As the protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope approach six months, it seems like there has been a lull in the action. However, outside the view of the video cameras (except for the panel discussions run by Imua TMT) there are many meetings happening to discuss what’s next.

Hopefully a way can be found that involves the protesters voluntarily coming off the mountain. Based on my conversations with protesters and what I have seen in the media, I have absolutely no expectation that will happen. Arrests will need to be made and those arrests will cost taxpayers money.

At this point, the debate needs to shift to how best to allocate the costs of the protests. I agree with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s recent statement on the subject: clearly, TMT is not at fault in any way. Blaming TMT for following the law is absurd.

There is likely some inefficiency on behalf of the state that we can cut out of the $10 million price tag so far. But ultimately, the parties clearly responsible for the vast majority of these expenses are the protesters. They need to take responsibility for their actions and start paying up.

But who are the protesters? Who is backing them? Who are their leaders? Who are the decision-makers? Which of those leaders and backers has the deep pockets required to pay the taxpayers back?

One way to answer these questions is to sue the protesters directly and find the answers through discovery in court. Another way is for the Legislature to begin issuing subpoenas. This course of action should begin as soon as possible.

Mauna Kea supporters right hold their line as left, DLNR law enforcement officers tell them to clear the road to allow their vehicles to make the ascent to the summit. . 24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Mauna Kea supporters hold their line as law enforcement officers try to allow vehicles to make the ascent to the summit on June 24. The protest is entering its sixth month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

What is the rush?

The protests are morphing from what may have been a legitimate exercise in civil disobedience into an anarchic campaign against the rule of law. There have been not only illegal blockades of Mauna Kea access road, but of the freeway in Honolulu (and to those who claim that blocking roadways is non-violent, it is worth noting that blockades are actually acts of war).

A good example of protests going too far was seen in the mauna-inspired protests against the wind turbines in Kahuku, where protestors chopped down a utility pole with a chainsaw to prevent the transport of the wind turbines. This act of vandalism resulted in power-outages and traffic delays.

False Narratives

Recently, the protesters seemed to have backed down after the backlash with respect to the utility pole. Hopefully, they continue to show restraint. But when the arrests start on Mauna Kea, and the protesters attempt to whip their supporters into a frenzy with false narratives on social media about police brutality, further vandalism is a foreseeable outcome.

Investigations starting now will make it clear to the protest leadership and those who continue to support the protesters in high-dollar amounts that there will be consequences. This might convince the protesters to refrain from further acts of anarchy.

Who are the protesters? Who is backing them?

Because the protesters’ activity is illegal, and is inspiring further illegality across the state, there is no reason to avoid investigating them merely because they were not committing assault crimes on police officers or because they will claim some sort of persecution. There is no slippery-slope-McCarthyism problem because there is a clear bright line: extremely well-coordinated illegal activity.

In the age of the weaponization of social media as detailed in the Mueller report, and with reports from across the country of anarchists assisting protesters with these kinds of blockade-style campaigns, it would be a reckless dereliction of duty for our elected officials to keep us ignorant of who is backing the protests, where the protesters’ funds come from, who their leadership is, and who runs their social media campaign. The public has a right to know.

The next legislative session is also beginning soon. Hawaii has racked up millions of dollars in costs to taxpayers due to police responding to these protests, repairing the damage left behind, and in lost productivity from road blockages. New laws may be necessary to ensure that the expense of anarchist-style protests is properly shifted to the protesters, instead of onto the backs of the working families of Hawaii.

It is time to seek restitution from the persons most responsible for perpetuating this criminality. It is time for the Legislature to start investigating the protesters and creating disincentives for such anarchism.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author