Who are Thailand’s armed ‘popcorn’ men?: Speculation is rife in Thailand over the identity of the unknown gunmen who keep appearing out of nowhere to protect anti-government protesters, the latest incident being last Tuesday’s clash between riot police and protesters at the Phan Fah Bridge rally site in Bangkok.
Many people, including the protesters themselves, believe the mysterious forces are secretly providing protection for the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and allied groups.
This theory holds that these “popcorn warriors” are soldiers protecting the anti-government protesters from “foreign forces” or “men in black” – armed elements who attacked soldiers in clashes during the 2010 red-shirt protests, and may have come back now to target the anti-Thaksin demonstrators.
But even if the popcorn men are soldiers, the question still remains as to whether they are acting on their own volition, or are doing so under orders from their superiors in the military, noted a Bangkok Post report.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban insists that the mysterious gunmen are not PDRC guards.
The existence of the unknown forces first became apparent on Nov 30 when they exchanged gunfire with red-shirt attackers during clashes at Ramkhamhaeng University.
The gunmen were dubbed “popcorn warriors” on social media following clashes at Laksi intersection on Feb 1 when they seemingly came out of nowhere to protect protesters from red-shirt attackers.
The term comes from a photograph of a hooded man firing a gun concealed in a cornseed bag at red-shirt supporters.
The popcorn warriors are believed to have returned Tuesday when riot police tried to disperse protesters at the Phan Fah Bridge site, and they turned the tide against the police, who retreated in confusion. Four protesters and one police officer were killed, and 71 people injured during the clash.
The mysterious men also released PDRC co-leader Somkiat Pongpaibul from police captivity at the scene during the clash.
Anti-government protesters have lauded the popcorn men for their exploits, while some red-shirt and government members are speculating that the mysterious gunmen are soldiers.
Like the 2010 “men in black”, the true identity of the “popcorn warriors” remains mysterious.