) and injuring many more. The red shirts claim that the army threw the grenades in an attempt to escalate the situation but in the video above you can see a trail coming from the red shirt side right before a loud explosion (look around 1:00 in the video). And this was video shot from the red shirt side of the intersection so . . . hard to say that the army who was on the other side of the street did this.

One government official recently pointed out that in all of the grenade attacks (I think there have been five against various groups – yellow shirts, the government, various political leaders, etc) not a single grenade has been used against the red shirts. The red shirts always claim that any act of violence like a grenade attack is the other side trying to pin it on them to sway public sentiment but like the official said, why would the government keep bombing itself and never use similar weapons against the red shirts?

So bottom line is that I know live in a militarized zone. Several blocks in every direction streets are blocked off with barricades made of sharpened bamboo poles and tires. Every time I race the gauntlet to go home my taxi is stopped, asked to pop the trunk, and a red shirt guard usually searches the glove box to make sure we’re not smuggling in any weapons.

You can see on the map here (click for larger size) that I live at X. Y is where the very first clashes with the police began. Since then the government has lost all of the area down to Silom Rd. Z (bottom of the map) is marked as the spot of the grenade incident.

The red shaded area is where the red shirts had effective control of the area when they initially took over the Ratchaprasong district. As you can see from where the blockades and checkpoints extend out to, they’ve gained a lot more ground since then.

The blue shaded area is the residence of the US ambassador to Thailand. Despite the location of his residence, the US is not a factor in their movement. I often see the US security forces (who are hired guards of Thai nationality) casually talking with red shirts. Like me, the US ambassador is simply along for the ride.

Security peeking over the wall from the US ambassador's residence

Tonight the taxi driver (a red shirt) told us that the leaders of the movement have been telling protesters not to wear red anymore. They say they want to confuse the enemy.

I’m sorry, but if you’re winning that doesn’t sound like a great strategy. You want to demonstrate your strength by showing increasing numbers of people showing solidarity with you by wearing your movement’s colors. The only reason you want your people to blend in is because you’re afraid those multi-colored shirts might beat the crap out of them.

They also, suddenly, decided to offer new terms to the government. They will give the government 30 days to dissolve. And, they also agreed to back off 100 meters from the intersection where the grenade attacks took place.

Hmmm . . . I’m not an expert in political movements but if you didn’t throw the grenades it seems like a silly time to back down even the slightest. Wouldn’t you be even angrier if the army was trying to set you up? Why agree to retreat 100 meters?

That’s especially true when you see how they’ve handled the April 10 violent confrontation with the military. My girlfriend brought home a DVD that some motorcycle taxi driver gave to her. It’s a total red shirt propaganda film about April 10. But it’s good. I mean really good. Even though my Thai is crap I can still make out who they hold out as heroes and demons based on the background music, lighting, etc.

And it contains plenty of gory detail. One shot shows a guy with about half his upper head missing. Another shot shows a guy with brain tissue leaking out of his skull. Yeah, this stuff is totally geared at bypassing logical thought processes and going right for the emotional triggers.

It’s crude but it’s effective.

If it sounds like I’m getting down on the reds a bit it’s because they’re like the guy who asks if he can crash on your couch for a couple of days but a month later is still there.

Every day I have to walk down my street to the stench of porta-potties. They have showering stations set up next to the johns. I’ve got clothing strung across drying lines tied to every vertical object on my street. I feel like I’m living on Hill Billy Drive.

And going out anywhere has requires all sorts of planning. Some nights I’ll go out and not even be able to get anywhere near my place due to red shirt blockades. For instance, Friday night we went out and the closest the taxi driver could get us was Saracin Rd. and Rajadamri. We had to hoof it from there. Saturday night they dropped us at Saracin and Lang Suan.

And with the BTS and MRT closing stations anytime something flares up it’s difficult to even get out of the neighborhood.

But, this isn’t about how inconvenienced I am. When the protesters first occupied my neighborhood they were mostly smiling and friendly. Some still are but more and more the mood is changing. There are a lot more “security” guys walking around. A lot less smiles. And a lot more suspicion of who you are and why you’re there.

And really, they’re being offered nearly everything they’re asking for, except on a different timeframe.

The only problem is that they didn’t win over the huge public support they thought they would. They were hoping for a million or at least several hundred thousand people to take up the call to arms but I think the best they’ve done is about 30,000 people at their peak.

So now, the leaders are starting to realize that the government isn’t going to topple and when all this is over people are going to have to answer for all of the laws that have been broken. They’re going to have to answer for the deaths and injuries.

I don’t know if it’s true but I’ve heard it from several different sources that seem to be well plugged into what’s going on, but it’s being said that the reason the PM flatly refused the red shirts’ last offer to pull back 100m and discuss a new timeframe was because the leaders of the protests tried to attach amnesty for themselves onto the offer.

That’s another reason people speculate that they keep insisting on a short timeframe for dissolving the house. They want the government too busy trying to put together new elections to press criminal charges against them.

So, it’s not about me so much as it’s about getting tired of watching this drag out when it’s obvious that the red shirts have played all of their cards and failed. Now they’re trying to salvage something out of this and they’re doing it at the entire city’s expense.

It also means that as they begin to realize that they’re on a dead-end path that they are even more prone to doing something to raise the bar again. More attacks or other acts of violence in an effort to keep the drama going. In other words, they’re becoming increasing dangerous as they have less and less options.

In the process, they’re using these poor and uneducated people as pawns. All of the red shirt leaders are already wealthy men who stand to get even richer if they succeed in bringing down the government. The poor will get what they always get, promises and some crumbs.

My apartment has chained the front doors in case the protesters try to seek refuge in the building

I received word today that the US embassy is inviting American citizens to a town hall meeting to discuss the escalating situation. If I can get out of my neighborhood I plan on attending.

Many have commented that even during coups and other civil unrest in Thailand the US embassy has never held a meeting like this before. And they are very explicit that only US citizens will be allowed to attend.

Should be interesting.

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.

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