He said enjoying his retirement outside of Thailand “doesn’t mean I hate the nation,” an accusation he has leveled against political opponents and targets of his organization’s campaigns who have fled persecution, persecution or both.
“I am not migrating, running from charges, seeking asylum or escaping prison…. I just want to take my family to clean my parent’s house and prevent it from deteriorating,” he said.
He expressed a desire to look after his mother’s roses and eat lobster when in Australia, but vowed to return to Thailand “when the throne was threatened”.
He added in a post to his 162,000 Facebook followers: “A dictator like me is welcomed by the Australian government”.
When contacted by The Sydney Morning Herald and The age over the phone, Rienthong declined an interview, suggesting he move to Australia as “fake news”.
He wrote on Facebook that there was an international network to catch him and prevent him from traveling to Australia, Europe and the United States and that the Australian government should not believe what was said about him.
Thai dissidents and exiles internationally have rebelled against his Australian plans.
A loose coalition of Thai activist groups in Europe, the United States and Australia has written to Australia’s ambassador to Bangkok, Angela Macdonald, calling for Rienthong’s status to be reconsidered.
“His use of social media is full of hate speech and dehumanization of people who hold different values than him,” reads a letter. “His actions are clearly divisive, discriminatory and contrary to Australian values.”
Immigration Secretary Andrew Giles has personal powers of intervention, which can be used after cases have been brought before a tribunal of review.
However, they are only used sparingly, and when approached about Rienthong, a ministerial spokesman said Giles could not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.
The Thai monarchy is protected by the world’s toughest royal defamation laws, which carry penalties ranging from three to 15 years in prison for any offense. Critics of the lèse-majeste law say it has been used for political purposes and to silence debate, and that allegations following the 2014 coup and the 2020 youth protest movement raised questions about the power and wealth of the new monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Hundreds of Thais fled the country after the coup, and at least nine critics of the monarchy have forcibly disappeared in neighboring Laos and Cambodia; the bodies of two were found gutted and filled with concrete in the Mekong River. The government has consistently denied any involvement.
Pisarn Thanathavornlarp, a former gym instructor in Bangkok, left Thailand for Sydney after being attacked in 2014 over a social media post.
He said his comment was ironic and metaphorical in nature and not a direct criticism of the monarchy, but after Rienthong posted his phone number online, he was bombarded with threatening phone calls.
Concerned about his safety and psychological problems, he was briefly ordained in a monastery. But after lèse-majeste charges were brought against him, he moved to Australia, fearing he would be sent to prison.
“If Rienthong didn’t post, it wouldn’t have that much of an impact. Because it was Rienthong, strangers just came in and cursed me through Facebook. My life has completely changed,” says Pisarn, who is called Max in Sydney.
Pisarn described Rienthong as an “extremist” and questioned how he could get permission to visit or reside in Australia.
“Who can guarantee that Rienthong, in this country, will not try this again? Who can ensure that he will not crack down on people who are critical of the monarchy in Thailand?” he said.
“Since he’s the one pushing people out of the country, why doesn’t he stay in the country? You shouldn’t come here, you should just stay in Thailand.”
Rienthong called himself Thailand’s answer to Van Helsing, a fictional doctor turned vampire hunter, telling the bangkok Post he saw himself “as the person who sweeps the dusty floor”.
“When I first sweep it, the dust will blow in all directions. But once I get the dust in the same heap, the floor looks cleaner.”
He added in the 2014 interview: “The royal institution is not a political institution, but the current political conflict has dragged the monarchy into battle. Thailand needs the royal institution to survive. Otherwise people would kill each other for power. The monarchy is the center of hope, and we need that to move forward.”
One of the targets of the Rienthong online attacks, Somsak Rachso, found that the vigilante’s reach was crossing borders after he was forced to quit his job in Sydney as criticism intensified in 2016 following the death of the previous king.
The ABC reported at the time that Somsak’s former boss was concerned about the safety of staff and customers after Rienthong posted: “Thai people there [in Australia] – don’t associate with him, don’t give him or his family a job.”
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic and well-known royal critic living in exile in Japan, is among those who wrote to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok about Rienthong, saying “so many lives have been affected by his hyper-royalistic actions”.
“The list is long when it comes to the fascist behavior of Rienthong, on whom he has relied [the] lese-majeste law to eliminate his opponents,” he wrote.
“His behavior will not be tolerated in any truly democratic country in the world…including, I presume, Australia.”
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