North Korea’s new enemy: Free North Korea

The saga of the Hermit Kingdom gets weirder

In February of this year, the embassy for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Madrid, Spain, was attacked. Ten men broke into the embassy, beat and interrogated the staff, and left with stolen computers, hard drives, flash drives, and cellphones. North Korea has a new enemy. A small and secretive group calling itself the “Provisional Government of Free Joseon (Free North Korea)” or Free Joseon, the culprits behind the embassy raid.

This organization is possibly the first ever active and organized opposition group to the family that’s ruled North Korea since the nation’s founding. Not much is known about Free Joseon except that they have been busy and that they may have connections to the US government.

The group’s name, Joseon, is how North Koreans refer to their country and to the Korean peninsula as a whole. Which they kind of see as one and the same, eventually. Similar to their Chinese neighbor’s attitude to a certain large island, there is only one Korea: Joseon. The name, also spelled Chosun, comes from the last Korean dynasty to rule the peninsula before being annexed by the Japanese in the early 20th century.

They originally referred to themselves as the Cheollima Civil Defense and in fact this is still the URL of the group’s website. Cheollima, or Chollima, is a magical pegasus type creature popular in myths throughout east Asia. There is special significance for the beast in North Korea. Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder, named his version of the Great Leap Forward the Chollima Movement. Statues of Chollima can be found throughout Pyongyang, “symbolizing heroism, the constant, fighting spirit of the Korean people, and the innovations and advance so quickly, at the speed of the Chollima.” Perhaps most important of all, it is the nickname of the national football (soccer) team.

What does Free Joseon want?

As the name implies, free North Korea is not only the title of the group, it is their mission statement, but much more than that, it is also their identity. Free Joseon have declared themselves to be the North Korean provisional government and “ the sole legitimate representative of the Korean people of the north. “ They seek to undermine the authority of the Kim regime and they have been actively doing so in a variety of ways.

In March, graffiti appeared on the walls of the North Korean embassy in Malaysia on the same day that country pardoned one of the accused assassins of Kim Jong-nam, brother to the current ruler. A murder which most of the world’s intelligence agencies suspect was, in fact, ordered by his brother. “Down with Kim Jong-un!” and “Free North Korea…we are rising up!” surround the group’s logo, an enigmatic delta sign which looks weirdly like the Starfleet symbol from Star Trek.

A few days after the Malaysian graffiti appeared Free Joseon released a provocative video on YouTube and on its website. It depicts a man smashing framed pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the two dead men that continue to lead the country. Their portraits hang in every home in North Korea and this simple act of disloyalty would merit harsh punishment on three generations of the offenders’ family.

Their website launched in 2017 and the first posts are asking for donations and asking for help getting people out of North Korea. They claim to be in regular contact with dissidents inside the country and to maintain a substantial network of allies and supporters across the world.

For the people of North Korea If you want to escape or want to share information, we will protect you. It is possible to stay in any country. I will send it safely to the place I want to go. We, who have already helped many North Korean people, do not want any price.

Free Joseon takes credit for at least two North Korean defections already.

Two Rescues We have two rescues and freedom. I keep doing it. If you need protection, we will help you. Please contact us at: Our gratitude to Mr. C, and to an unnamed government. April 11, 2017, 7:49 pm UTC

The most high-profile action taken by Free Joseon so far has been providing protection for Kim Jong-un’s nephew, Kim Han-sol. This became necessary in 2017 when the boy’s father was assassinated in Malaysia, probably under orders from his uncle. A few days after his father’s bizarre murder with VX nerve gas (by women who allegedly didn’t know what they were doing), Han-sol released a video on YouTube explicitly thanking the members of Free Joseon for their help.

How is Free Joseon connected to the United States?

The membership of Free Joseon is largely anonymous. Who is in the group, who is helping them, and their base of operations remain mostly unknown at this point. They state outright that Free Joseon and its members “have never received funding from foreign government agencies” but how they’re funded is also a mystery. Two of the members however, one American and one Mexican but both of Korean descent, are wanted by authorities in at least two countries and their identities have been released as part of ongoing investigations and prosecutions.

In April, US officials in Los Angeles arrested Christopher Ahn, a former US marine, in connection with the embassy raid in Madrid. The other, a US resident named Adrian Hong, is currently on the run. Spanish intelligence reportedly contacted their American counterparts for information about the two men but the CIA denied any involvement, a denial the Spanish found “unconvincing.”

This may be in part due to the more than ten years that Hong has been working with the US State Department to undermine the Kim regime. In 2006, he helped smuggle six North Korean defectors into the United States. A few years later, after being arrested in China for helping refugees, the US helped Hong fight the charges and get out of the country. If nothing else, the multiple groups Hong has been a member of, not including Free Joseon, have received American taxpayer funding through the National Endowment for Democracy.

Even stranger is that Mr. Hong traveled to the US after the embassy raid to meet with the FBI and hand over the information stolen from the embassy. A fact the FBI failed to tell the Spanish for several days.

Free Joseon acknowledges delivering the stolen data to the FBI but adamantly refutes any suggestions that their embassy attack was assisted by any government. They also take issue with Spain’s and North Koreas description of the raid.

According to Spanish police, inside the embassy were eight people tied up with bags on their heads, two of whom needed medical attention. In a press release, Free Joseon stated that not only had nobody been assaulted, bound, or gagged but that they had actually been invited to the embassy for “an urgent situation.” They then apologized to the Spanish government for the inconvenience.

Nobody knows how Kim Jong-un will respond to this but he should probably take them seriously. Hong actually traveled to Libya after the collapse of Gadhafi’s regime, which he described as “a dress rehearsal for North Korea.”

From hosting TED Talks to testifying before the Canadian Parliament Adrian Hong and Free Joseon are pioneering a strange new path for aspiring revolutionaries in the 21st century. Their techniques include agitating on YouTube, cryptic color-coded messages on their website, graffiti, and polite apologies to a host nation for attacking a foreign embassy on their soil. The world has never seen a dissident organization quite like Free Joseon but the world has never produced a country quite like North Korea either.

Thomas Brown is a history teacher and recovering political consultant hiding out in the American South. He is also managing editor of The Swamp and has been published in The Bipartisan Press, Alaska Native News, GEN, Human Events, Times of Israel, Dialogue & Discourse. Argue with him on Twitter: @reallythistoo.

Originally published at on June 19, 2019.

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