As the grandeur of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony dazzled inside South Korea’s Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium – complete with North Korean cheerleaders singing and the media fawning over their dictator’s sister, Kim Yo Jong – hundreds of South Korean activists protested passionately outside.
They waved the flag of their country, of America and of Israel, and called for jailed former President Park Geun-hye to be restored to power. They also called for an end to what they see as meddling in South Korean affairs by China.
Others protesters mobilized outside a military base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, to “welcome VP Mike Pence,” and chant against talks with the North.
Often referred to as Taegeukgi rallies, they are typically made up of an array of conservative activists, exposing the political cracks in South Korea over how citizens want the North Korean threat to be handled. But their cause rarely makes it into the media limelight.
“We are a group of patriotic Koreans who self-organized in response to the threat of the illegal Moon Jae-in regime, return Park Geun-hye to the presidency and restore Korea’s sovereignty,” Casey Ilsun Kim, president of one prominent activist group, the Korean Patriotic Citizens’ Assembly’s Indictment (KPCA), and an adjunct professor of management and economics at Handong Global University (HGU) in Pohang, South Korea, told Fox News. “North Korea, which is backed by Communist China, actively and gradually infiltrated South Korea. Today, major institutions – government, media, education and judiciary – are controlled by such pro-Communist, pro-North Korea forces.”
Kim is among scores of conservatives across the nation who have asserted that their scorned former president’s hard-line approach to the North is needed now more than ever. The conservatives are concerned about the threat of communism, and what they see as current President Moon Jae-in’s “appeasement” of the North.
“There are thousands of pro-Park people who gather in Seoul every Saturday and marching to ‘Free the Innocent Park.’ These people are the conservatives of Korea who are anti-North Korea and anti-China, but pro-U.S., pro-Trump and pro-strong national security,” said Kim Dong Yon, an analyst at Chosun News Press and a former South Korean Air Force officer. “This base is not only for Park Geun-hye, but the base to sustain the legacy of strong democracy and preserve the strong South Korea-U.S. alliance.”
Yon argued there “is a gigantic base for Park” in his country, but its members are “not represented by digital measurements as many are older, and not familiar with new technologies.”
“Many of these activists can’t go to sleep at night because they are so worried that the pro-North Korea movements in the South may overtake what they have accomplished,” he said. “Park tried to deter the North, whereas Moon is fulfilling their conditions and compensations. The Kim regime has only one goal: Unify the Korean Peninsula in their communism way and become a nuclear power.”
Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president, was impeached in December 2016 and forcibly removed last March. She is alleged to have colluded with a longtime friend to extort companies to donate millions to suspicious foundations in exchange for political favors. She has remained in custody while awaiting trial.
After taking office in 2013, Geun-hye advocated for tougher sanctions against the North, which plotted to assassinate her father, Park Chung-hee, in 1968, when he led South Korea.
Those close to Geun-hye have said she had grown increasingly frustrated with the North, and was planning a more confrontational approach with Kim Jong Un. Her supporters have also argued Kim’s behavior only became more dangerous since the change of administrations.
“During Park’s term, North Korea frequently spotlighted the U.S.-South Korea relationship as the South Korean government being a U.S. puppet, but there were not as many successful ICBM tests during her tenure,” observed Adrian Romero, a liaison targeting officer to the South Korea Army. “When President Moon took office, Kim Jong Un amped up the ICBM launches as North Korea gained success in their nuclear testing and further testing and further development.”
Conservative activist and attorney Eugene Kim said they are devout supporters of President Trump because they believe he is restoring America’s sovereignty and values.
“He is leading the fight against globalism, which was turning America and the world into slave states controlled by special interests. This kind of globalism was ultimately behind the unconstitutional removal of President Park and the theft of Korea’s sovereignty,” he explained. “And we are pro-Israel because we support the protection of Israel’s right to survive. President Trump’s ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ is an acknowledgment that the protection of Israel’s right to survive is necessary for peace.”
Following Geun-hye’s impeachment, human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in came to power, and has made no secret of his strong preference for a diplomatic solution with the North. While many conservatives want the South to protect itself with its own nuclear weapons, Moon Jae-in has pledged to purge the Korean Peninsula of such weapons.
“These rallies consist primarily of older conservative voters who lived in the authoritarian era of the 1960s, '70s and '80s. To them, Park Geun-hye is of special significance because she is the daughter of Park Chung-Hee, who was the authoritarian leader of South Korea from 1963 to 1979,” noted Tom Fowdy, a North Korea analyst.
Nonetheless, other regional experts maintain the conservatives demonstrators are a small minority in South Korea. They also argue former President Park is viewed with deep disdain by many Koreans.
“The general populace does not like her. They are certainly more happy with Moon in power than they would have been keeping her,” said Ryan Barenklau, director of a Washington-based geostrategic consulting firm, Strategic Sentinel.
“She is viewed in disgrace by the majority of South Koreans,” said Bruce Klingler, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation and former CIA deputy division chief for Korea. “Park Geun-hye was removed after the constitutionally required number of National Assembly members voted for impeachment,” he added. “The process followed all necessary legal and constitutional procedures.”
Nonetheless, the conservatives have taken their grievances to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In October last year, the Korean Patriotic Citizens’ Assembly filed an indictment “against Moon Jae-in and his collaborators” alleging that “North Korea and its collaborators illegally removed President Park and usurped South Korea’s sovereignty.”
The ICC did not respond to a request for comment.