BANGKOK — A man whose incoherent rant prompted a massive outrage on social media that spilled into a real-life protest apologized Thursday for his inflammatory words.
Rachata Wangkitcharoengsuk, 24, said he’s sorry for insulting Thai people and His Majesty the King following a road accident with another motorist on Wednesday. Speaking next to him at the police station in Nakhon Pathom province, his mother blamed ignorance of Thai culture and depression for his anger.
“He hasn’t been in Thailand for a long time, and he doesn’t understand our beautiful culture. He doesn’t understand a lot of things,” his mother said in a news conference. “It could be because [the night earlier] he didn’t take his pills. It could be a reason why he couldn’t control himself.”
Rachata then clasped his hand in a wai and apologized to the reporters.
He spoke a day after a video of his tirade went viral on social media, drawing millions of views and widespread anger.
In the video, a man later identified as Rachata loudly scolds a pickup truck driver who reportedly skidded into his Honda Civic. Rachata, who said he graduated from overseas and only recently returned to Thailand, shouted multiple insults to the driver and Thai people in general.
“I spent 10 years studying abroad. Thai people are backwards. You as well!” Rachata said to the pickup truck driver, who filmed the encounter.
“I insult all Thai people. Even the king!” he went on, as his girlfriend tried to calm him. “I hate Thailand. I shouldn’t have come back at all. It’s full of low-class people here.”
Rachata also boasted of owning a 1-million baht car and asking whether the driver could afford it.
“I’m a billionaire’s son. You see my red license plate?” Rachata said. “I’m just 24, but I have everything you don’t.”
Although Rachata ended up driving away without demanding financial compensation, the motorist filed charges of verbal defamation against Rachata with Phutthamonthon police, who in turn summoned the self-proclaimed scion for questioning.
That’s when the trouble started.
After words that Rachata was meeting with the police spread online, an angry crowd soon formed in front of Phutthamonthon Police Station, rising to a peak of several hundred people in a matter of hours. Many spectators also broadcast the protest live on Facebook, drawing yet more attention.
“Come out! Come out!” the crowd yelled at the station. The protesters said they were there to see a man who defamed the King and his own country in person.
“He insulted Thai people, even though he’s a Thai himself,” one man told the media. The crowd also shouted abuse at Rachata’s mother and girlfriend when they arrived at the police station.
Fearing for Rachata’s safety, police advised Rachata to spend a night at the police station, and the crowd eventually dispersed on Wednesday night. Police brought him to the court to be arraigned today on the charge of defamation, which carries a 1-month jail term.
Some expressed dismay at the footage of a mob baying for blood at Rachata. Government critic Natchapol Supattana, aka Mark Pitbull, posted online that many people are overreacting to Rachata’s offensive words.
“He might be ill. I don’t understand people who marched to the police station. Were you there just to see his face and scold him to your heart’s content, or did you intend to beat him to death beneath your feet?” Natchapol wrote.
Popular psychiatrist Kampanart Tansithabudhku also chided the protesters for threatening violence at a man who potentially has depression.
“To people who … pledged to assault him, or hurled abuse at him around the police station: are you sure that your mental health and ability to control your emotions are normal?” Kampanart wrote.
But the blowback didn’t stop a group of monarchy supporters from visiting the police’s Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok earlier today to file a complaint of royal defamation against Rachata for his remark. The charge, called lese majeste, is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
“Rachata’s behavior unacceptable for me. He insulted Thai people and made inappropriate references to the higher institution,” activist Rachen Trakulwieng told reporters, using a euphemism for the monarchy.
Rachen also rejected the explanation that Rachata had a mental condition.
“I believe that it’s more likely to be an excuse,” Rachen said.
The activist, who has filed similar complaints against anti-government politicians in the past, said the family should show medical certificates as a proof of his condition, and questioned how Rachata was permitted to drive in the first place.