‘WeVo’ Protest Guards Withdraw Amid Infighting, Assault

Frontline protest guards cut razor wires installed by police close to the Parliament during a protest on Nov. 17, 2020.

BANGKOK — One of the largest groups of protesters’ security details on Tuesday announced they will no longer provide their service after one of their members was assaulted by another guard unit.

Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep, the leader of the “We Volunteer” network, said his group will not resume working until protest organizers could find a way to reconcile infighting among different frontline guards – some of whom had resorted to violence.

“Since we’re close to the protest leaders, some newly formed groups are saying that we’re arrogant or egoistic,” Piyarat, who is also a longtime activist, said in an interview. “We’re willing to work with anyone, but please understand that our men have to follow their commanders and assigned missions.”

The decision to call it quits was made after a member of “We Volunteer” was punched in the face while trying to question a group of students who identified themselves as guards during a rally on Sunday, Piyarat said.

Top: Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep and members of the WeVo guard unit after they were teargassed by riot police close to the Parliament on Nov. 17, 2020.

“Our group was assigned by protest leaders to provide security at Sunday’s rally,” Piyarat said. “We approached the group of vocational students and asked them to leave the area since they were not given a mission on that day.”

“However, they refused and surrounded me, so my guards tried to pull me out and a brawl broke out,” he continued.

Piyarat said his group will file a police complaint against the assailant. He identified the man as a member of the “Guard Coalition for the People,” an umbrella group consisting of 10 different guard units, including students from polytechnic colleges.

Due to the leaderless nature of the ongoing protests, which seek to oust PM Prayut Chan-o-cha as well as reforming the monarchy, security at demonstrations is usually provided by multiple networks of volunteer guards, without any central leadership.

Since each group has their own chain of command, operational area, and set of rules and tactics, misunderstanding and mutual suspicion are fast becoming an issue among the guard units, Piyarat said.

The fracture within the security networks at the protests was already seized by police commanders to put a blame on a recent shooting, which wounded a protest guard volunteer.

“The fight broke out due to work issues. There’s no outsiders involved,” Deputy metropolitan police chief Piya Tawichai said in the aftermath of the shooting.

A reporter for Channel 3 also wrote online that he was shoved off a concrete barrier by a protester guard at the rally in front of Siam Commercial Bank headquarters on Nov. 26, causing him to fall and bruise his torso.

Protest leader Panupong “Mike” Jadnok wrote on his Facebook that all the guards are now required to submit their name to him in an effort to sort out security operations at rally sites.

Organizers of large scale street demonstrations in previous years – whether by Redshirt or Yellowshirt factions – generally employed their own guards, with clear structure of leadership, though that did not stop them from committing violence in some situations.

The next protest is set to take place at Lat Phrao Intersection on Wednesday afternoon.