State Decries “False Narratives” at Maunakea; Protectors Maintain Practice of “Kapu Aloha”

September 14, 2019, 7:56 AM HST · Updated September 14, 7:56 AM
Wendy Osher · 0 Comments
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Governor David Ige called a news conference at the State Capitol on Friday to discuss the ongoing conflict at Maunakea and to dispel what state officials are calling “false narratives.”

Meantime, leaders of the movement maintain that their efforts are “rooted in Kapu Aloha,” “peace,” and “non-violence.”

Among those participating in the press event included: Attorney General Clare Connors, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Director William Aila Jr. and Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

Gov. Ige said he’s “hard at work trying to find a path to a peaceful resolution to this situation.”  He continued saying, “As you know, I strongly believe that respect for Maunakea and the explorations for the origins of the universe can coexist in a way that benefits the entire community.  These efforts are ongoing and I am open to conversation and discussions that can lead to solutions.”

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“Today’s press conference is not about whether or not TMT should be built or how this situation will be solved.  Today’s press conference is about how we speak to one another and how we treat one another while we work towards this path of a resolution.”

The governor’s introductory remarks were followed by a list of examples from the Attorney General of social media posts (explained in further detail below) where the the state alleges the author(s) either threatened someone or “attempted to impact the ability of a public servant to engage in their public service duties.”

Leaders with Protect Maunakea Movement: Our Language is Kapu Aloha

Andre Perez, one of the leaders at Puʻuhonua Puʻu Huluhulu was video taped after the press conference by several media organizations (posted online by Kaleihua Kapuaala and shared by Puʻuhonua Puʻu Huluhulu on Facebook) during which he said, “Our language is rooted in Kapu Aloha. Anyone who’s been paying attention to our messaging, can see clearly that we are constantly preaching/indoctrinating peace and non-violence—Kapu Aloha. We have not done anything that is remotely related to violence.”

“If you go down there, you will see that we engage with the police officers who are on site in friendly relationships. I was at camp yesterday. Lino Kamakau (DLNR Hawaiʻi Island Branch Chief) was in Puʻu Huluhulu, inside the puʻuhonua. I talked to him. I gave him a hug. He walks freely on the camp,” said Perez.

“Anybody who has been paying attention would remember that Mayor (Harry) Kim has showed up several time without notice on his own, driving his own vehicle, and the Mayor walks freely amongst us. I helped the mayor through the lava. I helped him off the lava because he’s kind of frail. I helped him get down so that he wouldn’t trip and fall. The mayor would not drop in and visit us if it was not safe. We are not trying to incite; we are trying to de-escalate on a constant daily basis,” said Perez.

Attorney General Details Social Media Posts:

Attorney General Clare Connors: “In the days following the removal of the unpermitted structure near Puʻu Huluhulu, we became increasingly concerned about some of the language that we saw appearing on social media and in some of the public messaging surrounding and related to the protest on Maunakea.  Some of this language did pre-date the events of Friday (the removal operation), but it has created a consistent and repeated narrative that we believe falsely characterizes law enforcement.  Characterizing law enforcement as out to get people who oppose construction of the telescope, or out to harm the very people that law enforcement is sworn to protect.”

“This false narrative about law enforcement sets a tone.  It causes alarm, and it can cause people to react,” said AG Connors.

“For the purposes of today, what we did is identify a few samples from social media so that we could talk about them.  The first slide here is a picture of an alert that was out on September 3rd.  In this alert that was posted on social media and spread rapidly throughout social media, we see the words ‘excessive force’ and ‘punish’ and ‘suppress our people’ being used to characterize the anticipated enforcement actions by law enforcement officers.  To be very clear, law enforcement does not use excessive force as a tactic or as a strategy against anyone. Law enforcement responds to the type of conduct that it encounters when it encounters that conduct and it responds accordingly and appropriately.  Enforcement of the law addressing illegal conduct is not excessive force per-se.  It is not punishment or suppression per-se.  To be clear, only persons who disobey lawful orders including a lawful order to clear a roadway, risk being arrested,” said AG Connors.

“And as the events of a few weeks ago demonstrate, law enforcement officers had carried out these duties.  They have attempted to do so respectfully and with utmost care, and as much as they could under the circumstances that they had encountered,” said AG Connors.

“Here is a second slide–just another one showing some of the language that was used identifying this idea that helicopters are going to create chaos by using the rotor-wash to blow everything away.  Here’s another alert that came out on September 6th.  This one says that law enforcement is going to coordinate their attack on the people who are protesting on the public roadway.  Words like ‘attack’ which are used repeatedly in social media messages and publicly promote, again, this dangerous false narrative about law enforcement.  This kind of language lead to believe that law enforcement is about to perpetrate a crime.  Again, enforcement of the law is not a crime,” said AG Connors.

“This slide, now is a slide that has been spreading throughout social media.  After that unpermitted structure is removed, this post appeared.  It’s a $5,000 reward offered for the identity of the law enforcement officer who was part of that intense and volatile operation to safely remove that unpermitted, unauthorized structure last Friday.   We have addressed the events surrounding this particular incident on multiple occasions, but I hope that we can all agree that putting a bounty on the head of a law enforcement officer is disturbing and deeply concerning. It’s dangerous,” said AG Connors.

“This law enforcement officer showed up to work that day and he was doing his job when he found himself in an untenable situation.  I hope that we can all agree that he does not deserve to be targeted like this,” said AG Connors.

“We acknowledge that there is passionate debate going on within families and within the community.  Like director Espinda, the criticism that comes to public officials is something that we accept; however, state employees–make no mistake, their families are included–state employees and their families should never be exposed to these types of attacks,” said DHHL Director William Aila Jr.

”My fear, as well as everyone standing behind me–our fear is that someone is going to be incited by the negative rhetoric that is out there.  To incite someone who may not be… the deliverer of the message to cause harm to a state employee who’s innocently, or their family who’s innocently doing their jobs.  In talking to our state employees, that their families are deeply impacted and affected by this type of attacks that are occurring on social media.  This is not the fabric of Hawaiʻi that I grew up knowing,” said Aila.

Threat Received Via Voicemail; Personal Targeted Threats:

“Other state employees have also been subjected to these kinds of targeted threats.  Here we have an excerpt from a post that targeted anyone who was involved in that operation to remove the structure that day.  This post actually had a picture of that employee underneath it.  There was also a live stream that was going on at the same time the operation was happening.  During the course of this live stream, this employee’s name, his phone number, where he lives, was published throughout social media.  Following the events, he received a audio message to his voicemail.  Other employees have received such voicemails.  We thought it was important for the public to hear this particular voicemail.”

“How you can even say mahalo? How you even can even call yourself a (redacted) Hawaiian you (redacted) clown. Brah, you is one clown dog.  Everybody who know this number.  Everybody on Maui know this number.  Everybody on Kauai, Molokai, Big Island–everybody know your number kanak.  You is one (redacted) clown.  You choose to stand for your job and your people, your people is suffering and you watch (redacted) go down. (Redacted) clown.  I hope you (redacted) die.”

“So that voicemail ended with ‘I hope you die.’ These are disturbing.  These are the kind of threats.  These are the kind of types of attacks that state employees are receiving and we ask all on all sides of this to condemn that kind of action.”

“We have another slide here now, which is of other state employees who have been targeted during this discourse.  This is a post that also went out throughout social media. This employee’s (inaudible) name and information was posted, and then there was the line: ‘Just kill yourself old man. You’re wasting all this free oxygen.'”

“Here is a post of an employee of TMT.  Again, his face, his name, his information was posted and there was the line, ‘Time for the Hawaiians to start assassinating these terrorists.’  Here is a set of slides that were posted on social media about individuals who were engaged in lawful demonstrations in support of TMT.  We have here–again it’s redacted for city–we have here a line, ‘I think we have to kidnap her,’ and that’s referring to one of the individuals holding a sign in support of TMT.”

“Now, we acknowledge that not all individuals and persons involved in this movement are associated with this type of conduct and we’re not suggesting that they condone it, but it is important for all who post, for all who send out public messages to take care and to really think about the repercussions of words that are used–especially when they create narratives that can cause people alarm and can cause people to react.”

During a Question and Answer session, Gov. Ige said he has also been the target of a threat saying, “I am aware of death threats made against me personally and others in the administration.”

AG Connors said the Attorney General’s office won’t comment on ongoing investigations, “but as i said there are violations available under state law that we can pursue and there are investigations that are ongoing to some of these threats.”  “There’s no additional security ramp up in the way that you described.  This is really just an opportunity for us to look out for our employees and for people that are on the line doing their jobs.”

“There are terroristic threatening violations against persons who are involved in their public service duties, there are potential extortion, depending on how the facts play out, kind of evidence comes to play.  Those two come to mind,” said AG Connors.

In response to a question relating to how the department draws the line between  first amendment rights and violation of the law AG Connors said, “We’ve been very clear to say that there’s lawful expression of speech and then there’s unlawful conduct; and the violations that I just cited–they all have different elements, and if the evidence demonstrates there clearly was intent to threaten someone or to impact the ability of a public servant to engage in their public service duties to engage in their (inaudible)–that could rise to the level of a crime.”

“Law Enforcement is Not the Enemy”

“I’ll leave you with this slide.  Law enforcement is not the enemy here.  Said law enforcement is there to keep people safe and that is what they have demonstrated they will do under these circumstances that have lasted for the last few weeks.  They will respond as necessary and is as appropriate to the type of conduct that they encounter.  And state employees, the same goes for them. They are people doing their job and this is a very stressful and tense moment in the state of Hawaiʻi where they find themselves attempting to do their jobs.”

“No one on any side of the current issue deserves to be targeted with threats or other forms of harassment.  And again, we hope that everyone can agree with that,” said Connors.

“As the director of the Department of Public Safety, I have the responsibility and privilege of leading the law enforcement officers of the Sheriffs and the Narcotics Enforcement Division,” said Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

“As you all saw, it was a deputy sheriff who was (the) target of the posting offering a $5,000 reward.  Just like other people up here, as a director, I accept there’s a certain amount of criticism that will be directed at me.  That goes with being a public figure.  But this post, direct individual, who day in and day out puts his life on the line as a law enforcement officer and a public servant is shameful and should not be condoned,” said Espinda.

Message from Protectors is Kapu Aloha:

In response to a question posed by about the actions of those on social media, Perez responded, “Our message to people on social media is to maintain Kapu Aloha, not put out violent language, not target individuals, to not post people’s personal info that puts them at risk. We are not here to attack and to hurt people. We’re here to protect a sacred Mauna. My message to the people is: Please refrain from violent language.”

”We condemn violent language. We condemn putting a bounty on people. We condemn putting out language that targets individuals in harmful ways. We are all about Kapu Aloha. We are about peace and non-violence and anyone that wants to come up to the Mauna can see our messaging,” said Perez.

“You will see that we put that out on a daily basis. We have put out consistently that law enforcement is not the enemy. (Attorney General) Clare Connors said that and I agree with her. Law enforcement is not the enemy. Many of the officers are ʻohana,” he said.

“Many of those officers are classmates, friends, long-time relationships. I have an officer friend that I grew up with. We’ve been friends for 35 years. We are not targeting law enforcement. We know they’re in a tough position. We know that many officers are Hawaiian. They’re ʻohana. We do not want to be aggressive to them. Our behavior has demonstrated that time and time again,” said Perez.

“We will always put that message out.  We are a peaceful, non-violent movement, rooted in Kapu Aloha.  We do not support violent language.  We know that that undermines and hurts both sides.  We are trying to find a peaceful resolution.  We are firm in our commitment to protect the Mauna, to engage in civil resistance that is rooted in peace and non-violence; and we will maintain that position consistently,” said Perez.

Method of Flag Removal Still Point of Contention:

“Law enforcement personnel were tasked with clearing and securing an unpermitted structure, while providing for everyone’s safety in a dynamic and unstable situation.  No employee should be targeted for doing their job,” said Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

“In this instance, protesters securely affixed two-by-fours with nails through a flag that was screwed into plywood barricade into the only door to the structure. The screws were stripped so that the flag could not be without damage.  For the safety of everyone, law enforcement did what it had to do to clear and secure the structure. They were left with no other option but to remove the flag despite the purposefully destructive way it was intentionally attached to the barricaded door,” said Espinda.

“I stand by my law enforcement officers.  This is an orchestrated controversy that directly led to this egregious social media posting.  The law enforcement officers around since the beginning have shown nothing but respect for the people gathered at the site. This kind of threatening action against law enforcement or against anyone for that matter is unacceptable and should not be dismissed or otherwise normalized,” said Espinda.

Perez responded to a question from media following the press conference saying, “Hawaiians put up Hawaiian flags every day.  There are flags everywhere right now because of this movement. The flag was put up as a symbol of pride and a symbol of nationhood.”

“The real question to me is: They used a power tool to cut through the plywood. Why did they choose to cut through the plywood over the flag? There’s many sheets of plywood on either side of the flag or on the other side of the building that they could entered from,” said Perez.

“In my opinion, they deliberately chose to cut through the flag. They could have cut three feet to the right and still entered the building. The flag was up on a sheet of plywood. There were many sheets to choose from,” Perez said.

The leaders at the Puʻuhonua had not condoned the building of the unpermitted structure, however it has created a turning point in their movement.

Perez said, “We were concerned about the structure.  We knew that it would bring (inaudible) attention to us and perhaps even law enforcement; however, we’re not the (inaudible) on the mountain.  We’re not law enforcement, so we’re not trying to physically enforce what people can or cannot do.  I personally advised the builders that we could not sanction or endorse that and if they continued to proceed that they would have to do it on their own, taking responsibility for their own actions, and they acknowledged that.”

”We’re not licensed or authorized to apprehend anyone… it did divert a lot of attention.  I would like to redirect the attention back to the Mauna, back to protecting what is sacred to us,” said Perez.

”The building was put up.  It was taken down.  It’s a non-issue.  The focus now should be Maunakea and the protection of the Mauna in Kapu Aloha,” he said.

Ige: Hawaiʻi Deserves Better: 

“As governor of the state of Hawaiʻi, I’m calling on everyone responsible for these examples of cyberbullying and hateful speech, to immediately–personal attacks and threats of violence have no place in America, and certainly no place here in Hawaiʻi,” said Gov. Ige.

“For those who claim to be protecting Hawaiian values, to resort to these tactics is disappointing, irresponsible and very painful for me to see. And, I see in the comments section of the news, terrible and racist things being said about protesters as well.  I completely denounce these kinds of horrible attacks against those opposed to TMT,” he said.

The governor continued saying, “Whatever happens with this project, those kinds of postings are not acceptable here.  They don’t represent who we are (inaudible) urge the public to completely reject them.  Law enforcement has created time and space for dialogue and discussion to take place.  Let’s all take this opportunity to try to understand one another and to support one another in finding solutions for our common challenges.”

“We cannot allow these kinds of attacks to be part of the process.  Hawaiʻi deserves better,” he said.

Protectors Firm In Commitment to Protect What is Sacred

“We are hoping to continue to find a peaceful resolution, but I have to say that we are led.  We are not just a bunch of young radicals.  This movement is led by our elders, by our kupuna, by the most wise, esteemed, responsible leaders in our community.  The kupuna are leading this.  We are getting direction from the kupuna,” said Perez.

”Anybody who has any knowledge of indigenous communities knows that elders are revered—that they are the holders of the wisdom of the culture.  Our elders guide us and we are constantly getting direction from them in terms of peace, non-violent, but firm commitment to protect the Mauna.  We are firm in our civil resistance,” he said.

On Friday, leaders of the movement posted a video online explaining the concept of Kapu Aloha.  In the video message, Nā Kumu Hōkūlani Holt (of Maui) and Pua Kanakaʻole Kanahele provide their thoughts and guidance.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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